The Sportswoman’s Daughter: How Serena Williams Rewrote the Playbook for Female Athletes Juggling Motherhood and Sport

How Serena Williams rewrote the playbook for female athletes juggling motherhood and sport. By Lisa R. Schlein, Director, Sports & Fitness Research and Outreach, Center for Gender, Women & Sport, University of Southern California

In my new book The Sportswoman’s Daughter: How Serena Williams Rewrote the Playbook for Female Athletes Juggling Motherhood and Sport, I address the issues of power, strength, and endurance that have dogged women and girls throughout our history. I show that Serena’s fathering, her competitive and athletic pursuits, and her gender have never been mutually exclusive.

My work addresses a question as old as humanity: What are the costs of success? The idea that women, especially women of color, are less likely to succeed—and then the idea that succeeding means suffering the consequences of failure is familiar, and deeply ingrained: from sexist myths about women’s place in society, to the ways in which race plays out in the workplace, to the way that gender roles and stereotypes perpetuate the pain of sexual assault.

This is not a feminist book; it is a work of science. The results, though, are clear: Women of color and women and girls in general are less likely to succeed in the workforce even as women are increasingly employed in traditionally male-dominated jobs.

We also know that the gender gap in performance is widening. Serena is one of the fastest tennis players of any kind and is the clear number-one pick in the U.S. women’s singles competition. She is number-three in the world in singles ranking, number-two in the doubles, and number-one in the women’s category. But she lost to American tennis player Sloane Stephens in the first round of the U.S. Open in early 2017; she is also ranked number-three in the world in doubles.

When Serena was 18, she played for the same club as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. Phelps swam at a world-record pace and won the 200-meter butterfly gold medal

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