You know Serena Williams, right? Almost everyone from this generation, irrespective of their affinity for tennis, must have heard the name at least once in their lifetime. In an essay released for CNN Opinion, Williams fazed her fans with some shocking news. She almost died after giving birth to her now six-months-old daughter Alexis due to post-delivery complications!
Over the last 15 years, this 36-year-old has managed to clinch the top spot on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. Serena Slam is Serena Williams’ namesake – this is a testimony to Williams’ brilliance on court. She has multiple achievements to her credit and is counted amongst the greats of the Open Era. She’s quite often in the limelight off the court for her sense of style, her charity works, her vocality on relevant issues and much more.
Her harrowing post-partum experience has left her with greater empathy for women and new mothers, especially in underdeveloped nations, who suffer as a consequence of want for better healthcare. However, this is not the first time Williams has shown such sagacity. I recall reading one of her quotes. It went like, “The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you’re very courageous: be strong, be extremely kind, and above all be humble.” Pearls of wisdom from someone whose life hasn’t been a cakewalk because she did not fit the racial benchmark of superiority.
I am not quite sure if she recognizes herself as a feminist. Yet, she is a source of firsthand motivation to millions of women who might be looking out for an iota of hope in the darkest of times. Feminism is a layered concept. It has complex theorizations and conceptualizations. There are varied waves of feminism. There are abstract words like sexual contract, body image and receding to be the Second Sex. I will not get into any of that.
Nivedita Menon defines feminism as “gradual transformation of the social field (we must add economic and political too) so decisively that old markers shift forever.” By encouraging women to posit faith in the strength of sisterhood, Williams is echoing similar concerns of inspiring change through communitarian bonds. It has always saddened me to watch women getting stereotyped as unhealthily competitive, inward-looking, envious humans who bitch and whine about the success of their own ilk. What’s worse, is the fact that many women have come to believe this as true. The most common phrase that’s spoken of in the light of a mother-in-law’s involvement in dowry death sounds something like, aurat hi aurat ki dushman hoti hai.
Personality traits are unique to every individual. They are not solely based on a person’s sex. It is unwise to stereotype people on any ground whatsoever. Also, if one conditions a particular group to assume that it’s quite normal for their kind to behave in a certain way, it’s going to affect their beliefs and perceptions and ultimately, their actions.
Feminism is not narcissism. It is nothing to shy away from. It is important to challenge the status quo that does not hold promise for almost half of the mankind. Women like Williams lead the way for plenty. They kindle hopes and aspirations for a tomorrow that will be better than their own age. Serena’s tale of endurance and fortitude makes me find pride in the femininity of human existence.