It’s an archaic tradition that erases women’s achievements. Can we consign it to the history books already?
Billie Jean King. Chris Evert. Evonne Goolagong. Margaret Court. They’re some of the most famous women in tennis history, winning Wimbledon multiple times between them. But look at the champions’ board at Centre Court, and you might initially struggle to find them. There is no ‘BJ King’ anywhere; nor does Evert’s name appear in 1981, when she took home the trophy for the third time. Goolagong is listed in 1971, the first time she became a Wimbledon champion, but not in 1980, the year of her second victory.
Why? Because all of these women appear on the winners’ board under their husband’s names. In 1980, Goolagong is credited as “Mrs R Cawley”, a nod to her husband Roger Cawley. Nine years earlier, when she wasn’t yet married, she was listed under her own name. Similarly, Evert appears as “Miss CM Evert” in 1974 and 1976, but not in 1981: when she won Wimbledon as a married woman, she was listed as “Mrs JM Lloyd”, for her then-husband John Lloyd.
King, meanwhile, only ever appears on the board under her husband Larry’s initials and surname as “Mrs LW King”, and her long-time rival Margaret Court is credited as “Mrs BM Court” for her husband Barry. King and Court both used their married names professionally for much of their careers, but there’s something galling about the fact that even the first letters of their first names weren’t allowed on the board.
It might have been the norm in years gone by, but today addressing women using their husband’s initials and surnames looks archaic and sexist: an example of men receiving credit for their wives’ extraordinary achievements, and women’s names being erased from official records.
This might seem like a problem from another decade. But in 2018, women at Wimbledon are still being defined by their marital status. The New York Times reports that Serena Williams has been repeatedly referred to as “Mrs” throughout this year’s tournament, despite the fact that she has not taken her husband’s surname.
When Williams beat Viktoriya Tomova 6-1 6-4 on Wednesday (4 July), for example, the umpire proclaimed: “Game, set and match, Mrs Williams.” Throughout the match, Tomova, who is unmarried, was referred to as “Miss Tomova”.
Williams is also likely to be listed as “Mrs S Williams” on the champions’ board this year, even though it is extremely unusual to pair a woman’s maiden name with her married title. The term Ms, which has been preferred by many women since the Seventies because it doesn’t give away their relationship status, has never been used at Wimbledon.
In contrast, Wimbledon officials refer to male players using their surnames only. When Roger Federer won his match at Centre Court on Wednesday, the umpire simply called him “Federer”. On the champions’ board, he is listed as “R Federer”. Caitlin Moran often says that you can tell something is sexist if women have to do it and men don’t, and that logic applies here.
Incredibly, The New York Times also notes that all women who reach the semifinals or final at Wimbledon are required to have their “marriage history” – their husband’s name, wedding date and location – logged in the Wimbledon Compendium, a glossary of the tournament’s history. No similar record is kept for men who reach that stage of the tournament, and women in same-sex marriages don’t appear to have their weddings logged.
The tournament has long had a questionable attitude towards gender equality. It wasn’t until 2007 that male and female Wimbledon champions received equal prize money, and a report released in June found that more men’s than women’s matches were scheduled in the most prominent courts in every year from 1993 to 2017.
Just last year, meanwhile, 14 men’s matches were programmed to play on Centre Court, double the number of women’s matches – a discrepancy that the chief executive of the All England Club explained by saying that the public was simply more interested in watching men’s tennis.
But things are changing, albeit gradually. This year’s event marks the first time that more women’s matches have been scheduled on the tournament’s show courts than men’s in 25 years. And while women are still called Miss and Mrs by umpires and on the champions’ board, they have not been credited as such on the Wimbledon scoreboards since 2009.
With this in mind, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that women no longer be defined by their marital status anywhere at the tournament. Female athletes aren’t referred to as “Miss” or “Mrs” in any sports apart from tennis, and at no competitions apart from Wimbledon and the French Open (where women are called “Mademoiselle” and “Madame”, but men are never “Monseiur”). Can you imagine Lizzie Yarnold barrelling down the skeleton run at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang as “Mrs Roche”, or Nicola Adams striding into the boxing ring as “Miss Adams”?
The insistence on married titles for women perpetuates an uncomfortable idea that women’s sport is somehow more genteel, more refined and more traditional than men’s – when we know that it can be just as fiery, powerful and ground-breaking.
Williams, for her part, has said that she isn’t yet sure whether she wants to be addressed as “Mrs”. If she decides that she doesn’t, we hope she demands a “Ms” on that champions’ board. Because if anyone can shake up Wimbledon’s mustiest traditions, it’s Serena Williams.
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