GQ announced on Monday that legendary tennis star Serena Williams would be this year’s Woman of the Year, the cover of which has already sparked backlash. Williams poses on the cover in a black turtleneck bodysuit with a Chanel belt, but it was not the photo that had fans in uproar. It was the “Men of the Year” typeface with the word “Men” crossed out and “Woman” replacing it—in quotation marks.
Given that Williams has received extensive criticism throughout her career regarding her strength and muscular build, fans are rightfully outraged that putting the word “woman” in quotation marks implies that Williams is not a “real” woman. Previous Woman of the Year covers have not been in quotation marks.
The typography design was created by Virgil Abloh of Off-White, who has worked with Williams in the past when designing her US Open outfit. This outfit most notably featured the words “Logo” and “Serena” on the trainers and tutu dress—also in quotation marks. As of late, quotation marks have been a common theme in Abloh’s work, which many have been using to defend GQ’s cover choice.
But even the mistake was innocent in nature, it has sparked an uproar that extends past Williams’ own fan base. This cover speaks not only to misogyny in the media, but what it means to be a “real” woman, especially as an athlete. Williams has yet to comment on this particular controversy, but she has spoken out in the past about the sexism she has experienced over the course of her athletic career.
In an open letter on Reddit last year, Williams wrote, “I’ve been called 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 badass body and proud of it).”