On Thursday, February 16, 2023, Tiger Woods “jokingly” handed opponent Justin Thomas a tampon after teeing off on the ninth hole of the Genesis Invitational tournament. When the media questioned Woods about the incident, Woods responded, “yeah, it was supposed to be all fun and games and obviously it hasn’t turned out that way. If I offended anybody, it was not the case, it was just friends having fun.”
Woods also said, “if I offended anybody in any way, shape or form, I’m sorry. It was not intended to be that way. It was just we [referring to Thomas] play pranks on one another all the time and virally I think this did not come across that way, but between us it was — it’s different.”
There is no excuse for energizing sexism. Energizing sexism can perpetuate harm, discrimination, gender-based violence, and exploitation. This “boys will be boys” attitude specifically seen here, reflects gendered stereotypes and ignorance towards women, girls, and individuals who menstruate. Through her article on USA Today, Christine Brennan explained that “he [Woods] employed basic misogyny to insult his good friend Thomas, a knee-slapper of a dig against female athletes: You hit the ball like a girl!”
Historically and today, “you hit like a girl” is an insult meant to imply weakness, a lack of determination, and lackluster physical skill. As shown in the 2015 Superbowl commercial by Always, the phrase can damage a girl’s confidence when it comes to sports, competition, and their self-worth.
Furthermore, period products are still charged a sales tax in 22 U.S. states, contributing to the “othering” of women in both sports and society at large. “Othering,” or making a group out to be fundamentally different from the norm leading to marginalization, is a commonly seen phenomenon in women’s sports. This often portrays women as the weaker sex. These views and attitudes are connected, and exploitation and abuse are rooted in similar sentiments that one can control, dominate, and objectify another. According to UNICEF, “the objectification and sexualization of girls in the media is linked to violence against women and girls worldwide.” When public figures reinforce harmful gender stereotypes and depict women as nothing more than the punchline of sexist jokes, biases against women are strengthened which tends to legitimize violence, harassment, and anti-women views and behaviors.
As articulated by Akilah Carter-Francique, the executive director for the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change at San José State University, “sports are often a microcosm of our society.” Women in sports have been extremely limited, criticized, and policed throughout their participation in sports. Golf itself has a lengthy history of being a “boys club” that actively seeks to keep women out. Moreover, women have not always been allowed to participate in professional sports. Additionally, throughout their participation in professional sports, women’s successes have rarely been celebrated to the same extent as men’s successes.
Women’s sports also do not receive the same viewership as men’s sports – a study done by GWI in 2022 showed that both men and women prioritize men’s only matches: 69% of men and 42% of women watch men’s only sport competitions whereas 25% of men and 32% of women watched women’s only sports competitions.
Woods’ sexist and misogynistic “joke” is not the first time a high-profile male celebrity has dehumanized women for a laugh. Actor Seth MacFarlane, former professional basketball player Charles Barkley, former reality show participant Andrew Tate, and “Avengers” co-stars Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner have all made tone-deaf quips at the expense of women. Additionally, actors Charlie Sheen and Hugh Grant have admitted to buying sex. Woods himself has bought sex, further showing that he is involved in the objectification and choice of commodifying women’s bodies.
So, what message did Woods, a self-proclaimed “girl dad,” spread through this tone-deaf “joke?” As we have noted before, words and actions matter and have power. Intentionally handing a tampon to an opponent that Woods had just effectively defeated, signals that women and those who menstruate are less-than. Regarded as one of the best golfers of all time, Woods has unfortunately used his platform to perpetuate discrimination and misogyny.
Finally, Thomas, by taking the tampon and laughing instead of condemning the action, is complicit in Woods’ gendered trope.
The CSE Institute applauds author Christine Brennan, NBC sports anchor Trenni Casey, and all of those who have taken to social media to speak out against this blatant act of misogyny and sexism. The CSE Institute condemns this attempt to encourage harm, discrimination, gender-based violence, and the dehumanization and exploitation of women.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.