Venus Williams doesn’t identify as a feminist: ‘I don’t like labels’

Mutua Madrid Open 2018 Tennis

Venus Williams hasn’t had the best start to the 2018 season – she went out in the first round at the Australian Open and then again in Madrid tournament last week, but she did play well in Indian Wells and Miami. Venus is 37 years old (she’ll be 38 next month) and still playing tennis at a pretty high level. 2017 was one of her best years in a long time, but some people still think that Venus might be close to retirement within the next year or so. I don’t know – she always talks about wanting to play into her 40s, and she’s still having fun on the tour. Ahead of Wimbledon – arguably her favorite tournament of the year – Venus sat down with Elle UK for an interview, and she talks about being a woman athlete and how she doesn’t label herself a feminist. Oh, God.

She doesn’t identify herself as a “feminist”: “I don’t like labels, though I do think as women we have much more power and opportunities in our hands than ever before. We truly don’t know how powerful we are. There’s nothing like a powerful woman walking into a room; her presence is like nothing else.”

Women in sports: “There are so many emerging forces; there’s been so much growth for women in sports. It’s very exciting. You have to be able to stand up for what you believe in and I think I’ve done a good job. I guess I don’t have too many regrets.”

On equality and women’s rights: “For me, the conversation [around equality] was never there. There are always challenges that you have to overcome on a daily basis. 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.”

[From Elle UK via the Daily Mail]

I mean… I don’t like what she says here either, but I should point out a few things. One, a 37-year-old African-American woman saying that she doesn’t want to label herself a “feminist” is different than when a 20-year-old white white woman does it. The 20-year-old does it because she wants to be a Cool Girl and a Guy’s Girl. When Venus does it, she’s seeing it through the prism of history, and years of white-feminists ignoring the issues facing communities of color. Also: judge her by her actions too, which have always been feminist. She got female players equal pay at Wimbledon. Venus and Serena are still working towards equal pay for women across the board as well. But yeah, Venus could have explained this better.

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Photos courtesy of Getty, WENN.

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29 Responses to “Venus Williams doesn’t identify as a feminist: ‘I don’t like labels’”

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  1. MousyB says:

    Yeah theres a difference between “not liking labels” when in reality you dont care about women’s issues/acknowledge inequality and being someone who doesnt care for labels and puts the work in to promote equality, etc. I’ll give her a pass here.

    • Yup, Me says:

      She’s also raised Jehovah’s Witness. I wonder if that has anything to do with her response?

      • DesertReal says:

        I am a JW.
        I am a feminist.
        It has nothing to do with her response.

      • GMonkey says:

        I was raised a JW, I think that it could very well have loads to do with her response. I don’t know if DesertReal went to a “liberal” congregation or what, but JWs are totally NOT ok with feminism.

        Little girls who get molested are thought of as having possibly “enticed” their attackers.

        Women who, in the eyes of the elders, don’t fight off a rapist hard enough and penetration occurs are subject to being disfellowshipped (ex-communicated, banished, etc) for having fornicated. They used to go on endlessly about the goodly sisters who had died while fighting off a rapist because it’s better to die than to fornicate with a rapist.

        They drone on and on about women being submissive to their husbands and fathers.

  2. Starryfish says:

    I hate when women buy into this type of rubbIsh redefining of feminism, it’s especially disappointing when it’s someone who clearly embodies the values of feminism and done the work ie. spearheading the movement for equal pay in tennis.

    • GirlMonday says:

      Feminism hasn’t always been empowering to Black women, and has at times been damaging. It isn’t rubbish to closley examine it, decide to keep what works for you (fighting for inclusion and equality) and drop what doesn’t (the label). We have conversations about intersectionality BECAUSE feminism needed to be reexamined and redefined. Though I think I understand where you are coming from (feminism is a rising tide that lifts all boats…dithering about the label, and perhaps other nuances, undermines the efficacy of the overall movement), I also think it may be (I say “may be” because I don’t know you) your privilege that makes you hasty to see feminism as a single umbrella under which all women can stand as opposed to seeing how it leaves some of us in the rain.

  3. Lala says:

    “When Venus does it, she’s seeing it through the prism of history, and years of white-feminists ignoring the issues facing communities of color.”

    THIS!!!!! Thank you SO MUCH for pointing out the complex nuances that her answer was built on, which, totally belies her actions….and in the real world…actions will ALWAYS speak louder than words!!!!

    • Sid says:

      Yes. I was happy to see Kaiser make that point, and hope that others reading it will make an effort to try and understand.

    • Nicole says:

      Agreed. I wish she had mentioned that but CB is spot on as always. I’m a feminist but I often qualify it with how the major movements are tainted through white feminism.

  4. Jillian says:

    Feminism gives women and men a bad reputation. Should we be called something else?

    • Alisha says:

      @jillian I just say I’m an “equalist”. I started doing that because too many people – rightly or wrongly – have negative association with the word feminist. As a WoC I feel it is more inclusive and in addition it’s a lot easier to call people out when they challenge you based on their preconceived notions of feminism. “Oh so what don’t don’t you like about equality?” Usually they cannot come up with an answer.

    • Ange says:

      No because the word and its intentions don’t change just because some people don’t truly embody what it’s about.

  5. Ankhel says:

    Well, how could she have explained it better? Wrapping “I’m not a feminist” up in more words?

  6. Lucy says:

    I mean, I don’t think there are many women out there who aren’t feminists in some way, even if they don’t like the word per se. Venus is no exception. I do wish she would come to claim that particular label, though, because I absolutely consider Serena and her to be feminist icons.

  7. Chaine says:

    I took this to reflect her Jehovah’s Witness background.

    • mela says:

      me too.

    • Carrie1 says:

      She’s JW… I did not know that.

      I took this as related to black women. She’s Venus and says and does what she wants. I’d love for media to stop asking women about this word. All it does is divide us.

    • Annika says:

      I don’t think she is technically a JW. I think one of her parents is a member though, likely the mother.

      Edit: I just googled & according to Wikipedia Williams “is a practicing though unofficial member of JW’s.”

  8. SJF says:

    This makes me crazy.

  9. adastraperaspera says:

    She has done and continues to do a massive amount of work to fight for women’s equality. I trust her to define that her way. Now can interviewers please start asking every man they interview whether or not he defines himself as a feminist? And what he is doing to further human rights for all? Why is male accountability for equality so rarely called into account?

  10. LP says:

    Feminism IS equalism/egalitarianism, etc. the persistent movement to label it as something else is troubling! With that said women of color have been, and still are, grossly marginalized by feminism as a movement. I’d argue we should all push for intersectional feminism!

  11. otaku fairy says:

    “The 20-year-old does it because she wants to be a Cool Girl and a Guy’s Girl.” This isn’t always the case. There definitely are women in their 20′s, 30′s, 40′s, 50′s, 60′s, etc. who don’t call themselves feminists because they don’t want to alienate men (or worse, want to bring back the 50′s). But I’ve also come across women- even young ones- who are otherwise progressive but reject the label either because of TWERFs, SWERFs, and some of the respectability politics, abuse, and victim-blaming that are all a part of feminism’s baggage, or because of misinformation about what it means to be a feminist. The right and sexist douchebros are partially responsible for this problem, but some of the responsibility is definitely on us as feminists too. I agree that walking the walk is more important than the label.

    • Ankhel says:

      This. “The cool girl” didn’t turn up with our 20 year olds. You’ve long had “the cute girl” too, who would never be loud, rude and demanding, like those banner-waving feminist harpies. I’m close to her age, and I know more women our age who prefer to be seen as “cool” or “cute”, rather than “feminist.” Those same women always have feminist beliefs and dreams, btw.

  12. Harryg says:

    Oh please Venus don’t do this! Find a dictionary, now!

    • Missmarirose says:

      Wow. What a patronizing response.
      I think it’s YOU who needs to do some homework if you assume that Venus Williams doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

  13. Patty says:

    I have no problems with women of color not identifying as feminists. I understand exactly why WOC don’t identify as such. From personal experience I can say that most white women that I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of working with, going to college with, etc — are no friend to women of color. At least where I am from and based on the ones I’ve interacted with, they are by and large only interested in their own personal advancement; and when it comes to social justice and race many hold views that are just as bad if not worse than the type of white guys who “marched” in Charlottesville.

    Venus has done more for women in tennis than most. I still really like her and wish her the best.

    • Annika says:

      My 3 sisters & I have played tennis for most of our lives & she’s been an icon & inspiration for us growing up, as well as all female athletes everywhere!
      I don’t really care about her stance on feminism, although I personally identity as a feminist

  14. Darla says:

    I have always self identified as a feminist but I’m white, and I certainly do not judge any woman of color who doesn’t want the label. I get it. I’m a white feminist, but “white feminism” can really suck. Let’s face it. We can put up Lena as example number one, but gawd, there are countless examples.