‘GQ’ Cover Refers To Serena Williams As ‘Woman’ In Quotation Marks

The Serena issue's wording has drawn controversy to the annual 'Men of the Year' roundup.

Serena Williams snickers over at chair umpire.
Elsa / Getty Images

The Serena issue's wording has drawn controversy to the annual 'Men of the Year' roundup.

Amid backlash from readers who have pointed out her storied battle against masculine taunts, GQ is defending its decision to put the word “Woman” in quotation marks on a cover issue that names Serena Williams Woman of the Year for 2018.

People magazine reported that the release of four separate editions to reveal GQ’s annual “Men of the Year” roundup was followed by a wave of criticism as soon as the issue fronted by an image of Serena went viral on Monday, November 12. The matter of contention wasn’t that the publication chose to celebrate a woman, as GQ has been including women among its honorees since 2003. Rather, the primary gripes were related to the connotation quotation marks can have when one means to convey an idea as presented. Within hours the tennis great’s name was trending on the strength of tweets that accused the male-focused magazine of body shaming Serena with a backhanded insult that racist and sexist trolls continue to recycle.

GQ research manager Mick Rouse would respond to the outrage by informing critics that the title was styled by Off-White brand fashion designer Virgil Abloh, who is known to arbitrarily present his text as quotes. While Serena has yet issued a statement regarding the blow-back, as USA Today notes in its coverage of the controversy, she herself can attest to Abloh’s signature quotation marks being incorporated into themes from the Nike “Queen” collection they collaborated on in time for her recent U.S. Open run.

Michael B. Jordan, Henry Golding, and Jonah Hill are featured on the other three covers of the ceremonious December issue. None of their corresponding titles veer from the conventional text.

Due to her muscular physique, Williams has faced body shaming language that has been characterized as racist and sexist for most of her career. Such degradation hasn’t simply been relegated to social media. In 2014, Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpischev was fined and suspended for an entire year after he alluded to Serena and her sister Venus as the “Williams brothers.” It wasn’t until one year ago that she forcefully addressed the insults in a letter that she addressed to her mother via Reddit.

“I’ve been called [a] man because I appeared outwardly strong. It has been said I don’t belong in women’s sports — that I belong in men’s — because I look stronger than many other women do. (No, I just work hard and I was born with this bada** body and [I’m] proud of it),” wrote Serena.