A couple (several?) weeks ago, I noticed a headline — something about members of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team filing a discrimination complaint. This wasn’t the first article I read, but all the major news outlets seem to have covered it decently.
I read it, was shocked to discover the crazy discrepancies between what the women get (winners, let’s remember, of three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals) and what the men get (winners of…nothing, who failed to even qualify for this year’s Olympics), and moved on.
Then last week, my brother texted me a link to this excellent op-ed by hat trick-extraordinaire Carli Lloyd.
This time, though, I clicked around more, found more articles, and made the fatal Internet mistake of reading the comments.
And now I have thoughts.
You’ve probably already guessed that I think it’s absolutely ludicrous that the women even have go to such lengths to get paid more for their performances. The differences in the wage structures for the women’s and men’s teams are just mind-boggling.
And then you consider that the women’s team is projected to generate a $5.2 million next year (with no World Cup or Olympics drawing more attention), while the men’s team is projected to lose almost $1 million.
I shouldn’t be, but a part of me is still shocked that anyone would object to equal or equal-er pay between the two teams.
The objections range, but generally fall under “the women’s team doesn’t generate as much money as the men’s team because men’s soccer is more popular worldwide since the men’s games are more competitive and interesting.”
Women’s team doesn’t make as much money
I tried reading U.S. Soccer’s report from its Annual General Meeting, where everyone is pulling the revenue figures from, and honestly couldn’t really make sense of it (at least, not in five minutes), but I’m going to go with what every news outlet seems to be reporting, which is that the women’s team generates significantly more revenue than the men’s team. (Granted, this could be because their expenses in the “player pay” column is so much lower, but still.)
Men’s soccer is more popular worldwide
The women aren’t taking this complaint to FIFA; they’re going to U.S. Soccer. In this country, the women’s national team–we’re not talking MLS vs. NWSL here–is wildly more popular and lucrative than the men’s team. As my brother texted me when he sent me a link to Lloyd’s op-ed, “When she mentions Alex Morgan and Hope Solo, as well as Jermaine Jones and Geoff Cameron, I’ve only heard of 2 of those people. Both of whom are women.”
Men’s soccer is better
And if you prefer watching men’s games over women’s, fine, but let’s not draw value statements until you have hard facts and empirical evidence, not subjective opinions. And for the enlightened individual who said women are inferior players because they can’t make 40-yard shots, I’ll just leave this right here and you can kindly fuck off.
Look, I know that the U.S. Men’s team is facing teams that are more established, with longer histories, from countries that are rabid for soccer and therefore have better player development programs in place and can draw from a larger pool of talent. The Women’s team is so dominant largely thanks to Title IX and the many of the women’s programs in other countries are still catching up.
Why This All Matters
The 1999 Women’s World Cup Final is one of a handful of sporting events I vividly remember. I was 13. My family and I watched the game at home until regulation ended, in a 0-0 tie, and then drove to the airport during overtime. We got to our gate in time to watch the penalty kicks. Every TV in that terminal was turned to the game. Every person in that terminal was watching it. Every single one. The gate attendants were stealing glances in between boarding announcements.
Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly, Briana Scurry…all those women were my heroes. As a young female soccer player, they were the best damn role models I could ask for. Throughout junior high and high school, even after I stopped playing in favor of cross country and track, I had their examples to follow–of playing hard, of being a good teammate, of striving for the best and being proud of myself, my body, and my abilities.
Now, I have a 12-year-old cousin who plays soccer and loves it. My aunt posted a picture of her wearing a Megan Rapinoe jersey watching the World Cup last year. She got to go to their championship parade in LA.
I have no idea if she’s paying attention to this story. But I hope she is, and I’m so grateful she has women like Lloyd, Morgan, and Rapinoe to look up to. It’s important that she sees what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. It’s important that she understands that she can and should stand up for herself when she sees unequal treatment, in soccer or anywhere else. It’s vital that she sees women take an unpopular stance, that they risk being seen as “difficult” or “demanding.”
And it’s even important that she sees the backlash, that she sees these women who have succeeded time and time again at the highest level who still get told they’re not good enough or not worth more. Not because it’ll scare her. Because it’ll help prepare her, and — hopefully — inspire her to fight even harder when it’s her turn.