GQ just named Serena Williams 'Woman' of the Year and the internet is outraged
Serena William's performance at the 2018 French Open in May marked her return to the court after being on maternity leave. Since then, she has juggled being a mother to daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, with her tennis career, and has also launched an eponymous clothing line built around motivational messaging and self-love.
In other words, her star is certainly on the rise.
On Monday, GQ announced its annual Men of the Year honourees: Michael B. Jordan, Jonah Hill, Henry Golding - and one woman - Serena Williams. On the cover featuring Williams, the byline reads, "Introducing the 2018 'woman' of the year," with the word woman in quotation marks.
The typeface was designed by Virgil Abloah, the founder and creative designer of Off White. Abloah has collaborated with Williams in the past - most notably on a line for Nike - and is known for incorporating quotation marks into his designs.
Some people, however, chose to interpret the punctuation as a sexist dig at Williams who has been subject to ridicule over her appearance, and been called a man because she appears "outwardly strong" - as she herself claimed in an open letter on Reddit last year.
People duly took to Twitter to voice their disapproval of the cover line.
"I can’t believe no one at GQ thought perhaps with misogynistic and violent trans insults that Serena (and Venus) have dealt with for the last almost 20 years, to not put woman in quotation marks. Editorial rooms are a fucking disaster, all over this country. I’m offended for her," wrote one social media user, while another corroborated "In the context of serena williams, a person who has been mocked for her appearance and deliberately misgendered for years... this aint it, virgil [sic]."
"GQ editors could’ve been smarter here. I think when you’re marketing Serena Williams, you’ve got to have a bigger clue on how things are going to be read. Would’ve been more interesting to have done "S E R E N A" and play with people’s understanding of who and what she is," a third suggested.
This is not the first time that GQ has put a woman on the cover for the Man of the Year reveal. Last year, Gal Gadot was named "Wonder Woman of the Year", and there were no quotes around "woman".
Williams has previously acknowledged how her gender has been a subject of contention throughout her career. "It has been said I don't belong in Women's sports — that I belong in Men's — because I look stronger than many other women do," the 37-year-old wrote in a public letter posted to reddit. "(No, I just work hard and I was born with this badass body and proud of it)."
The cover and alleged sexist slight take on more resonance when you consider what went down at the US Open this year. The mother-of-one was accused of cheating and attacked for having a "meltdown" in front of the world's stage. And for many, this incident was yet another example of how Williams is treated differently to occidental female athletes, by and by highlighting how black women's bodies and words are policed in the sports industry and beyond.
As such, when you compare Williams' cover to Gadot', it's hard not to notice a glaring difference, even if the quotation marks were intended to be an artistic touch from Abloah.
Williams has yet to release a statement on the cover, and the profile is due to be released on Thursday.