Venus Williams and her little sister Serena are similar in many ways: They’re both decorated tennis champions, savvy businesswomen, and proponents of gender equality in sports, whether that’s in terms of pay checks, access, or representation.
But unlike Serena, Venus doesn’t call herself a feminist.
“I don’t like labels,” she told Elle U.K. “Though I do think as women we have much more power and opportunities in our hands than ever before.”
She goes on to praise the idea of empowered, strong women, and acknowledges strides that have been made. “There’s been so much growth for women in sports. It’s very exciting,” she said.
“There are always challenges that you have to overcome on a daily basis,” Venus continued. “Unfortunately, people have the tendency to want to dominate one another, but fortunately, there are people who want to build other women up. It’s up to those people who want to build to hopefully eliminate all that negativity.”
One could argue that once such person is her sister Serena, who could point to many public examples of supporting other women. The tennis star appeared in Beyoncé’s “Sorry” music video in 2016, dancing and twerking alongside Queen Bey. Beyoncé herself is responsible for bringing the term to the forefront of pop culture back in 2014, performing in front of a screen that said “feminist” during her Mrs. Carter world tour and later at the MTV VMAs.
Time declared “feminist” was “a word with a complicated history reclaimed by the most powerful celebrity in the world.” Beyoncé explained her reasoning for taking back the word. “I put the definition of feminist in my song and on my tour, not for propaganda or to proclaim to the world that I’m a feminist, but to give clarity to the true meaning,” she told Elle.
“I’m not really sure people know or understand what a feminist is, but it’s very simple. It’s someone who believes in equal rights for men and women.”
Venus's sister Serena echoed a similar sentiment. “I definitely am a feminist. I like to stick up for women and women’s rights. So many things happen and I just think ‘Wow, why don’t we have a chance?’ If that makes me a feminist, I am proud to be one,” Serena told The Sunday Telegraph’s Stellar magazine.
Perhaps Venus’s issue with the term is that like many men and women, she has negative preconceptions about feminism that skew her understanding of its true definition. When interviewing her fellow tennis star, Rafael Nadal, last year, I had the feeling he had a similar misconception. “Sorry, but I consider myself a normal person,” he told InStyle when asked about the label. “I don’t see a difference between men and women.” Considering I had just a few seconds left to talk to Nadal before he hit the court, I bit my tongue rather than explain how that is, in fact, the very definition.
Nadal's contemporary, Andy Murray, though, needs no vocabulary lesson. The British tennis pro’s declaration that he identifies as a feminist is the reason I asked Nadal the question in the first place. His frequent talk of gender pay equality in sports—spurred, he says, by having a female coach—brings the narrative back in the news cycle during every grand slam.
But talk about feminism as he might, it seems some players might not see eye-to-eye. Yet.