Andy Murray recently announced his retirementjohnwnguyen

CN: This article contains a reference to suicide

The media storm that followed Andy Murray’s announcement of his retirement brought with it a tide of reflection, not just on what he contributed to tennis as an athlete, but also what he has contributed as a man. Throughout his career, he has been an advocate for gender equality in the sport, writing in his blog for L’Equipe: “Have I become a feminist? Well, if being a feminist is about fighting so that a woman is treated like a man then yes, I suppose I have”.

His twelve year career is testament to this; he has repeatedly argued for equal pay in tennis, and in 2014 he hired female coach Amélie Mauresmo. It was this decision, combined with the influence of his mother Judy, who introduced him to tennis, that prompted the unapologetic feminism now associated with the Wimbledon champion. After hiring Mauresmo in the face of widespread scepticism, Murray noticed that “she was slated every time I lost, which is something my former coaches never, ever experienced. It wasn’t right.” He concluded that the experience “highlighted a few things I hadn’t given loads of thought to.”

To add to this, Murray has, perhaps unintentionally, continually challenged detrimental perceptions of masculinity within sport. Headlines following his 2012 loss at the Wimbledon final almost universally included mention of his tears, and even very recently, papers took note of the emotional delivery of his retirement announcement. Undeniably, he is not afraid to cry. Such displays of emotion have been a breath of fresh air, helping to break down the damaging ‘boys don’t cry’ stereotype in sports where, too often, physical strength is perceived as the antithesis to emotion.

Murray’s everyday commitment to equality may have introduced feminism to an audience unfamiliar with its practices and ideals. Through Murray we have seen this demonstrated again and again. We saw it when he hired Amélie Mauresmo. We saw it when he corrected a journalist on Sam Querrey being the first American “male player” to reach a grand slam semi-final since 2009, not the first American player. And we saw it when he openly declared his opposition to Djokovic’s assertion that male tennis players should be paid more than their female counterparts.

“It is important to note that Murray is not the epitome of feminism”

Yet it is important to note that Murray is not the epitome of feminism. His commitment to equality grew out of his experiences under Mauresmo’s coaching, where he found that “her competence was always under fire”, adding “I felt embarrassed.” This shares similarities with the common ‘what if it was your mother’ argument, which implies that men can only care about the plight of half of the world’s population on the grounds that it may in some way affect them indirectly through their personal relationships with women. Sexism is an issue simply because women are people in their own right, deserving of equal opportunities, not because of their relationships with men. Perhaps the very fact that Murray’s matter-of-fact feminism garners such extensive media attention reveals just how far we still have to go: his example should be the norm, not the exception.


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Yet, he is an exception. And this is why we celebrate his decision to hire a hugely qualified female coach; we praise his correction of a journalist’s mistake; and we commend his support for equal pay. These things, in and of themselves, are not particularly commendable, and they follow in the footsteps of countless female players who have already been campaigning for equality. But because he is a man, he is able to challenge the status-quo with the power wrought by his privilege, in a way that female players cannot.

Hence, it is the way Murray uses such privilege that is worthy of attention, both because of the extensive sexism in tennis that he fights, and because of the feminist example he sets for men and women, particularly in sport. The deeply rooted inequalities in tennis have long existed; as seen in the Battle of the Sexes in the 70’s and more recently in 2016, when the Indian Wells tournament director, Ray Moore, was forced to resign after saying that “lady players” should “get on their knees every night and thank God” for the male players that he believes “have carried this sport.” It is Murray’s calm dismissal of such views that endears him to the world. He embodies a feminism that can be adopted by all, for the benefit of all.

The Good Lad Initiative here in Cambridge does the same. Working alongside sports teams and the university more broadly, they like Murray are helping to teach men that they can drive positive change. Ultimately, we live in a university culture where 2 in 3 female students have experienced verbal or non-verbal harassment at university, where 42% of LGBT students have hidden their identity for fear of discrimination and where the largest killer of young men of university age is suicide. We all have a responsibility to promote equality and challenge toxic masculinity, and as Murray highlights, everyday feminism can be the answer. Where you go from here is your decision: the ball is in your court.

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