'Woman' of the Year: GQ slammed for quote marks on Serena Williams cover
The men’s magazine revealed covers featuring several of its Men of the Year on Monday – including actors Michael B. Jordan, Henry Golding and Jonah Hill. But it was the cover introducing Williams as its pick for the female version of the accolade which caused the biggest commotion.
The image next to the tennis star – who was clad in a revealing black outfit set off with a chunky Chanel belt – was accompanied by a title with the word ‘Men’ crossed out and replaced by “Woman,” denoting the gender in quotation marks.
Announcing GQ's Men (and Woman) of the Year 2018: @michaelb4jordan, @henrygolding, @jonahhill, and @serenawilliams (featuring handwriting by @virgilabloh) https://t.co/EpG3lKCJ3r#GQMOTYpic.twitter.com/6MgczSxSpq— GQ Magazine (@GQMagazine) November 12, 2018
The inclusion of the punctuation device in describing the 23-time Grand Slam winner led to widespread bafflement online.
Okay but why is woman in quotation marks @GQMagazine— Anna Wagner (@Anna_F_Wagner) November 12, 2018
Hey @GQMagazine ...what the heck? Why "woman" and not WOMAN? ..seriously?!!!— Carolyn (@careme10) November 12, 2018
It turned out that the key to clarifying the confusion was actually in the original tweet by GQ, which explained that the covers featured “handwriting” by Virgil Abloh – a fashion designer who has collaborated with Williams.
Abloh’s designs typically feature quote marks, including on some of the Nike apparel he has worked on for Williams.
GQ research manager Mick Rouse was quick to step in to explain the stylistic inclusion, in an attempt to quell the flames of fury on Twitter.
Because it was handwritten by Virgil Abloh of Off-White, who has styled everything in quotation marks as of late (see Serena's US Open apparel that he designed)— Mick Rouse (@mickrouse) November 12, 2018
It quite literally has tags/quotations around it because that’s Virgil’s own style/branding, including in his partnership with Nike and Serena herself. That’s the only “message” behind it. pic.twitter.com/uaGV1DYDhC— Mick Rouse (@mickrouse) November 12, 2018
But that still left some bemused, especially given the sensitive discussion that has surrounded Williams and gender in the past – which the star herself has alluded to.
As recently as this May year, Williams told Harpers Bazaar magazine: “People would say I was born a guy, all because of my arms, or because I'm strong.”
Many Twitter users felt that the subtle nuances of the fashion world would be lost on casual readers – and even some who got the reference deemed it problematic.
That context definitely helps - it’s definitely off putting especially for an athlete who has been critiqued for not being womanly/not a real woman in all sorts of racist and problematic ways— Anna Wagner (@Anna_F_Wagner) November 12, 2018
No, but it's easy to see how this could be mistaken. I get GQ in the mail because I like the articles. I flip right past the fashion pages so my first thought was "Why the quotes". Understanding context helps but it may have been wiser to just go a different font route.— Wicket Resists. SPACE FORCE: Endor Squadron (@KotterCouture) November 13, 2018
Everyone knows Virgil. We know his designs. We get the quotations. Doesn’t mean putting quotes around woman makes it any less insensitive esp. considering the masculinization of Serena and black women in general!— Kae (@akaeleehb) November 13, 2018
Maybe...just maybe the “woman” in quotation marks is to symbolize that she is more than that and that “woman” is a label applied by others to a great champion? 🤷♂️I don’t believe any offense was intended...be interested to hear from Serena to see if she is as offended as others— PodOfTwoHalves (@PodOfTwoHalves) November 13, 2018
Some of the Twitterati claimed the quotation marks were the least questionable aspect of the cover, and gave the fashion mag a dressing down over its choice of Williams for the accolade given her infamous outburst during her US Open final defeat to Naomi Osaka earlier this year.
I’m more concerned that she has actually won “woman” of the year. pic.twitter.com/PKil9PSxmC— Kings of Lyon (@kingsoflyon7) November 13, 2018
I'm more surprised she's made the cover after her ill tempered tirade against a match official, taking the shine off a momentous occasion 4 her idolising opponent & peer; #Serena has been a good ambassador advocate 4 many causes but I don't think this was the year to praise her.— Vinny S (@Sebastian45V) November 13, 2018
Clearly forgotten about her meltdown at the US Open then. Hardly behaviour befitting such a title. Must be a very shallow pool you were picking winners from.— Adam Standage (@adamstandage) November 13, 2018
Did Naomi Osaka get a vote?— Mal Lapropism (@MalLapropism) November 13, 2018
Williams, 37, has not been seen on court since her controversial defeat in New York in August, having cut short her season in September when she withdrew from the China Open.
However, she will return at the Australian Open in January as she resumes her bid to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.