Did SEXISM play a role in Serena Williams’ US open forfeit?

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Serena Williams was the victim of subconscious sexist bias in the final round of the women’s singles at the 2018 US Open, a new report claims.

And it is all down to society frowning on women showing anger, whilst men do not face the same punishment for similar behaviour.

Tennis ace Williams was handed a full game forfeiture when she clashed with umpire Carlos Ramos. 

Ever since there has been a public debate on whether Williams would have been treated differently if she had been a man.

The study looked at data on umpires’ decisions in world tournaments held between 1998 and 2018.

In terms of sheer numbers of penalties issued men fared worse – but this can be explained by the fact they play more often and for longer, the researcher claims.

However, the author claims to have uncovered statistical evidence that women are more likely to be judged harshly when displaying aggression.

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No proof: Serena Williams says she was a victim of sexism, but data collected between 1998-2018 shows men are fined more often than women for every violation except coaching

No proof: Serena Williams says she was a victim of sexism, but data collected between 1998-2018 shows men are fined more often than women for every violation except coaching

No proof: Serena Williams says she was a victim of sexism, but data collected between 1998-2018 shows men are fined more often than women for every violation except coaching

In the second set against Japan‘s Naomi Osaka for the US Open title Williams was issued with a warning for what would be her first violation of receiving illegal coaching.

She vehemently argued the call and demanded an apology, which was not given.

Later in the match, Williams was docked a point for her second violation of smashing her racket on the ground.

When she argued this violation and called Ramos a ‘thief,’ he cited a third and final violation of verbal abuse and issued her the corresponding penalty: a full game forfeiture. 

Author Allison Goldstein set out to explore whether sexism played a role.

Her article, published in the journal Statistics Views, notes that what most of these arguments boil down to is the question of whether women are penalised more often for the same behaviour as men.

She said: ‘I was just really curious as to whether there was any research to back up Serena’s claims. And the answer is kind of yes-and-no. Sexism is so hard to prove in any tangible, numeric way.

‘I hope this incident at least raises the possibility in people’s minds.’

Fiery: Williams argues with umpire Carlos Ramos during her Women's Singles finals match against Naomi Osaka of Japan on Day Thirteen of the 2018 US Open

Fiery: Williams argues with umpire Carlos Ramos during her Women's Singles finals match against Naomi Osaka of Japan on Day Thirteen of the 2018 US Open

Fiery: Williams argues with umpire Carlos Ramos during her Women’s Singles finals match against Naomi Osaka of Japan on Day Thirteen of the 2018 US Open

Ms Goldstein questioned if 100 men and 100 women shouted the same obscenity during a tennis match, and 75 women were penalised, would 75 men be penalised, too?

However there is no record of every action taken by every tennis player.

Ms Goldstein pointed that earlier in the 2018 US Open tournament, Alize Cornet was penalised for taking off her shirt on court.

But Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and other male players conducted the same on-court wardrobe change during their matches that very same day and were not penalised.

And there are statistics in relation to the number of fines issued to men and women for various code violations in Grand Slam tournaments.

According to data from the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open tournaments that were held between 1998 and 2018, men have been fined more often than women for every code-of-conduct violation – except for coaching.

Yet while it may look like men should be arguing about unfairness, there are a few factors that help to account for this disparity, Ms Goldstein said. 

In singles, men play best-of-five-set matches, while women play best-of-three so in theory, 40 per cent less time on the court for women.

Secondly, there are simply more men on the court playing tennis and accruing violations at these tournaments, because there are more slots for them. 

Facts: Of the 2,052 fines issued to both men and women between 1998 and 2018, more than three-quarters them were issued for racket abuse, audible obscenity and  conduct violations

Facts: Of the 2,052 fines issued to both men and women between 1998 and 2018, more than three-quarters them were issued for racket abuse, audible obscenity and  conduct violations

Facts: Of the 2,052 fines issued to both men and women between 1998 and 2018, more than three-quarters them were issued for racket abuse, audible obscenity and conduct violations

Conjecture: Ever since her match against Naomi Osaka of Japan, there has been a public debate on whether Williams would have been treated differently if she had been a man

Conjecture: Ever since her match against Naomi Osaka of Japan, there has been a public debate on whether Williams would have been treated differently if she had been a man

Conjecture: Ever since her match against Naomi Osaka of Japan, there has been a public debate on whether Williams would have been treated differently if she had been a man

At the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon, there are 128 singles spots for men vs. 96 for women, so 25 per cent fewer women on court, acting in ways that could potentially warrant a penalty.

Ms Goldstein said: ‘If we take these two factors- fewer women spending less time on court – into account, the disparity in fines for violations between men and women decreases considerably.

‘However, what it doesn’t do is show that women are actually fined more often than men.

‘Thus, statistically speaking, there isn’t any real concrete evidence to show that, when it comes to being issued a violation, women are treated any more unfairly than men.’

‘What is interesting about the Grand Slam tournament violations, however, is that most of them are issued for what could be perceived as anger, or ‘acts of aggression.’

Of the 2,052 fines issued to both men and women between 1998 and 2018, more than three-quarters them were issued for racket abuse, audible obscenity, and unsportsmanlike conduct violations.

Adding in the other ‘anger-expressing’ violations of ball abuse, verbal abuse, and visible obscenity pushes that figure up to 86.5 per cent.

Ms Goldstein added: ‘So a vast majority of tennis violations are issued for expressions of anger… and research shows that women are disproportionately penalised for showing anger.’

She pointed out several studies revealing that women are disciplined and discredited for expressing anger.

Ms Goldstein concluded: ‘All of this is relevant to the tennis squabble at hand.

‘If it is indeed true that women are disciplined and discredited for expressing anger, then it stands to reason that Ramos penalised Serena to a degree that he would not have done if a man had acted the same way.

‘Does that ‘make it okay’ to receive coaching, smash a racket, and berate the umpire of a professional tennis match? Of course not.

‘But it’s worth a second look at our inherent biases and how they might influence not just tennis matches, but people’s entire livelihoods.’ 

THE FULL TRANSCRIPT OF SERENA WILLIAMS FEUD WITH UMPIRE CARLOS RAMOS

After being penalised for throwing her racket early in the second set:

‘This is unbelievable. Every team I play here I have problems.

‘I didn’t get coaching, I didn’t get coaching. I didn’t get coaching. You need to make an announcement that I didn’t get coaching. I don’t cheat, I didn’t get coaching. How can you say that?

‘You owe me an apology. You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what is right for her and I’ve never cheated. You owe me an apology. 

After being broken to trail 4-3 in the second set:

‘I never got coaching. I explained that to you and for you to attack my character then something is wrong. You’re attacking my character. Yes you are. You owe me an apology.

‘You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar. When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology.

‘Say it, say you’re sorry. Then don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me. How dare you insinuate I was cheating? You stole a point from me. You’re a thief too.’

After being docked a game:

‘Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Because I said you were a thief? You stole a point from me. I’m not a cheater. I told you to apologise to me. Excuse me I need the referee, I don’t agree with that.

With tournament referees:

‘This is not right. INAUDIBLE. He said I was being coached but I was not being coached. That’s not right. You know me. You know my character. This is not fair. This has happened to me too many times. This is not fair. To lose a game for saying that is not fair. Do you know how many men do things that are much worse than that? This is not fair.

‘There are a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they are a man it doesn’t matter. This is unbelievable. No I don’t know the risk because if I say a simple thing, a thief, because he stole a point from me.

‘There are men out here that do a lot worse and because I’m a woman you’re going to take this away from me. That is not right. And you know it and I know you can’t admit it, but I know you know that is not right. I know you can’t change it but I’m just saying that is not right.

‘I get the rules but I’m just saying it’s not right. It happens to me at this tournament every single year and it’s not fair. That’s all I have to say.

Post-match press conference: 

‘I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief, because I thought he took a game from me.

‘But I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief’. It blows my mind.

‘I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that wants to express themselves, and wants to be a strong woman.

‘They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.’  



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