GQ magazine courted backlash this week for the way it featured tennis great Serena Williams in its Men of the Year cover story package. The controversy began soon after the outlet tweeted cover shots of her, as well as fellow 2018 honorees Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”), Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther”) and Jonah Hill (“Mid90s”).
Announcing GQ’s Men (and Woman) of the Year 2018: @michaelb4jordan, @henrygolding, @jonahhill, and @serenawilliams (featuring handwriting by @virgilabloh) https://t.co/EpG3lKCJ3r #GQMOTY pic.twitter.com/6MgczSxSpq— GQ Magazine (@GQMagazine) November 12, 2018
Unlike the three male-identified stars’ covers, Williams’ featured the word “MEN” crossed out, with “WOMAN” written above it—in quotations. The New York Times and other media outlets reported that critics swiftly called the magazine out for playing into the frequent racist, sexist and transphobic attacks that Williams has endured throughout her career.
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
@GQMagazine Please explain to me why GQ Magazine’s Editorial Team felt that quote marks were necessary on the Serena Williams’ Woman of the Year Cover. I Really Really Need to Know. I’m Expecting an Answer????♀️??????????? pic.twitter.com/qGNPNJI4Rq— Y•S•A•N•N•E (@YsanneBueno) November 13, 2018
GQ’s only response came from research manager Mick Rouse, who tweeted that Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh worked on the cover and used the quotation marks in tandem with his design signature:
Because it was handwritten by Virgil Abloh of Off-White, who has styled everything in quotation marks as of late (see Serena’s US Open apparel that he designed)— Mick Rouse (@mickrouse) November 12, 2018
It quite literally has tags/quotations around it because that’s Virgil’s own style/branding, including in his partnership with Nike and Serena herself. That’s the only “message” behind it. pic.twitter.com/uaGV1DYDhC— Mick Rouse (@mickrouse) November 12, 2018
100% understand the concerns your raising, and it’s not something lost on me. But that’s the truth behind the cover— Mick Rouse (@mickrouse) November 12, 2018
Rouse’s explanation was not sufficient for several of the magazine’s critics.
We know why it “normally” would be in quotes.— ROCHELLE RILEY ? (@rochelleriley) November 13, 2018
But we believe “the artist” & @GQMagazine might have realized that, given the “history of abuse” @serenawilliams has suffered & the names hurled at this “goddess” & #GOAT, GQ might have fought to skip “quote marks” just “this time.” pic.twitter.com/zznqrTAfVN
so why didn’t he put “men” in quotation marks on the men’s covers? ? https://t.co/5mjTatH3xo— king crissle (@crissles) November 12, 2018
Williams’ cover image, whose accompanying profile debuts online tomorrow (November 15), wasn’t the only one that got people talking. The Huffington Post Asian Voices notes that Henry Golding made history as the first Asian “Man of the Year” in GQ’s history.