Serena Williams Backlash Is Misguided

Social media trolls who slam the tennis pro for her 'real woman' comments aren't the winners

In her excitement over the upcoming birth of her first child, tennis pro Serena Williams has committed something of a forced error.

The 35-year-old Williams, in a recent interview with the Sun Herald, talked about her fears of becoming a mother. She talked about the challenges of transitioning from a globe-trotting tennis star to a diaper-changing, formula-prepping mom — and the emotions she’s experiencing as the big day nears.

It’s difficult, she said.

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“I have so much respect for so many women [for giving birth],” Williams said. “I am about to be a real woman now, you know? It’s going to be something incredibly impressive to go through.”

She’s nervous.

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“I don’t think watching birthing videos helps,” she added. “I actually think it makes it worse. Having a baby — nothing is guaranteed.”

She’s also concerned about what lies ahead.

“That’s the scariest thing. [But] I think [giving birth] will give me more strength, if that’s possible, and a lot more confidence,” she said. “I feel like I will be ready for anything.”

Those words could have been uttered by just about any other pregnant mom-to-be. But the tennis star’s comments were enough to set off a social media frenzy, as people from all over leaped on Williams’ thoughts. Some women took grave offense, saying they could be a “real woman” without having a child.

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Others on Twitter called her “brainless” — and much worse.

One Twitter user wrote that the comments were a “really unfortunate statement from her. All women are real, not just the ones who give birth.”

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Another Twitter user noted, “Plenty of real women do not have children.”

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There were some favorable responses that emerged amid the backlash.

Conservative commentator and author Ben Shapiro reminded the world that feminists have long linked the “real woman” question to abortion.

“Horrifying,” he tweeted of the suggestion that Williams will be a “real woman” only after giving birth. “Everybody knows only an abortion can do that.”

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One fan tweeted that “going through childbirth is a major feat! Surely she believes she is already a real woman.”

Another fan declared, “Excuse me. That’s her definition.”

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What Williams gets right is that motherhood is significant, challenging, and something to be celebrated. Childbirth can be a joyous experience for first-time mothers — and it can leave them overwhelmed as they take stock of their vast new responsibilities. Her reverence for the role of mother is profound and beautiful.

Becoming a mother is helping to define womanhood for her. Women of other walks of life are certainly free to define it in other terms.

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Yes, adoptive moms are “real women” — as are single women, stepmothers, nuns, and married women who do not have children. The life of a woman — and a man, of course — is uniquely altered by the experience by having children, but other life events have strong impacts as well.

The debate over what it means to be a “real woman” may have offended some — but it also is a topic worth discussing, especially in light of how the transgender community has tried to alter the understanding of the female experience. Being “a real woman” is not about the choice to be a woman, or about abortion, or even about motherhood. Women are “real women” because they’re designed by God that way.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Edwin Martinez, Flickr)

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