Apparently it wasn’t just the horse people upset by Sports Illustrated’s sportsperson of the year, Serena Williams. Chicago Sun-Times columnist and friend to women Rick Morrissey is very concerned with the representation of women in the media. He believes that the SI cover shot of Serena sets women back:
Then the magazine put her on its cover looking like she wants one thing, and it’s not a chat with the line judge.
In the photo, she’s wearing a black, lacy, leotard-like outfit, legs draped suggestively over a golden chair. It in no way helps the cause of women looking to be recognized for their athletic abilities. A prudish outlook in 2015? Maybe, but it’s hard to shake the idea that women, sadly, are still doing what men want them to do, whether they mean to or not.
None of this makes any sense. Serena’s getup is no more revealing than any of her standard tennis-playing outfits, and the “one thing” her pose suggests is that she wants you to pay deference to the sportsperson of the year. That isn’t to say that the cover isn’t sexual—Serena Williams wearing anything less than a tarp exudes some amount of sexuality, the same way shots of Bryce Harper or Cristiano Ronaldo or any number of any athletes do—but that it isn’t remotely “sexual” in the sense that Morrissey means it. “Sexual” covers of that sort look very different.
Perhaps if we had no idea what Serena Williams thought and were too lazy to find out, it’d be excusable to wonder if the same magazine that generates 10 percent of its revenue from a swimsuit issue designed wholly for men to leer at almost-naked women was objectifying Serena, even if that involved ignoring what the actual cover looks like. But we do know what she thinks! In fact, according to Sports Illustrated’s account, the cover shot was her idea:
The cover shot of this issue? Her inspiration, intended, like the Pirelli shots, to express her own ideal of femininity, strength, power.
And here’s what she told USA Today:
“I liked the idea of the throne,” Williams told USA TODAY Sports of the Sports Illustrated cover. “I said, ‘Listen, this needs to be something that no one forgets, something iconic! I wanted it to be really special... really Serena.’ When we went with that, I loved it.”
What’s deeply strange here is that Morrissey knows and even explicitly acknowledges that Serena agreed “to pose in the way she did to reflect female power,” but outright dismisses the possibility that she might actually mean what she says, or have some idea of how to project strength, confidence, and power:
Williams, who won three majors this year, said she agreed to pose in the way she did to reflect female power, which is a noble idea. But I’m afraid it accomplishes exactly the opposite. It objectifies women. Her intent won’t line up with the reception, which will be a bunch of men leering at her the way they do at every SI swimsuit model. She might be selling power, but they’re buying sex.
The irony is that since her ascendance years ago Serena has been criticized by stupid sportswriters for being too muscular, for looking “manly,” and for having an “oozing pumpkin” butt. Now, after being recognized for one of the greatest seasons in the history of tennis, the commanding pose she chooses to strike to express her dominance is deemed ... too sexy.
Serena Williams has no obligation to anybody other than herself; she likes the cover, and that’s one of two things that matters here. The other is that she’s not just projecting her idea of what a powerful black woman looks like, she in fact is one. You can be sure of few things more than you can be that she does not give a fuck what Rick Morrissey thinks.