NEW YORK, Aug 10:
Serena Williams said it plainly: It isn’t really fair. A male athlete would never have to make the same choice.
But after a trailblazing career that both transformed and transcended her sport, Williams, who turns 41 next month, has told the world she’ll soon step away from tennis to focus on having a second child and making her daughter, Olympia, a big sister. Her explanation in a lengthy Vogue essay resonated with women in sports and well beyond, many of whom could relate only too well to her words, “Something’s got to give.” And to the idea that, no, you really can’t have it all — at least, not all at the same time.
Many noted that Williams’ achievements, which included winning a major when two months pregnant, had made her seem superhuman. But, said Sherie Randolph, even ordinary women are expected to seamlessly combine work and motherhood.
“Society makes women think they can have everything all at once — be the best hands-on-mom and at the top of the field,” said Randolph, a history professor at Georgia Tech and founder of a Black feminist think tank who’s working on a book about African American mothers.
“But that just is not borne out in reality for most women,” she said. ”What ends up happening is that working mothers are just worn out and overworked trying to labor at the highest level of two demanding jobs — motherhood and their profession.” As if to prove her point, Randolph’s 4-year-old son constantly interrupted her thoughts about Williams’ decision as she tried to discuss them in a phone call.
In explaining how her daughter yearned to be a big sister, Williams noted she didn’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete: “I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”
“Believe me,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion also wrote, “I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity,” she said, a reference to the 45-year-old superstar quarterback who recently retired, then reversed his decision 40 days later.
Many women, discussing Williams’ announcement, reflected on their own agonizing choices in the name of “having it all.”
“Even as a woman who sits at a desk, whose body is not taxed by the work at hand, I have felt that searing pulling apart of myself — towards my career, and towards my family,” said Jo McKinney, 57, a New York advertising executive.
“Now, looking back, I wish that every time I chose my family over my job . . . It didn’t label me as unambitious,” she said. “I got goosebumps as I read Serena’s piece because she said what many of us feel and are afraid to voice: It’s not fair, and something’s got to give.”
Such dilemmas are exacerbated in sports, said Lisa Banks, a prominent Washington employment attorney specializing in both gender and sports cases.
“Having it all is a subjective thing,” she said. “You can have it all, but can you have it at the same time and the same level, if you’re going through pregnancies? No, you miss some time, you miss training. You’re necessarily at a disadvantage.”
The issue has been illustrated vividly in track and field. U.S. Sprinters Allyson Felix and Alysia Montano became advocates for mothers when they split with Nike over contract clauses that reduced salaries when they became pregnant. (PTI)