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Reader Rabbit

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Member since: Fri Jul 25, 2003, 10:17 AM
Number of posts: 2,232

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Serena Williams & the Silencing of Women

The recent incident between Serena Williams and the umpire at the U.S. Open drew a great deal of commentary. While many were supportive of Serena, there seemed to be just as many that condemned her behavior. The condemnations all seemed deploy silencing tactics sadly familiar with women who speak out against misogyny or sexism.

Even here at supposedly-progressive DU, many of these silencing tactics have been employed against Serena. For those unaware of silencing tactics, Geek Feminism maintains an impressive wiki on the phenomenon.

"Silencing refers to techniques used to shut women up when they complain about sexism or other problems. It encompasses harassment or intimidation that discourages women from speaking out, shaming and humiliation targeted at women who do speak up, and techniques used to dismiss or deny the legitimacy of women's speech."


In reading the various threads about the incident, I specifically noticed the following silencing tactics:

First and foremost, many denied that sexism played any role in the incident—as if women cannot be trusted to recognize discrimination when it confronts them.

" The Male Experience Trump Card is often used as a method to silence women. The focus of this tactic is that because a guy hasn't experienced what has been brought forward it simply doesn't exist or doesn't exist in the way that the oppressed person described it...

The Male Experience Trump Card relies on the fact that in a kyriarchical society, the experience of the (white, straight, cisgender, …) male is taken to be normative and seen as the objective measure of all things."


As a black woman, Serena has no doubt experienced too many racist and sexist incidents to count in her long and dominant career. If she calls an incident out, she knows what she’s talking about, and it’s probably just the tip of a very large and offensive iceberg.

Others made much of Serena’s violation of “the rules.”


“A person in a position of authority can deflect criticism by merely stating, "Those are the rules." This can be used as a silencing tactic to defend unjust or discriminating rules. It may also be an appeal to tradition, one of many logical fallacies.

Standing firm on an unjust rule places the Second shift burden on the marginalized party to either fight the rule, and use up time and resources, or remain marginalized. As rule-followers are generally seen as being good in society, rule-challengers risk being labeled trouble-makers or anarchists, particularly if they are othered.”


Selectively-enforced rules have long been a tool to keep marginalized populations “in their place.”

Still others disparaged Serena’s behavior, likening her to a toddler having a tantrum.

"The tone argument also manifests itself where arguments produced in an angry tone are dismissed irrespective of the legitimacy of the argument; this is also known as tone policing.

The tone argument is a form of derailment, or a red herring, because the tone of a statement is independent of the content of the statement in question, and calling attention to it distracts from the issues raised. Drawing attention to the tone rather than content of a statement can allow other parties to avoid engaging with sound arguments presented in that statement, thus undermining the original party's attempt to communicate and effectively shutting them down."


Perhaps these individuals similarly condemn baseball managers who have it out with umpires, football players who throw their helmets or cheap-shot opponents, or soccer players who have hissy fits over what they view as a bad call, but in this incident, their name calling is directed at a black woman who is calling out—in real time—discriminatory behavior: a very common silencing tactic.

And finally, one or two people attempted to claim victimhood on behalf of the umpire by stating that Serena was the bully or the abusive person.

"You're the bully is a silencing tactic sometimes used against people making complaints. Like You're the sexist, it attempts to turn around accusations of bad behaviour on the person who was originally the victim of it or is calling it out...

However, bullying is about power, and is generally understood to be something that occurs when people with more power exert it over those with less. The stereotypical schoolyard bully is a large, physically strong kid who picks on smaller, weaker ones. Bullying can also occur on other axes of power and oppression. For instance, people who are members of marginalised groups (LGBT people, people with disabilities, people of racial minorities) are often bullied by those not in those groups, and those who have large and vocal power structures behind them(IE popular internet figures or those entrenched in zealous religious or political groups)."



Bullying is the province of those with power, not their victims. In any sporting event, the person who does the officiating has the power, not the athlete. (This one was really mind-boggling, given the frequency of DU threads mocking the victimhood mentality so prevalent in straight, white, CIS, male conservative circles.)



Just a little context from a female athlete who has been around for five decades.
Posted by Reader Rabbit | Tue Sep 11, 2018, 12:58 PM (17 replies)
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