Oh, yeah! You know that babies are like catnip to the international media, especially when their mothers are winning, world-class athletes!
Last year during the Olympics, regarding the spate of stories about Darra Torres and other women athletes with children, I wrote about my bafflement about the ways in which women athletes who are mothers are represented in the media. I asked, “Why does anyone think that motherhood necessarily erodes or competes with athletic talent? Of course, not every mother physically gives birth to her children, but even for those who do, childbirth and its aftermath doesn’t necessarily alter the body in ways that would affect athletic performance.” Well, the Mother-Athlete of the Year has to be Kim Clijsters, whose surprise upset (on faults) at the U.S. Open against Serena Williams has put her in the spotlight. Once again, the English-language media find it utterly amazing that a 26-year old (26!) who has given birth can win the U.S. Open.
None of the broadcast or print media stories I’ve seen about Clijsters has failed to note that 1) she’s “a mom!” (or “mum!”), and 2) she had retired from tennis to focus on getting married and having a family. (Never mind that that’s what a lot of people do, in addition to their day jobs, and that male athletes seem to manage getting married and having lots of children without “taking time off”–like Clijsters’s husband, Bryan Lynch!) I understand the attraction of a comeback story, but this article from the Australian News really takes the cake. It doesn’t even mention Williams’s name, let alone anything about Clijsters’s victorious match against her. Check it out:
SUPER-mum Kim Clijsters hopes to complete some unfinished business in Australia after crowning her amazing comeback with a spectacular US Open triumph.
While unsure exactly how long her second career will last, Clijsters says a return to Melbourne Park in January for the 2010 Australian Open is definitely on her jam-packed agenda.
“I mean, my sister is about to have a baby in a couple of weeks and those are really important moments that I want to be home for,” the bubbly Belgian said.
. . . . . . . . .
The Melbourne grand slam was Clijsters’ last major tournament in 2007 before her 27-month “retirement” to get married and start a family with former US basketballer Bryan Lynch.
Cradling the US Open trophy in one arm and 18-month-old daughter Jada Ella in the other, Clijsters says she’s proud if she’s provided a message for mothers the world around with her astonishing feat in New York.
“If I inspired them, great,” she said after becoming the first mother since Australian great Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980 – and only the third in the 41-year Open era – to win a grand slam.
. . . . . . . . .
“It’s not that I thought like I’ll never play tennis again. I just didn’t think about it. I just didn’t look at it as an option for me,” two two-time Open champion said.
“There were so many things going on with the wedding and I was pregnant and I was breastfeeding and everything.
. . . . . . . . .
“I feel very lucky that I got this chance to be back here now and that I made that decision because it’s obviously been a good choice.
“But, again, being a mother is obviously my first priority, and being a wife.”
Obviously? I guess that’s something only a winner can say–because if a loser said that, it would appear to be all too true that she wasn’t focused on her tennis! I realize that the “I’m a wife and mother first” story line is something that Clijsters herself is pushing–but I don’t wonder that the media is so eager to seize upon this narrative. Perhaps Clijsters is choosing to talk this way so as to play up to the traditional expectations we have of women–and perhaps she made the calculation that her motherhood would be a constant in any stories about her anyway.
At least we don’t have to worry about Clijsters being too butch. (As Knitting Clio pointed out in response to my original post, the fear that competitive women athletes were lesbian has a long and storied history.) What I wouldn’t give to see her have a John McEnroe moment that would match Williams’s last weekend, verbal blow by verbal blow. Now that would be awesome! Not to mention a frankly realistic aspect of motherhood.