The Wimbledon tennis tournament has been around since 1877, and it first allowed women to compete in 1884. Such an old and prestigious tournament is steeped in tradition — even traditions that have outlived their usefulness. An article in the New York Times reveals that at Wimbledon, female competitors are still defined by their marital status, regardless of whether they’ve taken their spouse’s name.
Meet Mrs. Serena Williams
About a year ago, Serena Williams married Alexis Ohanian, but hasn’t publicly taken his last name. But at Wimbledon, the chair umpires address her as “Mrs. Williams” to reflect her marital status, even though she told the Times she isn’t sure what she wants to be called yet. Unmarried women are addressed as “Miss,” and Wimbledon hasn’t adopted the neutral term “Ms,” which allows women to be addressed formally without being defined by their marital status.
Not surprisingly, the male competitors have no such issues. Men, regardless of whether they’re married, are always addressed and listed by their last name only. And it doesn’t end there — the Wimbledon Compendium lists male-female marriages of all women who have reached the semifinals or finals, but doesn’t do the same for men. (The Compendium also doesn’t list same sex marriages.)
This tradition erases married female winners
Referring to Serena Williams as “Mrs. Williams” is actually a step in the right direction. In the past, married female winners were listed on the All England Club’s board of champions by their husband’s name — even if they weren’t publicly using his name. Chris Evert won in Wimbledon in 1974 and 1976, before she was married, and is listed as “Miss. C.M. Evert.” But when she won in 1981, after marrying John Lloyd, she was listed as “Mrs. J.M. Lloyd.” It looks like an entirely different person won Wimbledon instead of Chris Evert.
Even if female tennis players do decide to take their husband’s last name in competition, the board of champions still lists them using their husband’s initials and last name. Billie Jean King took the last name of her then-husband (tennis player Larry King), but next to the years of her six Wimbledon wins, she’s listed as Mrs. L.W. King, giving credit to the husband she would divorce in 1987.
Wimbledon has a history of gender inequality
When the New York Times asked about this practice, Wimbledon didn’t give an explanation, but instead passed the buck to the Women’s Tennis Association.
Adrian Wilson, the Wimbledon chief of officials, said the marital statuses of female players come from the Women’s Tennis Association and are put into the central tournament database, which displays on the tablet screens used by chair umpires.
Wilson is essentially saying “the WTA gives us the information, so we have to use it,” which is pretty ridiculous. But it’s not surprising given the tournament’s history of valuing men’s tennis more than women’s. It didn’t start to give equal prize money to women until 2007, 123 years after they first allowed women to compete. The women’s qualifying tournament won’t have the same number of spots as men until 2019. And women’s matches don’t get nearly the same spotlight on the main courts. The Times looked at matches on Wimbledon’s feature courts over the last 25 years, and found that just 39% were women’s matches.
Looking at how Wimbledon has treated women over the years, maybe it’s time for some of those traditions to be retired. And using “Mrs” for married female competitors could be a great place to start.
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