Serena Williams has had a busy offseason. She spoke at a “Women on the Move” conference with JPMorgan Chase; she visited the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; and, perhaps most significantly, she partnered with her sister Venus to open a community service center to fight gun violence in Compton, California, dedicated to their late sister who was murdered in 2003. But she wasn’t done there.
On Tuesday, the 35-year-old icon is sending a powerful feminist message with an open letter in Porter Magazine’s Incredible Women of 2016 issue, which was published online in the Guardian.
In the letter, which she addresses to “all incredible women who strive for excellence,” Williams speaks up in support of equal pay, and encourages young women to “push for greatness and follow their dreams with steadfast resilience.”
She particularly hones in on the fact that many women are discouraged from pursuing their dreams because of their gender, and reminds people that she’s not one of the greatest “female athletes” of all time — she’s one of the greatest athletes, period.
As we know, women have to break down many barriers on the road to success. One of those barriers is the way we are constantly reminded we are not men, as if it is a flaw. People call me one of the “world’s greatest female athletes”. Do they say LeBron is one of the world’s best male athletes? Is Tiger? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female. We should never let this go unchallenged. We should always be judged by our achievements, not by our gender.
This open letter is significant considering that women still only make 79 cents for every dollar that men earn, a gap that increases when race is taken into consideration. (Black women only earn 60 cents to the dollar, while Hispanic women only earn 55 cents.) In sports, that gap is significantly wider.
Even in tennis, the highest-paying sport for women, the wages are still unequal at many tournaments. And in Grand Slams, where women receive equal pay to men, that equality is constantly questioned and criticized. Earlier the year, the sexism that still permeates the sport was exposed due to disturbing and discriminatory comments made by top tennis executives.
Earlier in her career, Serena let Venus do much of the fighting for equal pay, but in recent years, as she has been amassing a legendary number of trophies on the court and advancing her place in history, the younger Williams sister has become much more comfortable speaking up about social issues.
Last fall, she spoke up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of equality when she guest edited an edition of Wired magazine. This summer, after winning her 22nd Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, she spoke out against police brutality. And now, she’s taking a stand for women everywhere.
To quote Serena herself, “We must continue to dream big, and in doing so, we empower the next generation of women to be just as bold in their pursuits.”