There’s no denying she’s strong and stands up for what she believes in. But in a new interview, Serena Williams reveals she found feminism by helping a friend through financial abuse. The tennis star said she didn’t fully understand the weight of the term “feminist” until she needed to speak out on behalf of another woman who, at the time, was stuck in a volatile cycle of oppression.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Williams is partnering with nonprofit Allstate Foundation Purple Purse for the third time to highlight survivors’ stories of domestic violence. This includes a prevalent yet less discussed form: financial abuse. It was in watching a close friend struggle through this that Williams learned to use her voice to empower the women around her, regardless of the risks. “I didn’t realize what a feminist was until my friend was going through this situation,” Williams told Bustle in a powerful new interview published on her birthday (September 26). “I thought it was really important to tell her, ‘This is not a great situation to be in.'”
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At the time, said Williams, she realized women are often too afraid of alienating the women around them to step in on their behalf. “It’s difficult to say those messages without your friend cutting the strings, and then she’s really left alone,” said Williams, adding that the stakes were too high to stay silent. “I need to speak up. I need to be loud. I need you to hear me.”
These are powerful words that apply to a multitude of situations. At its core, feminism is about advocating on behalf of women’s rights and interests. And while most of us think of that in terms of the broader scale of societal issues like gender inequality and pay equity, Williams makes an important point: feminism happens at home, too. It starts with empowering the women around you to stand up for themselves.
Domestic violence, and specifically financial abuse, is rooted in taking the victim’s power away (or trying to). As Williams explains in a video for the Allstate Foundation, some of the signs of financial abuse include your partner taking credit cards out in your name and maxing them out, taking your paycheck, denying you access to your bank accounts, demanding receipts, and forbidding you from working.
Although Williams’ friend was a victim of these insidious behaviors, she’s one of the lucky ones. With encouragement from Williams, she got out. “Now she’s kind of coming out of the fog. She’s a different person,” Williams said.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 or head to their website to learn more.