Serena Williams: GQ Magazine "Woman of the Year" Controversy

Serena Williams has had more than her fair share of time in the spotlight this year. She has been in the news for her harrowing story of almost dying after giving birth to her baby, Alexis Olympia, and the controversy surrounding her U.S. Open loss. She acted with grace following her loss to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open championship despite being under attack for her attitude towards the match’s umpire.

Now, hopefully for the last time before year’s end, Serena is faced with another dispute: her GQ Woman of the Year cover. This is a huge honor for Williams, and well-deserved after a tough year. The controversy doesn't questions whether Williams was worthy of the title (she definitely was), but the way it was presented on the cover of the magazine. Every year, GQ, a men’s magazine, selects its Men of the Year and one Woman of the Year. On Williams’ cover is written “Men of the Year” with “Men” crossed out and replaced with “Woman.” The word “woman” is in quotation marks, which has left many people angry and confused. To readers that aren’t aware of the backstory behind the choice (which is the majority of the population), this may seem as if GQ is demeaning Williams and her womanhood, which has been criticized for years because of her athletic body type.

 

Here’s the reason behind the word in quotes: the font and quotes are the trademarks of Virgil Abloh, creative director for Louis Vuitton menswear, and most well-known for his position as CEO of the fashion label “Off-White.” Abloh and Williams have collaborated for Nike before, and Abloh designed Williams’ 2018 U.S. Open championship outfit, which featured the words “Logo” and “Serena” in quotes as well.

From one perspective, it would make sense for Virgil Abloh to trademark Serena’s title as Woman of the Year on the cover of GQ Magazine; they’re obviously close collaborators and friends. Or, would it? As someone who considers themselves at least somewhat well-versed in names in the fashion industry, to me, it seems that the cover of a mainstream magazine who has an audience made up of the general population is not the place to make cryptic references to fashion; especially ones that can be so easily misinterpreted. Not to mention, the fact that a man branded Williams’ very title of Woman of the Year contradicts its meaning and value. In other words, when she wins something, it’s not even truly hers. 

Unfortunately, this poor choice made by the GQ staff has left Serena Williams hurt once again. In a situation where this would normally be a great honor, controversy has plagued her image and identity as Woman of the Year. It is unlikely that Williams will be remembered for her award, but instead for the debate that surrounded it. The branding was arguably unnecessary; the only purpose it has served so far is to stir up trouble. Frankly, no one really cares whether Virgil Abloh’s mark is on the cover besides members of the exclusive club that is the high fashion industry (but that's for another discussion). Attention is taken away from Williams and her accomplishments and instead focused on GQ Magazine. One would expect that the editor of such a world-renowned magazine would put more thought into how readers would respond to the cover. We can only hope that this wasn’t a publicity stunt that ended up exploiting Serena Williams’ accomplishments. As a consumer, it is important to educate oneself on these types of issues in order to become more aware of the ways in which the media takes advantage of women, whether it be intentionally or not.