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Serena Williams might be GQ Magazine‘s Woman of the Year, but Twitter users think she’s being snubbed by the honor.
On Wednesday, the magazine announced that Williams was among its Men of the Year cover stars, including Michael B. Jordan, Henry Golding, and Jonah Hill. However, instead of styling Williams’ title simply as “Woman of the Year,” the word “man” is scratched out and there are quotation marks only around the word “woman.”
Announcing GQ's Men (and Woman) of the Year 2018: @michaelb4jordan, @henrygolding, @jonahhill, and @serenawilliams (featuring handwriting by @virgilabloh) https://t.co/EpG3lKCJ3r #GQMOTY pic.twitter.com/6MgczSxSpq— GQ Magazine (@GQMagazine) November 12, 2018
The magazine was forthcoming about the typography of Williams’ title being different from the men’s covers—in its tweet announcement, it revealed that artist Virgil Abloh, who is in partnership with Williams, wrote the word woman in quotation marks. Abloh designed her U.S. Open catsuit, and the titles of his work often include quotation marks, the magazine’s research manager Mick Rouse pointed out.
Because it was handwritten by Virgil Abloh of Off-White, who has styled everything in quotation marks as of late (see Serena's US Open apparel that he designed)— Mick Rouse (@mickrouse) November 12, 2018
It quite literally has tags/quotations around it because that’s Virgil’s own style/branding, including in his partnership with Nike and Serena herself. That’s the only “message” behind it. pic.twitter.com/uaGV1DYDhC— Mick Rouse (@mickrouse) November 12, 2018
However, Williams fans seemed to have a stronger connection to the athlete than the artist styling her, so the quotation marks’ use was not obvious. Others wondered why management at GQ wouldn’t have anticipated this misunderstanding in the era of Twitter callouts.
@GQMagazine Please explain to me why GQ Magazine’s Editorial Team felt that quote marks were necessary on the Serena Williams’ Woman of the Year Cover. I Really Really Need to Know. I’m Expecting an Answer😡🙄🤷🏽♀️🤔👎🏾👎🏾👎🏾👎🏾👎🏾 pic.twitter.com/qGNPNJI4Rq— Y•S•A•N•N•E (@YsanneBueno) November 13, 2018
Okay but why is woman in quotation marks @GQMagazine— Anna Wagner (@Anna_F_Wagner) November 12, 2018
Hey @GQMagazine ...what the heck? Why "woman" and not WOMAN? ..seriously?!!!— Carolyn (@careme10) November 12, 2018
The problem, critics pointed out, is that Williams has long been questioned for her femininity and woman-ness, both because she’s a Black woman and a strong-as-hell athlete. Williams’ body has been unfairly critiqued for its musculature and Blackness, as if her own existence made her any less of a woman to begin with. So to have her title, woman of the year, in quotation marks, as if to question her existence as a woman, seems offensive and playing into these negative, inaccurate stereotypes to delegitimize her success.
Everyone knows Virgil. We know his designs. We get the quotations. Doesn’t mean putting quotes around woman makes it any less insensitive esp. considering the masculinization of Serena and black women in general!— Kae (@akaeleehb) November 13, 2018
That context definitely helps - it’s definitely off putting especially for an athlete who has been critiqued for not being womanly/not a real woman in all sorts of racist and problematic ways— Anna Wagner (@Anna_F_Wagner) November 12, 2018
They really put "Woman" in quotes in reference to Serena and no one at the table thought it was a bad idea. I'm speechless.— King Wizard (@ChrisTheHuman_) November 12, 2018
Conflicted about this one. I mean I get it's @virgilabIoh's style, but given that the word is "woman," the quotes should never have made it past the copy desk. But then #Serena approved it, so who are we to be offended, I suppose. pic.twitter.com/9MhZnPRijw— Jui Chakravorty (@JuiChakravorty) November 13, 2018
I know the quotes is Virgil’s thing but he gotta know better than putting them around “woman” while referring to Serena Williams https://t.co/2q7iV7zdXo— Perk (@gregperkinss) November 12, 2018
With any hope, the typography and ensuing controversy won’t overshadow Williams’ much-deserved praise.
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.