Who even decided what it means to look feminine?

If you didn’t hear, Serena Williams beat her sister Venus last night in their quarterfinals match up in the US Open. Serena is one step closer to winning the US Open, and thus the title in all four major tennis tournaments in one year. Greatest of all time or GOAT in deed. Yet, people keeping on discussing her body and not her tennis prowess. Serena Williams has the body she needs to have to dominate in her chosen field, yet tennis traditionally has put forward a highly modelified female body type–skinny and not muscled–as the ideal. JK Rowling this summer responded to Twitter trolls about Williams’s femininity, and the NY Times ran this bizarre, lengthy piece on women in tennis, emphasizing that Williams is too muscular. NY Mag has a piece on Williams, and in it the writer, Kerry Howley, acknowledges one of the issues with discussing Williams: “One sensed in early accounts of the Williams sisters’ dominance, and senses even now, a certain tightening of the available vocabulary in describing a muscular black woman on the court.” All the commentary about Williams’s body type dances around the issue of race. The critique that she doesn’t look feminine isn’t just about what it means to look feminine; it’s about what we hold up as the ideal of femininity, which is white femininity. Serena doesn’t fit that model. Heck, most white women don’t fit that ideal of femininity. It’s an incredibly small box, but it’s the one we tend to use to contain the successes of women. “Oh, she fits the ideal, so that’s why she’s successful” or “she must be doing something to give her an edge, since she doesn’t fit the ideal and she’s successful.” Women can’t just be successful at their chosen profession–athletic or otherwise–without it somehow reflecting on their performance of femininity. As Manrepeller’s article asks “Who even decided what it means to look feminine” and, the unspoken second half of that question is can we stop using that definition?