Melissa Lawford | The rally behind equal pay
British Currency | How Wimbledon draws a spotlight on the blurred lines of sexism in sports
July 10, 2014, 2:27 pm · Updated July 16, 2014, 5:42 pm·
It finally happened. Christmas came early.
Basically, my father won two tickets to Wimbledon from a ballot he wasn’t aware he’d entered. He considered them fairly rubbish tickets, so he gave them to me. Last Thursday, I finally found myself doing “the wave” in the audience of No. 1 Court struggling to balance my time between applause and picnic.
They were fairly rubbish tickets, as it happened, but I was content.
The matches we got were all doubles. They were fast-paced and there were volleys galore. I sipped my cider and cheered and got sunburnt and was delighted.
Controversially, part of my delight came from relief that the games we got were men’s. I really dislike myself for it but, generally, I’m not that interested in women’s tennis. And it’s not just because Nadal has a tendency to take his shirt off when he wins.
Don’t get me wrong, women’s tennis can be great. But, as a spectator sport, the game is less likely to deliver.
Take this year’s final. Kvitova played brilliant, breathtaking tennis, all credit to her. But, though the style was there, the match wasn’t. Bouchard was hammered in 55 minutes of 6-3 6-0.
Honestly, if you were offered a choice between watching an hour of pulverization, or the four hours and five nail-biting sets of the Djokovic/Federer final, which ticket would you pay for?
Well, I know what I would answer, so I have been struggling to work out my opinion on the equal pay debate.
For years, Wimbledon had argued that women’s matches held less commercial value as they were only best of three sets, rather than best of five. Handing female players less prize money was therefore justifiable, they said.
In 2007, meeting the standards of the U.S. and Australian Opens, they brought in equal prize money for men and women at all round levels. Feminism cheered wholeheartedly.
Women put in the same amount of passion into tennis as men do. They dedicate their lives to the game in the same way as men; they pay for their trainers in the same way; they are charged the same amount as men to fly to the Grand Slams and to stay in hotels near the tournaments. They sacrifice as much in their lives — biology just means that they can’t play five-set matches. We’re not built for them, and surely women should not have to pay financially for athletic inequality.
Yet payment based on effort rather than on results almost feels slightly patronizing, and the rationalist within me really understands the counter-argument. Kvitova and Djokovic each received roughly $3 million this year; one played 15 sets of tennis in the entire tournament, the other played 27. The math doesn’t add up, and don’t we all want to be judged by the same standards?
Now, however, I tell my inner rationalist to shut up.
I get the argument completely. I even find myself debating in line with it often enough. But the issue isn’t really a matter of argument. Equal pay should not be about rationality. It is a matter of principle.
I believe that Wimbledon has a responsibility as a high-profile event to set an example for how things ought to be in the rest of the world. Equal pay ought to be the norm everywhere. We are all people; being judged by the same standards matters, but having the same opportunities matters more.
Well, speaking for equality is obvious; I think my main aim is to express my confusion over where to stand. I am disturbed by the fact that it even occurs to me to think in line with the rationale against equal pay.
But really, commercial value does have to be taken out of the question completely. The debate is colored by discussions about sexism. And if it is going to be a conversation about gender divides, Wimbledon, as such a prestigious tournament, must consider this a matter of ethics. A policy of equality must be the ultimate message. If we lived in a world where equal pay in everything was a complete and basic principle of day-to-day life, we really could all be judged on our results rather than our efforts.
Melissa Lawford is an exchange College junior from the University of Edinburgh studying English literature. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.