Serena Williams is no stranger to fighting for women’s rights, on and off the tennis court. She’s advocated across a broad slate of platforms in recent years, from working women’s right to breastfeed to the horrifying rates of maternal mortality for Women of Color in this country. But her entrypoint to feminism was, it turns out, a particularly personal one.
In a new interview published by Bustle on her birthday (September 26), Williams shared that there was a time in which she wasn’t sure of her own connection to feminism — until she needed to apply it to a close friend who was in a financially abusive relationship.
"I didn't realize what a feminist was until my friend was going through this situation," Williams said. "I thought it was really important for me to tell her, 'This is not a great situation to be in.'"
Despite how rampant this form of abuse is — out of the 1 in 4 women who will be affected by domestic abuse in their lifetime, 99 percent experience financial abuse — coverage on the subject remains lacking. Combined with the gaslighting and isolation that often comes at the hands of abusers, a lack of awareness around warning signs can make it a difficult dynamic to spot, including for Williams’ friend.
"When she was in this relationship, she just became a shell of a human being — just going through motions and not really living life,” Williams, whose friend has since left the relationship, said. "Now she's kind of coming out of the fog. She's a different person."
At the time, Williams says it was difficult for her to share her concerns with her friend out of fear she would wind up further isolating her, a common pattern in abusive situations. Equally common is the fact financial abuse remains among the top reasons victims feel forced to stay with their abuser.
“It's difficult to say those messages without your friend cutting the strings, and then she's really left alone," she said. "I need to speak up. I need to be loud. I need you to hear me."