“Wimbledon to Pay Men and Women Equally” was the link on washingtonpost.com that caught my eye this morning. What’s this? A throwback story from the 1970 archives? An interesting precursor to Women’s History Month? A quaint reminder that there once was a time when it was socially quite acceptable to pay women less than men for doing the same thing?
No. This is 2007, and the story is TODAY. The much-vaunted Wimbledon (think Super Bowl of Tennis) bit its stiff upper lip and leapt over the net into modernity. The All England Club announced yesterday that it would pay male and female Wimbledon winners the same, the last of the major tennis tournaments to do so.
Wimbledon may be far from our own experiences and concerns, but let’s not underestimate the impact of this decision on other opportunities for girls and women. 20-time Wimbledon Champion and Women’s Sports Legend Billie Jean King aptly summarized the importance of this decision in today’s New York Times: “But remember, it’s not about the money, it’s about the message it sends to women and girls around the world….Every time we can change a benchmark like this, it helps people ask in their daily life, ‘Are we insisting on equality for our sons and daughters?’ So that makes it a very important moment in history.”
I’ve heard Billie Jean speak on numerous occasions about the blatant discrimination she faced during her playing years as she won tournament after tournament, but taking home remarkably small paychecks compared to her male counterparts. She founded the Women’s Sports Foundation as an educational and advocacy organization to improve conditions for girls and women in all sports. Thanks to her unrelenting advocacy and the great work of the Foundation (one of Trinity’s most valuable partners in helping us to establish the Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports!), the opportunities for girls and women to play sports in schools and universities, and to pursue professional opportunities in sports have never been greater. In particular, the Women’s Sports Foundation has successfully sustained Title IX, the law that protects equal rights for girls and women throughout all levels of education, including in sports opportunities.
Just last night at dinner, a friend asked our table if we thought there would ever come a time when we did not have to be concerned about gender equality, or equality among people of different races and ethnic backgrounds. One colleague, citing the recent advances of women like Nancy Pelosi and Drew Faust at Harvard, said she thought in her daughter’s lifetime there would be broader acceptance of equal opportunity, less emphasis on difference. I’m not so sure, given the profound fissures across race and social class, in particular, that traverse our landscape.
But it’s true that we are in an extraordinary era for women’s rights and advancement, with old barriers shattered and new advances for women appearing almost daily. Let’s always remember that this progress has not occurred by happenstance; change occurs on when the courageous voices of women like Billie Jean King and her colleagues on the Women’s Tennis circuit, and in the Women’s Sports Foundation, raised in sustained advocacy over a long period of time, are finally heard in the club rooms and board rooms where the power resides to ensure equal opportunity for all.