Soccer is considered the international sport. The success and fervor of soccer across the global has created a form of religious mythos. Many football fanatics have described their love for their club and their attendance to a match, as a ‘religious experience.’ I myself felt like I was on holy ground when I stepped foot onto the grounds of FC Barcelona and Aston Villa FC. And it is on this sacred ground that women are continuing the struggle for equality.
The US Women’s Soccer Team has struggled since its inception in 1985. It has struggled to gain sponsorship, viewership, and even validation that women could play 90 minutes in one of the most physically demanding sports.
The first ever Women’s World Cup took place in 1991(61 years after the first men’s World Cup), the US women came out victorious. Whereas Men’s World Cup matches are played on mainly newly constructed stadiums with real grass; women more often play in over 30 year old stadiums and artificial grass. The article, Women’s Soccer Is a Feminist Issue states,
When you watch women’s sports, and there are fewer camera angles, fewer cuts to shot, fewer instant replays, yeah, it’s going to seem to be a slower game, [and] it’s going to seem to be less exciting…This disparity in coverage is gender inequality at work, says Cooky. “The media plays a huge role in building and sustaining audiences for sport and they do it very well for men’s sports and they do it horribly for women’s sports.
Going into the 2015 WWC, the US women’s team were already two time champions. The lowest in their history to be ranked is second. Whereas the men’s team’s highest rank has been fourth. The games were broadcast on a secondary cable channel. Comedians Amy Poehler and Seth Myers did a skit on the ridiculousness of the lack of respect, lack of awareness, and chauvinistic comments by mainstream male sports commentators.
Mainstream sports apps still do not have women’s soccer as an option. ESPN and Fox Soccer have only started to focus on the women’s teams in the last five years. It is the power of social media that has started to turn this tide. Through social media, the US women’s team inspired a nation. With support from actors, the White House, and even big name male athletes, the WWC and the US team gained popularity, attention, and support. The official US Soccer organization trended #shebelieves. After the final, the hashtag, #playlikeagirl trended due to the incredible feats.
Alex Morgan is now sharing the cover with the greatest soccer player Leo Messi on the FIFA 16! Videogame. She is the first women to be on the cover. Her presence on the cover ushers in the first time female players will be programmed in.
The WWC final was watched by over 20.3 million people. Almost 2 million more then who watched the men play last summer. Their victory tour has packed stadiums, gained record breaking ratings, and has encouraged girls’ soccer programs across the nation and even across the globe.
The WWC’s gaining support has helped to highlight crucial issues that feminist circles have struggled in the last ten years to maintain. Articles started flooding in after each win, reports that despite them being two time world cup champions, they are payed less than their male counterparts (who have never even made it to a World Cup Final in their 85 years)
Today, the gap between men’s and women’s wages, the tiny fraction of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, and the lack of respect for Hollywood actresses and directors receive regular and impassioned coverage in both the mainstream and feminist media. The gender inequities in sports are just as vast as those faced by women in corporate offices and on movie sets, but for some reason they fail to incite the same level of outrage.
Not only do they get paid less to lace up their boots but the prize for WWC is $33 million less then what the German Men’s team cashed in last summer. (WWC prize money was $2 million, the MWC prize money was $35 million). To add more fire, the US men’s team, which were knocked out in early stages last year received $8 million for their efforts. When the English Women’s team lost, the official England twitter posted a highly controversial tweet.
Many responded that never once after the men’s team’s losses did reporters remark that they were going back to being husbands and fathers. That despite their athleticism or physical capability to play 90 minutes, newscasters focus on their personal lives or their choice of hairstyles for the game.
The Women’s Team has continually shown that despite their best efforts, their 3 World Cups and being consistently ranked #1 in the world, they are still viewed as secondary athletes. It also shows that while feminist academia has looked at religions, workplace, media etc. the sporting community is another arena where the fight is showing up, “Feminists need to focus on sports because it’s an institution of massive cultural significance and an area rife with “serious” issues, such as sexual violence, pay inequality, and a lack of women in leadership positions.” The popularity of the Women’s team, nationally and globally is sowing seeds that girls and women have what it takes to play the game of soccer and further better yet, the feminist agenda.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is currently studying for her qualifying exams in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. Recently she drove across country to learn Sanskrit at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it.