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Equal Prize Money: Mill’s Idea?

April 16, 2011

Over the past four decades, the men’s and women’s tennis game has been transforming regarding prize money. Past tennis player Billie Jean King pioneered a movement about forty years ago that worked toward equal prize money for both the men’s and women’s tour when she successfully convinced the US Open to award equal prize money for both men and women after her historic “Battle of the Sexes” match. This idea was not immediately accepted by other tournaments (for reasons I will go into later), but it soon took hold when Venus Williams zealously supported this movement, too. By 2006 and after an over thirty-year battle, all of the Grand Slam tournaments–Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open–adopted the policy that women would be awarded the same amount of prize money as men. For example, currently, the winners of the US Open, regardless of gender, both make 1.7 million dollars, a number that is fast rising. This movement toward equality has received much criticism but also strong support from spectators and players.

The pressing question is whether or not equal prize money can really be justified? That idea is one that players like Venus Williams easily agree with. Prior to Wimbledon 2006, Williams published her argument in the Times as to why women deserve equal prize money:

I believe that athletes — especially female athletes in the world’s leading sport for women — should serve as role models. The message I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling. My fear is that Wimbledon is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message….Wimbledon has argued that women’s tennis is worth less for a variety of reasons; it says, for example, that because men play a best of five sets game they work harder for their prize money. This argument just doesn’t make sense; first of all, women players would be happy to play five sets matches in grand slam tournaments…Secondly, tennis is unique in the world of professional sports. No other sport has men and women competing for a grand slam championship on the same stage, at the same time. So in the eyes of the general public the men’s and women’s games have the same value. Third, … we enjoy huge and equal celebrity and are paid for the value we deliver to broadcasters and spectators, not the amount of time we spend on the stage. And, for the record, the ladies’ final at Wimbledon in 2005 lasted 45 minutes longer than the men’s….Wimbledon has justified treating women as second class because we do more for the tournament. The argument goes that the top women — who are more likely also to play doubles matches than their male peers — earn more than the top men if you count singles, doubles and mixed doubles prize money. So the more we support the tournament, the more unequally we should be treated!

Her argument ultimately led to Wimbledon enacting equal prize money for both men and women; however, her argument has been contradicted by many people. I found this odd but informative video on youtube that easily sums up some of the reasons and arguments as to why women should not be awarded the same amount of prize money:

Likewise, there seems to be many major differences between the men’s and women’s tour such as the idea that women as are not working as hard or bringing in as many viewers that would support the argument that women are not deserving of equal prize money.

After presenting both sides to the argument, I wanted to relate this controversial argument back to political theory: Would Mill be in favor of equal prize money? At first glance, any equality among men and women would seem to be supported by Mill. The idea that women are treated equally would be supported by Mill; however, in this case, would he believe that women are deserving of this treatment? Firstly, the nature of women is truly unknown; therefore, according to Mill, we are not able to determine if women are even able to compete in 3 out of 5 sets like the men’s game. “What is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing–the result of forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others” (Mill 662). As of right now, they do not compete in the same amount of sets as men, so can their equal prize money really be justified? Nature dictates what women can become, and since women are currently not seeking to equalize themselves in regards to their amount of time of the tennis court, how can they desire equal prize money? Moreover, Mill is in favor of a utilitarian system that would empower women in order to enhance individual development and society as a whole, but equal prize money does not do this. Aren’t women getting the easy way out? If women were playing under the same conditions on the court regarding the amount of sets played then they would rightfully deserve equal prize money or even if they were competing against men they would also deserve equal prize money; however, women’s matches, which can easily last under an hour, are not the same length or intensity as men’s matches. In a Grand Slam tournament now, women can be on the court for under 10 hours total and receive the same amount of winner’s prize money as a man who is on the court for over 21 total hours. In the case, I believe that Mill would want women to be playing the same amount of sets and under more similar conditions in order for women to deserve equal prize money. What do you guys think, would Mill support equal prize money in the sport of tennis, moreover, would Mill think that the sport of tennis is even ready to enact equal prize money?

Works Cited

Mill, John. “The Subjection of Women.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzshe. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

  1. micahfr permalink
    April 16, 2011 5:32 PM

    I think that this post is very interesting. However, the reason that women are only playing three sets, as opposed to five, on the tour, is because it is in the television contract between the tour and the broadcasting companies. TV stations don’t want to broadcast a five set women’s match because their viewership bases get bored. Also, when it comes to actual women’s pay, the should be paid equally, in terms of profit. If $1.7 million is 10% of the profit made by the US Open, then the female winner should be paid 10% of the profit of whatever is made by the women’s tour. The same thing is essentially done in the WNBA. Their salaries are very small, but ultimately proportionally equal to the men’s salaries.

    • lernerm permalink
      April 16, 2011 7:24 PM

      Good point Micah, and I think you proposed a very reasonable solution. It sounds quite reasonable to me that athletes should paid a percentage of the profits generated by their activity, just as their agents are paid a percentage for negotiating a good contract and a real estate broker gets a percentage of the sale of a home. If there is a larger fan base for one sport or another, it makes sense to reward the athletes for success in a high-profile sport (especially since there will be more competition in sports that more kids aspire to be involved in, like baseball).

  2. Kendall Rhode permalink
    April 16, 2011 5:33 PM

    I agree that if women play equal hours on the court as men do, they should be payed the same amount of money. However, Venus makes a compelling argument. Women would be happy to play five sets and in the past they have played longer gamest than men. They need to pay them the same amount because it will show young women that if they work hard, they can get paid the same money men get. This would help our society for it would crate a strong and educated women workforce. Mill would want women to be provided the same opportunity and thus same amount of money women get.

  3. nmajie permalink
    April 17, 2011 12:33 PM

    I agree that women being paid a percentage of what they bring in to the tour is a good idea, but would Mill agree with this idea? In this circumstance, women and men would be making different amounts of money (women could but most likely would not make more money than men), so would this really create equality among gender, or would it possible solidify the principle that one gender is inferior due to the fact that they have less of a viewership thus less profit?


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