Paying Women Less is Not Always Sexist

"Equal Pay for Equal Work" has become the Eleventh Commandment in the Western world. It is a fine sentiment. But when is work "equal"? The realm of sport provides some interesting perspective on the matter.

On June 26th, Venus Williams wrote an article in the Times of London characterizing the All England Lawn Tennis Club as sexist due to its decision to pay the women's champion at Wimbledon slightly less than the champion on the men's side (Though she is very careful not to come right out and call the club "sexist" directly, that is a clear implication of her message).  The column caused quite a bit of discussion over the last week and, having read the reactions before the actual article, I was fully prepared to hate it based on the absurd rhetoric of Ms. Williams' supporters.  Fortunately, she was far more reasonable in her comments than most of the "professional" columnists who attempted to back her up.

Throughout her column, Ms. Williams demonstrates a lot of intelligent logic that should have pointed her in the proper direction. For example, she fondly refers to the meritocracy involved in tennis and discusses her commitment to convincing young girls that there is no glass—ceiling.  Despite that, and with the help of a few cliché left—wing catch phrases, Venus Williams comes to a very disappointing conclusion: Women should earn equal amounts of prize money at Wimbledon solely for the sake of being able to say everything is equal — even if it isn't.

In reality, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has several legitimate reasons for paying higher awards to its men's champions.  Most importantly, officials at the AELTC claim that the women carry less "box office appeal" and, therefore, don't earn as much money for the club as the men do.  In professional tennis, men play 5 sets per match while the women only play 3.  As a result, if the payout for the men's and women's championships were the same at Wimbledon, it would be a case of equal pay for unequal work.

But the fact that the AELTC is fully justified in its approach to the prizes it offers isn't the main point here.  The concern I have is with the way Venus Williams has chosen to handle the situation.  She is demanding that women be paid more simply to achieve a false perception of equality.  That is inconsistent with what I know about Ms. Williams' work ethic on the court and her desire to be judged based on her efforts.

A far more effective strategy for Ms. Williams would have been to challenge the club to take a stand on true equality.  Here is an example of how her message should have read:

The All England Lawn Tennis Club is saying publicly that it does not believe that women bring enough value to Wimbledon to justify being paid an equal amount of prize money.  Fine.  Since club officials insist on paying the women's champion based on how much profit we bring in, I want them to tell all of the female contestants at Wimbledon what we can do to increase the revenue at women's events.  Do you want us to play 5 sets like the men?  Consider it done.  Need players to do more personal appearances to increase the demand for tickets?  I'll be there.  Want us to be more fan accessible and sign more autographs?  I'll sign them all day long.

If the AELTC truly believes that there is less demand from the fans for the women's tournament, then it should be willing to work with us to change that.  Certainly in a sport as popular as women's tennis it wouldn't be difficult to create an increased interest in Wimbledon.  On the other hand, if the women's tournament is bringing in an equal amount of profit to the AELTC, then it's time to pay us what we're worth."

Had Venus Williams taken this approach, she would have proven that she was determined to achieve true equality and not just the appearance of equality.  In addition, it would have forced the club to give a very definitive and public response to one of its most popular athletes.

Chad Kent is a freelance writer and political commentator who lives in central Illinois.

"Equal Pay for Equal Work" has become the Eleventh Commandment in the Western world. It is a fine sentiment. But when is work "equal"? The realm of sport provides some interesting perspective on the matter.

On June 26th, Venus Williams wrote an article in the Times of London characterizing the All England Lawn Tennis Club as sexist due to its decision to pay the women's champion at Wimbledon slightly less than the champion on the men's side (Though she is very careful not to come right out and call the club "sexist" directly, that is a clear implication of her message).  The column caused quite a bit of discussion over the last week and, having read the reactions before the actual article, I was fully prepared to hate it based on the absurd rhetoric of Ms. Williams' supporters.  Fortunately, she was far more reasonable in her comments than most of the "professional" columnists who attempted to back her up.

Throughout her column, Ms. Williams demonstrates a lot of intelligent logic that should have pointed her in the proper direction. For example, she fondly refers to the meritocracy involved in tennis and discusses her commitment to convincing young girls that there is no glass—ceiling.  Despite that, and with the help of a few cliché left—wing catch phrases, Venus Williams comes to a very disappointing conclusion: Women should earn equal amounts of prize money at Wimbledon solely for the sake of being able to say everything is equal — even if it isn't.

In reality, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has several legitimate reasons for paying higher awards to its men's champions.  Most importantly, officials at the AELTC claim that the women carry less "box office appeal" and, therefore, don't earn as much money for the club as the men do.  In professional tennis, men play 5 sets per match while the women only play 3.  As a result, if the payout for the men's and women's championships were the same at Wimbledon, it would be a case of equal pay for unequal work.

But the fact that the AELTC is fully justified in its approach to the prizes it offers isn't the main point here.  The concern I have is with the way Venus Williams has chosen to handle the situation.  She is demanding that women be paid more simply to achieve a false perception of equality.  That is inconsistent with what I know about Ms. Williams' work ethic on the court and her desire to be judged based on her efforts.

A far more effective strategy for Ms. Williams would have been to challenge the club to take a stand on true equality.  Here is an example of how her message should have read:

The All England Lawn Tennis Club is saying publicly that it does not believe that women bring enough value to Wimbledon to justify being paid an equal amount of prize money.  Fine.  Since club officials insist on paying the women's champion based on how much profit we bring in, I want them to tell all of the female contestants at Wimbledon what we can do to increase the revenue at women's events.  Do you want us to play 5 sets like the men?  Consider it done.  Need players to do more personal appearances to increase the demand for tickets?  I'll be there.  Want us to be more fan accessible and sign more autographs?  I'll sign them all day long.

If the AELTC truly believes that there is less demand from the fans for the women's tournament, then it should be willing to work with us to change that.  Certainly in a sport as popular as women's tennis it wouldn't be difficult to create an increased interest in Wimbledon.  On the other hand, if the women's tournament is bringing in an equal amount of profit to the AELTC, then it's time to pay us what we're worth."

Had Venus Williams taken this approach, she would have proven that she was determined to achieve true equality and not just the appearance of equality.  In addition, it would have forced the club to give a very definitive and public response to one of its most popular athletes.

Chad Kent is a freelance writer and political commentator who lives in central Illinois.