Eugenie Bouchard deserves better than sexist 'twirl' request

Capable of more than a twirl: Eugenie Bouchard victorious after her win over Kiki Bertens.

Capable of more than a twirl: Eugenie Bouchard victorious after her win over Kiki Bertens. Photo: AFP

For the past few Australian Opens, with each passing year the event has turned into cause to only half-watch the tennis itself, and spend the rest of the tournament waiting with gritted teeth for a sports journalist to say something sexist about or to a female player.

This year, we didn't have to wait long: yesterday, Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard, having defeated Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands 6-3 6-0, was asked to twirl on court by a commentator. "Last night, you tweeted that you loved Serena's [Williams] outfit; obviously the fluoro is working for you girls at the moment," the future Walkley Award-winner said. "She was kind enough to give us a twirl. Can you give us a twirl and tell us about your outfit?"

Eugenie Bouchard was clearly embarrassed after being asked to twirl following her second-round win at the Australian Open.

Eugenie Bouchard was clearly embarrassed after being asked to twirl following her second-round win at the Australian Open.

It's not the first time Bouchard has been subjected to idiocy in sports journalism at the Open; last year she was asked who she'd most like to date. In another clanger at the same tournament, Simona Halep was asked if her breast reduction surgery had helped "outside of tennis".

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There are countless other examples too dimwitted to repeat (and that's before we get to the commentators sounding off in the luxury of their own hermetically sealed time capsules from 1953).

Is it too much, in 2015, to imagine a world where female athletes are treated to the same respect and admiration as their male counterparts, and not asked about their outfits and boob jobs?

Eugenie Bouchard

Eugenie Bouchard

As Bouchard was twirling, her expression suggesting her soul was vacating her body, I thought about the experiment that ELLE tried a few weeks back, in which their red carpet correspondents asked male stars the same witless questions that female celebs face at every event.

When asked hurr durr questions like, "What's in your pockets?" (the male equivalent of "What's in your clutch purse?"), stars like Chadwick Boseman reacted with horror; "I'm not telling you! [...] Pockets just seem more intimate".

Just as many of the blokes joined in (Downton Abbey's Allen Leech was very forthcoming about his moisturising routine), but I'm inclined to think only because the questions were put to them as an experiment, prefaced by phrases like, "women are often asked…"; they didn't have to face the full force of sexist inanities that their female peers are subjected to. It was just a bit of a laugh. 

Imagine if the tables were turned without a hint of social experiment or irony, though. What if the microphone jockey just straight up marched up to Roger Federer after the match and asked whether his shorts were providing adequate support for his private parts? What if Novak Djokovic was asked to do a little twirl to show off the double-stitching on his t-shirt? What if a team of female commentators shot the breeze about a male tennis player's inability to find a wife?

Female tennis players are already on the back foot, financially; a Forbes feature on tennis' gender pay gap noted that in Cincinnati last year, Rafael Nadal and Victoria Azarenka won the men's and women's draw at the tournament, but Azarenka was paid $157,800 less than Nadal.

Mention this and dust belches forth from the mouths of those who'd trot out the reason for the pay gap being, say, women play fewer sets, or that people prefer to watch male players. Both of which are mostly bunkum.

"It's a broader, more societal issue about the value of women in society. Society is patriarchal and male-dominated, sports in particular. Sport is controlled by men," Swinburne University's Karen Farquharson, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Life and Social Sciences, said in that same Forbes piece.

There is the additional issue that, like much of women's sport, women's tennis struggles to find coverage beyond the Grand Slam tournaments (and even then, only some of them are widely broadcast). When you combine this with the fact that when these players do enjoy mainstream coverage, they are subjected to sexist idiocy from commentators and reporters, it's a grim landscape indeed.

At the post-match press conference last night, Bouchard was asked about her on-court pirouette. ""It was very unexpected," she said. "I don't know, an old guy asking you to twirl. It was funny."

Funny ha-ha, or just plain sad? 

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