I am not a professional athlete, nor am I adept at anything having to do with any sort of ball or hand-eye coordination. Given those fundamental athletic failures, it is already impossible for me to try to conjure up the crushing pressure and physical stress a 19-year-old tennis player might feel while battling the world’s number one tennis player on an international stage. What I do know, however, is how fucking miserable period cramps are, how much more debilitating they were throughout my teenage years, and how I would physically threaten anyone who dared to disturb me whilst in my period cave, waving around the spoon from my untouched morning smoothie as a weapon of mass destruction.
So the idea of having to battle a terminator of an opponent WHILE concentrating hard enough to whack an incoming ball traveling at 136.7 mph WHILE being socked repeatedly in the uterus by a jackhammer of a period is beyond the realm of possibility. Still, that’s what the teenage Chinese tennis player Zheng Qinwen, ranked 74th in the world, was up against this weekend in the middle of the French Open.
During her fourth-round match against the Polish Iga Swiatekon Monday, Qinwen started the match without kinks, before quickly crumbling into a state of agony and taking a medical timeout at 3-0 down. According to CNN, she had her back massaged on the court, then retired to the locker room before returning to finish the match (she was also suffering from a thigh injury).
“Yeah, the leg was also tough. That compared to the stomach was easy...I cannot play my tennis, [my] stomach was too painful,” Zheng told the press after the match. “If I don’t have my stomach [pain] I think I could enjoy more, like to run better and to hit harder, to give more effort on court. It’s a pity that I couldn’t give what I want to give today.”
Ever the advocate for legitimizing women’s pain, CNN framed it as such: “Menstrual cramps derail Chinese teen’s French Open dream in loss to Swiatek,” giving Qinwen’s “menstrual cramps” the agency and ill-timed visit of horned hormone monster Monstress Connie from Big Mouth. Another headline from The Telegraph posited that the athlete “blame[d]” her defeat “on menstrual cramps,” presenting the cramps as an excuse and not a medical ailment that plagues, you know, most people on the planet with a uterus.
“It’s just girls’ things, you know. The first day is always so tough and then I have to do sport and I always have so much pain in the first day, and I couldn’t go against my nature,” Qinwen continued. “I wish I can be a man on court, but I cannot in that moment...I really wish I can be [a] man [so] that I don’t have to suffer from this.”
Being a man on the court is like riding an eternal merry-go-round stuffed with flying unicorns and whimsical princesses: It’s a no-woman’s-land where bodies aren’t policed and your talent isn’t sized up to your gender. What a carefree existence: To exist within sport without having to justify that existence, apologize for excruciating pain because it’s something that does not happen to men, or advocate for equal pay. Male athletes break a pinky fingernail and cradle themselves on the field as though the world (aka their season) is ending. I’d like to see them try to make three-pointers while their tubes take turns strangling different organs throughout their midsection.