Grand Slams tend to give those of us who follow sports media coverage much to think about. This year’s Roland Garros was no exception.
After losing in the quarterfinals Dominika Cibulkova said that her opponent, Samantha Stosur, “played like a man.”
Cibulkova presumably intended this statement to serve as an explanation as to why she lost, because according to the young Slovakian, “it’s really hard to play against a man.”
While the post-match interview was not included in the official news release on the Roland Garros website, it did make the headlines of sports media sites in the United States including FoxSports, Yahoo! Sports and Deadspin. The phrase also caught on internationally and appeared in the Australian Courier-Mail and the Croatian 24 Sata, among others.
Cibulkova is not the first person to compare Stosur to a man. In 2010, Serbian tennis player, Jelena Jankovic said that Stosur gave her no chance to win because she played almost like a man. Jankovic added that Stosur’s game was “impressive.” Ai Sugyama made a similar statement. These were supposed to be compliments.
Similarly, Stosur is not the first female tennis player to be called a man by her peers. A few years ago Amelie Mauresmo received the same treatment.
This time, however, we encountered some critical commentaries in the online discourse.
Deadspin mildly called Cibulkova’s comment “bad timing.”
Better yet, a couple of bloggers associated with the Women Talk Sports blog network offered an analysis of the sexism and homophobia embedded in that comparison.
The blogger behind After Atlanta explained what the comment tells us about gender performance and sexuality here, while Courtney Szto argued that “playing like a man” should not be considered a compliment for female athletes and here is why.
As long as female athletes are expected to conform to the rules of femininity and as long as the idea that male athletes are superior to female athletes prevails, we are likely to hear that a female athlete "plays like a man." Yet, a critical analysis of this comparison in the online space carries the potential to change the dominant media discourse and, subsequently, perhaps even ideologies of gender.
With this year’s Roland Garros, we seemed to have moved forward in that regard.
-- Dunja Antunovic