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  • Social Activism in Women's Tennis: Generations of Politics and Cultural Change by Kristi Tredway
  • Jeffrey O. Segrave
Tredway, Kristi. Social Activism in Women's Tennis: Generations of Politics and Cultural Change. New York: Routledge, 2020. Pp. 214. Acknowledgments, appendix, bibliography, index. $150.00, hb. $43.16, eb.

Kristi Tredway's Social Activism in Women's Tennis is the best book about tennis since David Foster Wallace's String Theory. Of course, the two books have a completely different perspective: Wallace's is an exegetical reflection on the cultural significance of the game and some of the players, while Treadway's is a history of social activism in a sport that is both the most lucrative and the most culturally prominent sport for women. As different as the two approaches are, both books provide valuable insights into one of the few sports where both the men's and women's versions of the sport generate global appeal. Furthermore, both authors were good players—Wallace, a nationally ranked junior tennis player, and Tredway, the highest-ranked American Indian player in the history of professional tennis.

Tredway's success in the sport gives her direct access to some of the most critical voices in the game: players such as Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and Venus and Serena Williams; organizers; administrators; reporters; and sponsors. Using qualitative data generated from questionnaires, interviews, observations of participation at tournaments, and narrative analysis, Tredway examines gender-based exclusion in women's tennis as a structural and cultural problem. Theoretically grounded in feminism and intersectionality, Tredway seeks to expose the dominant matrix of power and discrimination in women's tennis by examining five distinct generational cohorts, what she identifies as the "Trailblazers," the "Founders," the "Joiners," the "Sustainers," and the "Throwbacks." In brief, her analysis looks at how social activism has changed over forty years of women's tennis as a professional sport.

Structurally, beyond an introduction and conclusion, the book allocates a chapter to each cohort. Chapter 1 addresses the protests of the Trailblazers, three well-known women's players, namely, Suzanne Lenglen, Althea Gibson, and Ann Hayden Jones, each of whom challenged the status quo by developing a visible critique that mobilized feminists into action. Each in her own way and in her own historical era sought equality for women: in the 1920s, Lenglen challenged the pay structure of the game, not to mention traditional dress mores; in the 1950s, Gibson encountered racial segregation and desegregated the game at the highest levels; and in the 1960s, Jones protested unequal prize-money distribution. [End Page 91]

Chapter 2 focuses on the Founders of the 1970s, which was initiated by the "Original 9" to advocate for equal prize money. Driven by a grass roots feminism—"women's lob" feminism—the Original 9 drew on two main dimensions of the rhetoric of the broader women's liberation movement of the era: equal pay for equal work and access to economic livelihood. To a great extent, the intersectionality of sexuality, class, and race were marginalized by the social activism of the Original 9 who were fighting for unfettered economic equality. The era was marked by the establishment of the Virginia Slims circuit in 1970 and the formation of the Women's Tennis Association in 1973 and popularized by the staged spectacle of the infamous 1973 Battle of the Sexes.

The ear of the Joiners (1974–90) was marked by individual rather than collective activism. Identity markers assumed primary salience. Contested definitions of femininity were reified in the form of Chris Evert's feminine style of play, Martina Navratilova's unfettered masculine athleticism, and Renée Richards redefinition of womanhood. The public outing of both Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova in 1981, as well as Margaret Court's backlash against homosexuality, thrust the lesbian culture in women's sport into the public spotlight.

The Sustainers cohort (1987–present) is identified by a lull in social activism in women's tennis. A rolling back of feminist advances took place as feminism moved from a complex theoretical framework to popular culture. Linked with third-wave feminism, the concept of "girl power" offered faux empowerment, as women's tennis became characterized...


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