A storm in a B-cup

Alizé Cornet, striking a blow for women’s rights

The title reflects my wild guess of the size of Alizé Cornet’s breasts, which she didn’t really expose at the US Open tennis championship.

However, judging by the worldwide response she got, Mlle Cornet might as well have done just that.

What she actually did do was go to the dressing room between the sets and change her wet shirt for a dry one. However, when play resumed, Mlle Cornet realised she had put the new shirt on back to front.

Since the rules didn’t allow her to leave the court again, she nonchalantly took her shirt off and put it on the right way, exposing her sports bra in the process.

For that the umpire hit her with a code violation: the rules allow the men to change their shirts in full view of the spectators, but not the women.

It was as if Mlle Cornet had performed a slow, rhythmic striptease, with the male fans baying: “C’mon, baby, take it all off!!!”

The face value of the incident is next to zero. Yes, the letter of the rule was violated, but the circumstances were exceptional, and really – when all is said and done, it was no big deal.

Passers-by all over London are routinely regaled with the sight of female joggers wearing nothing but an identical garment above the waist. And a sports bra is positively chaste compared to the gowns worn by film stars and pop performers.

Anyway, Mlle Cornet objected to the code violation, and the organising committee sensibly apologised to her. Open and shut case, one would have thought.

So it would have been in a sane world. In our world, however, connotation trumps denotation, and the connotation of this incident is, well, sexism. Though ranking below, say, homophobia, this is among today’s worst crimes against the prevailing ethos.

Thus Mlle Cornet retweeted Billie Jean King’s post condemning the “policing of women’s bodies” on court. The catsuit worn by Serena Williams at the French Open was much worse, added Alizé.

That much is true. Miss Williams’s suit revealed every detail of her ample secondary sex characteristics, and some details of the primary ones as well. That’s why the Roland Garros officials banned it for future tournaments.

Meanwhile the groundswell of protests was swelling to the sky. How come, went the outcry, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are allowed to be bare-chested at changeovers, and women aren’t? Fair’s fair – either we’re all equal or we aren’t.

Pipe down, ladies. We are definitely equal – but we aren’t the same. Not yet anyway.

That rule does make sense. In our civilisation, a different significance is attached to male and female chests. Part of the reason is physiological: a woman’s chest is indeed her secondary sex characteristic, whereas a man’s chest isn’t.

That’s why exposing a woman’s chest in public is still regarded as indecent, but exposing a man’s chest isn’t. A man walking naked to the waist down King’s Road is guilty only of poor taste, while a woman doing the same thing would be guilty of a punishable misdemeanour.

I apologise for stating the bleeding obvious. My only excuse is that, in the madhouse called modernity, the old certitudes no longer apply, and nothing is obvious any longer.

That’s why the aforementioned groundswell has brought on its crest calls to change the code and allow women players to take their tops off at changeovers. Equality comes before sanity.

Now, unlike Mlle Cornet, some women play braless, a fashion started by Chris Evert back in the 70s. Over the years, tennis fans have been treated to many wardrobe malfunctions, with a woman’s breast(s) popping out of a low-cut top when she had to reach down for a drop shot.

Call me a sexist troglodyte, but I quite enjoy this added frisson, mainly because the women’s game is short of any other kind of excitement. And an exposed breast goes well with the orgasmic shrieks that are now par for the course in the women’s game.

Maria Sharapova’s screams, for example, reach 101 decibels on even routine shots. That’s roughly the noise an airliner makes at 1,000 feet when taking off. If she’s as loud during sexual intercourse, I can only congratulate her and her partner(s) – and commiserate with her neighbours.

However, I wonder if all those equality hounds would allow a braless girl to change her shirt in full view of the panting fans? My guess is probably not: even fanatical feminists can’t be as crazy as that.

Hence, if they want to change the offensive rule, the only way out is to obligate all female players to wear sports bras.

But wouldn’t that constitute ‘policing women’s bodies on court’ in Billie Jean’s jargon? I mean, men players are free not to wear jockstraps, although they do tend to prefer them to Y-fronts.

Modernity throws up interesting conundrums of conflicting pieties, don’t you think? With ‘throws up’ being the operative words.

3 thoughts on “A storm in a B-cup”

  1. That one American woman football player [soccer] when scored the winning goal in the final game against China, stripped off her blouse [a man wears a shirt, a woman a blouse] exposing her sports bra. Did so in front of 100,000 “adoring” fans.

  2. Women’s tennis wants equality with men where it’s convenient for it; same salary, same exposure (no pun intended), recognition, etc. Why aren’t they clamouring for the right to play as many sets (3 of 5) as the men?

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