There’s A Big Difference Between Being Supportive And Enabling Unhealthy Behavior

There are few things that compare to watching one of the world’s best athletes have an emotional breakdown in front of the whole world. I witnessed Serena Williams lose her cool multiple times on the tennis court, and it will be burned into my brain forever.

By Gina Florio3 min read
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Serena Williams, a Case in Point

Growing up, I was a huge tennis fan who never missed a day of tennis team practice, so it was normal for me to watch and keep up with the Grand Slam tournaments throughout my teenage years and my 20s. While most people may just know Serena Williams peripherally through the media or highlight reels on ESPN, I have watched nearly every one of her matches on the Grand Slam stage from start to finish — and I have witnessed each and every incident when she lost her cool.

In 2009, Serena was losing to Kim Clijsters in the second set of the 2009 U.S. Open. After her opponent took the first set 6-4, Serena was serving to stay in the match at 5-6, and she was facing some trouble at 15-30. This might all sound like Greek to you, so I’ll simplify it: Serena was losing badly, and she was on an emotional cliff.

Serena Williams approached the linesman who called the fault and swore at her.

After missing her first serve, the linesman called a foot fault on her second serve, which meant that she lost yet another point to Kim Clijsters, leaving her at 15-40. This gave Kim 2 match points. Serena proceeded to approach the linesman and said, “I swear to God, I’ll f***ing take the ball and shove it down your f***ing throat.” I kid you not. She actually said that to the linesman, a woman who was simply doing her job. 

After she pointed her finger and screamed at the linesman yet again, the officials came out onto the court and took the next course of action. Earlier in the match, she had already received an official warning from the referee for smashing her racket on the ground out of frustration, so according to the official rules, the next step was to award her opponent Kim a point as a penalty. But because Kim was facing match point, this meant that Kim won the match and Serena lost.

Whether or not you watch tennis or even understand what really went down here in the point system, it’s important to know that Serena has displayed this behavior multiple times in her career. In 2011, in a match against Sam Stosur, she had another emotional outburst because she didn’t like the linesman’s call, and she was fined $2,000. In the U.S. Open in 2018, she had a nasty dispute with the umpire, calling him names, accusing him of being a “thief,” and screaming at him from across the court. 

Serena completely deflects responsibility. She blames sexism, misogyny, and, of course, racism. 

But here’s the kicker: after each incident, Serena sits down at the press conference and completely deflects responsibility. She blames sexism, misogyny, and, of course, racism. “I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and all kinds of stuff,” she insisted in 2018 after her latest outburst. Then the press turns around and actually praises her for this unconscionable behavior. The headlines insist that she’s a hero — when in fact, she’s nothing more than a spoiled rotten bully who gets away with disgusting, abusive behavior because she uses identity politics and her gender to weasel her way out of personal responsibility. 

Excusing Bad Behavior Based on Gender Is Wrong

These incidents are indicative of a bigger problem in culture today: We’re living in a time when women are constantly being coddled. Whether it’s in sports, the media, Hollywood, or on college campuses, we’re regularly being told that women are wonderful. We’re working so hard, we deserve the best, we’re perfect just the way we are — you’re doing amazing, sweetie, as the famous Kris Jenner meme goes.

Greater society claims that we should be supporting women and helping them thrive because we’ve been so oppressed. But that has turned into something very different: enabling bad behavior in order to continue propping women up as blameless victims who deserve all the attention and love.

We’re living in a time when women are constantly being coddled because we’re women. 

Talk to any successful parent about the importance of raising well-behaved children, and I doubt they would encourage you to enable your son or daughter’s bratty behavior when they throw a temper tantrum. And yet this is exactly what we’re doing to adult women. Serena was actually praised for her violent, unhinged behavior. She was propped up as a feminist icon and even featured in Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade (which was all about women’s empowerment). But the inconvenient truth is, Serena acted completely inappropriately, and we should never, under any circumstance, encourage young women to follow in those footsteps. 

Enabling Obesity Is Bad for Women

Let’s turn to the body positivity movement, another societal trend that praises women for their unhealthy behavior. When we saw Tess Holliday, a morbidly obese model, don the cover of Cosmo magazine, she was overwhelmingly showered with praise by the mainstream media, followers, and women around the country. Tess isn’t just a woman who has some extra pounds on her — she’s clinically obese. Obesity is the leading cause of heart disease (which is the leading cause of death in America), stroke, type 2 diabetes, and many cancers. Why are we being told to celebrate one of the most prevalent metabolic disorders that’s killing off millions of Americans each year?

Just like our culture praised Serena for her emotional meltdown and violent threats toward an innocent woman, Tess was showered with positive feedback for flaunting her “curves.” Girls said she was a hero, a queen, a brave role model. But there’s nothing brave about being morbidly obese. There’s nothing heroic about encouraging women to adopt a disease that kills millions of Americans annually. Just like there’s nothing brave or heroic about aggressively threatening someone simply for doing their job.

There’s nothing heroic about encouraging women to adopt a disease that kills millions annually.

The saddest thing is, the ones who suffer most from this kind of coddling are women. Young women go through life with a chip on their shoulder, thinking that up is down and down is up. They think it’s admirable to be disrespectful because you’re trying to get your way. They think it’s beautiful and commendable to be obese. It’s very difficult to navigate the world when you believe that there are no consequences for your actions, whether it’s treating people cruelly or overeating yourself into poor health. What follows is a great deal of frustration, anger, and sadness. 

Closing Thoughts

We’re not doing women any favors by coddling bad or unhealthy behavior. In fact, it hurts them more in the long run. That doesn’t mean we have to be rude with how we speak the truth, but it does mean that if we really cared about the wellbeing of young women, we would stop enabling their unhealthy behavior and instead encourage them to act their very best. Because striving to be our best not only makes our own life more enjoyable, but it improves the lives of everyone around us, from our friends and family to our community and country.