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When women look strong: Marion Bartoli and the sexism at Wimbledon

Wimbledon is about tennis. It's about grace, poise, endurance, and victory. This year's female champion Marion Bartoli embodies Wimbledon, but in a body a BBC commentator found unappealing. Wimbledon is not about misogyny. 

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Marion Bartoli poses with her Wimbledon trophy.

Bob Martin/AP

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"Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little, 'you're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight?'"

These words were uttered by the BBC's John Inverdale on Radio Five Live when Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon 2013. Bartoli had just proven herself one of the top tennis players in the world--a woman of strength, skill, and athleticism. But instead of comparing Bartoli's win with other female tennis players', Inverdale took stock of whether she was as beautiful as other tennis players.

Reducing women to their physical appearances, no matter their accomplishments, is misogyny. It undercuts women's achievements and suggests that if you are female, nothing is more important than your sex appeal.

Unfortunately, this misogyny is everywhere: As the media spotlight focused on Bartoli, hoards of viewers took to social media to complain about Bartoli's appearance. The twitter stream about Bartoli was truly ugly and filled with obscenities.

The tamest of the twitter comments said that she "didn't deserve to win because she is ugly," that she is a "pig," and that she "looks like she's a cross between a man and an ape." Why did so many comments fixate on suggesting Bartoli was an animal and/or a man? Well, as Judith Butler argues, femininity is not naturally occurring; it is a performance. It requires artifice and careful planning: pretty makeup, coiffed hair, stylish clothing, and a body that is controlled--slim and slight but curvy. In today's world, people expect that any self-respecting woman will make being feminine a priority at all times. (Think about how many women won't leave the house without makeup on, lest people judge them negatively.)

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