On Monday, GQ announced its annual Men of the Year honorees: Michael B. Jordan, Jonah Hill, Henry Golding — and one woman of the year, Serena Williams. On the iconic cover featuring Williams, the cover line reads, "Introducing the 2018 'woman' of the year," with woman in quotation marks.
Apparently, the typeface was designed by Virgil Abloh, who collaborated with Williams on a line for Nike and is known for incorporating quotation marks in his clothing designs. But lots of people interpreted this punctuation as a sexist slight against Williams, who has been mocked for her appearance and called a man because she "appeared outwardly strong," she wrote in an open letter on Reddit last year.
On Twitter, several people pointed this out and criticized GQ for not thinking that this would be an issue:
I can’t believe no one at GQ thought perhaps with misogynistic and violent trans insults that Serena (and Venus) have dealt with for the last almost 20 years, to not put woman in quotation marks. Editorial rooms are a fucking disaster, all over this country. I’m offended for her pic.twitter.com/97yaP18etC— #ImWithStacey👡 (@seabethree) November 12, 2018
GQ editors could’ve been smarter here.— KYLE (@kyalbr) November 12, 2018
I think when you’re marketing Serena Williams, you’ve got to have a bigger clue on how things are going to be read.
Would’ve been more interesting to have done
“S E R E N A”
and play with people’s understanding of who and what she is. pic.twitter.com/jhbLZBLLwE
This is not the first time that GQ has put a woman on the cover for the Man of the Year reveal, nor is it the first time Williams has had her gender questioned. Last year, Gal Gadot was named "Wonder Woman of the Year" with no quotes around woman. "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," Williams wrote in the public letter on Reddit. "(No, I just work hard and I was born with this badass body and proud of it)." When you compare the two covers side-by-side (as one writer on Twitter did) it's difficult not to see a glaring difference, even if the quotes were intended to be an artistic touch from Abloh.
In the past year, Williams has been accused of cheating and attacked for having a "meltdown," all in front of the world's stage at the US Open. Needless to say, Williams faces challenges that many other women athletes don't, and this certainly looks like one more example of how black women's bodies are policed. Williams has yet to put out a statement about this latest cover, but the profile is set to come out on Thursday.