Serena Williams spoke candidly with Meghan Markle about double standards for female athletes

In an episode of Markle’s new podcast, the tennis star reflected on her upcoming retirement and her complex relationship with ambition.

Photos Serena Williams and Meghan Markle side by side
Robert Prange/Getty Images + Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Serena Williams joined Meghan Markle as a guest for the first episode of Archetypes, Markle’s podcast about the “labels and tropes that try to hold women back.”

Williams, who is a friend of Markle’s, spoke specifically about her complex relationship to ambition as a female superstar athlete whose career was built, in Markle’s words, “in the midst of a culture that, how should we say this, doesn’t exactly prize ambitious women, let alone ambitious Black women.”

“I have to check myself because I’ve been so blinded by society,” Williams said. “If a man is ambitious — am I saying, am I bringing down society by saying a woman is something different than ambitious? Or what do I think of women who are ambitious? Often women are definitely put in these different boxes when we are ambitious or when we do have goals or when we reach our goals, it’s a negative connotation on how we reach the goals.”

The “double standard,” she noted, has been perpetually foisted on female athletes like her versus her male counterparts. “I can’t win being someone different, I have to win being Serena. And sometimes that’s more fierce,” she said with a laugh. “But is it fierce when guys are saying ‘come on’ and pumping their fists? It’s pretty exciting, but for me it’s ‘aggressive.’” She recalled reading an article in which a male athlete was called ‘passionate’ while claiming that Williams had a meltdown. “I was like, wait, how do I have a meltdown? But this guy's passionate.”

A mother of a 4-year-old daughter, Williams also noted the different ways she is asked about being a parent. “They always ask me, how do you do the mom-work balance? And even my husband, he talks about this all the time. He's like, they never ask me that,” she said.

Earlier this month, Williams announced her retirement — what she calls an “evolution” away from tennis to focus on building her family and her business ventures — in an open letter in Vogue, a decision that, she noted, she had consulted with Markle’s husband, Prince Harry, about beforehand. Her essay was remarkably candid in speaking on the pain and devastation of deciding to move on from tennis. But on Markle’s podcast, she expressed a more positive outlook on retirement.

“My whole entire being and my whole entire life has been for one purpose,” Williams told Markle. “So to kind of not do that anymore, it’s exciting, right? I'm really looking forward to it. Honestly, I can't wait to wake up one day and literally never have to worry about performing on such a high level and competing."

She added, in a kind of farewell remark to her fans: “I love them more, all the support that I’ve gotten over the years, I couldn’t have ever dreamt of it. To hear people so happy and so intense — I’m just from Compton. I never envisioned that this would be me, you know? I was just the youngest of five in a two-bedroom home. And too have people really supporting and really there, to just hang on to everything has been the most amazing experience and the most amazing ride.”