“Legends of a different gender”- 18 September 2013

That Serena Williams has equalled in women’s tennis the record of 17 Grand Slam titles of the legendary Roger Federer in men’s tennis, does not make her legendary. She was already an integral part of the bigger story — legend — of sports. The record only has endorsed once more that she is there, firmly ensconced in the top place. But what makes her achieve very special status is that her earnings are now equal to the earnings of men’s champions. That is important.
For, the world of tennis has seen many women struggling to get equal reward for their excellence as men. There have been many people who opposed the move and gave seemingly convincing reasons for keeping women apart and at a lower rung on the payment scale in tennis. Yet, these women kept the fight up not for once but forever. Those early years were daunting, but the women did not let go. They insisted upon equal pay as men. The men opposed — not the players but the organisers and some chauvinists. Still, these women — the legends of a different gender — persisted.
A look at those days makes things clear. There was that Billie Jean King who first asked for equal pay. She got a rebuff on the face. But Billie Jean King found herself joined in by Australia’s Margaret Court, who, too, asked for an equal pay for equal work and equal achievement. But then came an argument that men play five sets and women only three. So, how can there be equal pay. Then came the historic match between Billie Jean King and the male chauvinist Bobby Riggs. The world held its breath. The match lasted for a long time. Riggs would release tall lobs which King could not see because of her glasses against the glare of the high-mast lamps that lighted the court. Yet, Billie Jean King won and Bobby Riggs lost. For the first time, a woman had won a tennis match against a man.
That settled the score in favour of women. Or at least Billie Jean King thought so. But no, much fight was still needed for women tennis players to get equal pay for equal work. Billie Jean King, Margaret Court, Chris Evert Lloyd, Martina Navratilova and many other women kept the fight up through years. And that is one story women should never forget. For, it was a story of women for equal status at all places. If women could head countries, could head industries, could equal men in every field, why could they not get equal status in sporting arenas? — was their question.
Of course, that question has been sorted out long back, not only in sports but in most fields. There still are some areas where the women are not treated equals with men. And therefore, the fight must go on. Serena Williams marks one more chapter in that global fight, for which she deserves everybody’s salutes.
Of course, the larger human society is yet to internalise the basic principle of absolute equality to women, and therefore the fight has to go on until that is achieved.

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