Sania Mirza, the former world number one in doubles and six-time Grand Slam winner, spoke about the challenges and battles she has faced and continues to face as a woman and a female sportsperson with Barkha Dutt at ‘We the Women’ conclave.
We have this heterogeneous structure in which the woman is meant to marry and have children, and after marriage, she is not expected to have a profession but rather look after her children. Sania admitted that juggling her work, family, and children was the most challenging thing for her when she married.
She was even asked things like, “We can offer you a doctor’s number,” since they assumed she couldn’t have children because she had been married for eight years. It is terrible that people don’t understand a woman’s or a married couple’s decision of when or if they want to have a kid at all.
“Balancing has been difficult since female athletes are always battling against a norm and a society. They are often questioned. But that is a struggle you must fight on your route to the top,” said Sania.
Sania was subjected to a variety of evaluations. It all started when she was six years old and she began playing. When she moved to Hyderabad with her parents, people ridiculed her and her parents, believing that a female couldn’t do sports.
Other conventions include that she will turn black while playing in the sun and who will marry her. There are so many things a woman has to deal with on a daily basis. It was considered a major deal for a girl to succeed and go that far. Even her coaches doubted that a girl could achieve the heights she has.
People forget that athletes, particularly women, are human beings who experience all of life’s emotions. They just see the glorious portion and forget that the true human resides inside the athlete and that they experience all kinds of emotions such as rage, despair, happiness, and so on.
There have been times where sexism was so deeply ingrained in people that they would consider, question, and say things about her being the number one player. We are judged as women based on how we dress, how we speak and our objectives.
“I was labelled as rebellious because I wore a nose ring. This is the conflict we face on a daily basis,” she said. She even used to get messages like “Now that you are the number one player, when will you join Bollywood?”
She would be questioned about her commitment as a mother. “When I post a picture of myself practicing on Instagram, people comment on where your baby is; on the other hand, my husband is never asked such questions.” Everyone wants to put you through Mother’s guilt. Because it is deeply internalized that once you become a mother, everything else takes a back seat.
We have people telling women what they should and should not do. And we shouldn’t be those people,” she explained. People instructed her what to do and what not to do, even though she was the best-ranked player at the time.
She also mentioned the differential compensation for female tennis players on the field and hoped that things would improve. The effort put in, the crew that works on it, everything is the same whether you are a man or a woman, but there is still discrimination. We do not live in an equal world, no matter where we are.