Have we lost our minds about gender? The Serena Williams Story

A lot has happened in the world since my last piece for Cautious Optimism.  The Supreme Court temporarily backed Trump’s travel ban, with all indications pointing to a permanent smack-down of the dopes in the 4th and 9th circuit courts later this year.

Elmo went to Jordan, and is back to report that Syrian refugee kids are just like other kids.  (Even Jewish and Christian kids, whose lives are routinely threatened by at least some of the parents of the Syrian kids.)

Trump posted a juvenile but hilarious wrestling video of him pummeling a CNN figure, after which CNN pulled its collective dress over its head and stomped around in a room full of rakes – “This video constitutes a threat to journalists’ lives!  We must find the meme-maker and give him the Otto Warmbier treatment!” — making themselves look much worse than Trump.

Jamie Galioto captured a much-deserved CO Follower of the Month award, to the acclaim of a grateful nation.

But one story captured my attention, not because it was the most politically significant, but because it might offer one of the most painfully indicative “sign of the times” in terms of our society’s growing insanity when it comes to issues of gender and sexism.

This was the mind-numbingly stupid controversy over John McEnroe’s comments about Serena Williams’ hypothetical competitiveness against the top male tennis players in the world.  There were three parts to the story:

Act 1: The Interview.

In the course of an NPR interview with someone called Lulu Garcia-Navarro, McEnroe praised Williams as probably “the greatest female tennis player of all time.”  Ever vigilant for sexist thought, the interviewer said, “Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world.  Why qualify it?”

McEnroe was apparently too stunned by the weapons-grade obliviousness of the question. “Oh!” McEnroe replied. “Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?”

“Yeah, the best tennis player in the world,” Garcia-Navarro said. “You know, why say female player?”

Luckily, McEnroe wasn’t drinking anything at that moment, or he could have done a classic spit take, drenching Lulu, as she so richly deserved.  He said that he thought she would be ranked around 700 if she played against men, which led to howls of outrage from those who are perpetually on the verge of howling with outrage.

By the way, you’re probably asking yourself if interviewer Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the same Garcia-Navarro who won dozens of professional women’s tennis tournaments, and for whom the oversized crystal trophy awarded to each year’s Wimbledon champ – “The Lulu” – is named.

No and no.

First, there is no Wimbledon trophy called “the Lulu” – I made that up.  You should be a little embarrassed if you believed me.

Second, my extensive research – by which I mean, two minutes of Googling Garcia-Navarro – shows that Lulu has never played professional tennis.  Or, as far as I could tell, college tennis or high school tennis.  She may never have picked up a tennis racket in her life.

Which might start to explain – although a room temperature IQ might also be a contributing factor – why she thinks that there is no reason (except sexism, of course) to say that a female tennis player might be better than any of the male tennis players in the world.

I’m going to mention a few biological facts now.  So, I guess… trigger warning for those of you who cannot tolerate reality?  For the rest of you, stand back while I blow your mind:

Males are physically larger, with more muscle and less body fat than females.  They are faster, and hit the ball harder than females do.  Extensive research (i.e. another 90 seconds on Google) shows that the top 20 male serve speeds range from 144-163 miles per hour, compared to the top female speeds from 124-131, and that the average male serve speed is around 30 kilometers per hour faster than the average female serve speed.  (I don’t know how much that is in miles per hour, because I’m not a commie who uses the metric system, except when buying a gun or tools.  But I’m guessing that it’s a significant difference.)

These aren’t insults; they’re facts.  And there’s no reason for a rational person to be offended by them.  But sadly, it’s the mark of a certain kind of feminist to not be able to acknowledge the most basic biological differences without being angered by them.   (Full disclosure: I consider myself a feminist, but not the “all men are horrible, and women are superior” kind.)

My wife is good at many things that I’m not.  Though I sometimes envy her for that, I can’t imagine getting angry about it.  And if I point out that I can do many more pushups than she can, I don’t have to worry that she’ll go off on a spittle-flecked rant insisting that I take that back or she’ll kill me.

That was an old girlfriend.  And things didn’t end well.

Anyway, it’s a very bad sign when our society can’t acknowledge the naturally differing abilities of both genders without being infuriated by them.   I hope that one day we’ll all meet at a big Cautious Optimism convention, and if we do, I expect that many people will say things to me like, “Wow, you smell nice.” Or “I noticed you doing many one-armed push-ups earlier. Impressive.”

But if one of you – say, Lulu Garcia-Navarro, if she somehow snuck past CO’s security – were to say something like, “Simpson, you think you’re so great, with your Nobel prize in ornithology and your fashionable tuxedo.”  (I picture all of us at a Cautious Optimism convention in formal wear.) “But you, sir, are horrible at lactating.  In fact, I bet I could lactate circles around you!”

I might respond in several ways, including wondering who this crazy woman was, and how she got in here, and what circular lactating would look like.

But do you know how I would NOT respond in a million years?

I would not get defensive and say, “Oh yeah?!  Them’s fightin’ words!” And then I would NOT ball up my fists and flex like Hans and Franz, grunting loudly while I tried to force myself to lactate on cue.

Because men don’t lactate nearly as well as women.  (Cue the NBC “The more you know” theme music.)  We also don’t tend to listen as well as women.  Or have as much emotional intelligence as women do.  Or exercise basic common sense when it comes to things with motors in them.

And that doesn’t make us less worthy as human beings.  Any more than the fact that the best male tennis players in the world would dominate the best female tennis players in the world.


Act 2: The Coerced Apology

Well, that’s it, you’re thinking.  Garcia-Navarro is a dim bulb, but an idiosyncratic one.  Surely no one else could be stupid enough to–  Wait.  This just in from an Inside Edition interview with McEnroe a few days after the controversy broke.

Co-host Gayle King complains, “I think it belittles what women do on the tennis court, that’s why people are upset,” she said.

Because stating an undeniable truth is seen as “belittling.”  Duh.

McEnroe tries to explain himself – that is, tries to explain the obvious – when Norah O’Donnell chimes in with, “I’m just waiting… would you like to apologize?”

When McEnroe says, “No,” Charlie Rose says, “Why was it necessary to say that?” and the three hosts badger him for several more painfully comedic minutes.

In recent years everybody seems to be getting awfully sensitive on various topics, but it seems like we’ve really lost our mind when it comes to gender (and race, too).  I can’t imagine, for example, similar comments being made about someone on the Senior PGA tour, which is a league in which famous pro golfers over 55 compete against each other.  But if a commentator mentioned that he thought that some old guy was the best golfer on the senior tour, no “journalist” would be goofy enough to say, “Why do you qualify that?  Why best ‘senior’ golfer?  Why not just say that he’s the best golfer in the world?”

If anyone WAS dopey enough to say that, the commentator would say something like, “Because he’s 86!  His drives go as far as Dustin Johnson’s 7 irons!  Are you nuts?  Hold on, let me take a long drink, so you can ask that question again, and I can spit it on you in disgust.”


Act 3: In Which the Poor Victim Proves to be a Hypocrite

So after McEnroe initially refuses to apologize for saying something that is obviously true, the empty heads work on him for a few minutes until he cracks, mumbling about not wanting to upset Serena while she’s pregnant.

But as part of the Inside Edition piece, they quote a tweet from Serena herself: “Dear John, I adore and respect you, but please, please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.  Respect me and my privacy as I am trying to have a baby.”

By the way, my favorite part of the Inside Edition piece was that the story cut immediately from Serena’s plea for respecting her privacy as she has her baby to – wait for it – “Speaking of her baby, look at this provocative new Vanity Fair cover: a very pregnant Serena!” Sure enough, they plaster a big nude photo of Serena in what has to be the fourth trimester, at least.

Because nothing says, “Why won’t anyone give me my privacy?!” like a nude cover photo on Vanity Fair.

Anyway, look at her tweet one more time: she objects to McEnroe’s “statements that are not factually based.”  Does that mean that she agrees with Lulu that she could beat the best male players?  It sounds like it.

But then, Serena’s appearance on Letterman from four years ago surfaced.  Letterman talked about the Billie Jean King/ Bobby Riggs match, and asked Serena, “What would happen if something like that happened today?”

Williams said essentially what earned McEnroe such scorn.  Her answer, which I’m not making up, was, “Andy Murray [at that time, the 3rd ranked men’s player in the world] has been joking about myself and him playing a match… For me, men’s and women’s tennis are completely almost two separate sports. If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe ten minutes…. The men are a lot faster, they serve harder, they hit harder.  It’s a different game.  I love to play women’s tennis, and I only want to play girls because I don’t want to be embarrassed.  I would not do the tour or Billie Jean King any justice, so Andy stop it, I’m not going to let you kill me.”

Hypocrisy, thy name is Serena.

So what have we learned from this?  Maybe that men and women are different?

If you still needed to learn that, you should sue the Gender Studies program from which you received your degree.

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