I will not begin to pretend that I speak the language of sports. I am fluent in both English and Spanish, can dabble with French and Quechua (an indigenous language spoken in many parts of South America), but do not even think about asking me as to why in baseball, if the batter hits the catcher, the catcher is at fault, or how to follow wrong sides in hockey. While the answers to those questions do not particularly interest me anyways, I would like to uncover some other probing sport-related curiosity.
Why is the golf tee “for men” placed ahead of the golf tee “for women”? (And why are human beings so binary to begin with?) Why are most country clubs’ greens open to only men at certain times of the week? (Hasn’t the Civil Rights movement ended?) Why is “checking” so common in mens’ lacrosse and hockey, but not in womens’ lacrosse and hockey? Search any question related to the distinct rules in men and womens’ sports, and our dear friend Google will likely spit back a generic response along the lines of, “In general, accommodations are made for the fact that women are smaller and less muscular than men.” (This was the first robotic answer I came across following my personal Google search). I don’t deny that generally speaking, men produce more testosterone than women and thereby are more adept at developing muscle mass. But what on earth does this have to do with checking versus not checking? I’m pretty sure most people, regardless of muscle mass, do not direly wish to be pegged by a stick.
On a more serious note, leveraging men and women’s “natural way of being” as a claim to allegedly justify exactly why rules are different amongst various sports sounds all too similar to the “past” (in quotes because some people still say it and many still believe it) justification of a woman’s place being in the home or a man’s place being at work. “It’s the natural order of things,” they would (and still do) say.
On average, sports in a man’s world have much larger audiences than in a woman’s world. Fact. Check the numbers yourself. Ohio State University mens’ basketball, for example, averages more than 15,000 fans per game, while the women’s team averages about 3,510 per game. If that’s not convincing you, reflect on your personal experience. When you walk into a bar, party, or your own home, and there is a sports game on the television, is it usually mens’ or womens’?
Female athletes are often convinced that in order to earn any sort of publicity or recognition in athletics, the sexualization of their bodies is the most viable route. Professor of Sport Sociology, Mary Jo Kane, Ph.D., writes, “Within the small amount of coverage that women’s athletics do receive, we find that female athletes are more likely to be portrayed off the court, out of uniform and in highly sexualized poses where the emphasis is on their femininity and their physical attractiveness rather than their athletic competence.” This sexualization of women in the media promotes female passivity and thereby male patriarchy. Strong, abled female athletes pose in skimpy bikinis on the cover of Sports Magazine (Swimsuit Edition, obviously), while men are likely portrayed in action; mid-swing, finishing a sweaty run, or up at bat. While male athletes are portrayed as strong, female athletes are depicted as sexy. Men are actively posed, while women are passively positioned. Most of the women pictured in bikinis aren’t even swimmers. Yes, read that again. Media is a paramount issue here. It upholds the notion that a woman’s athleticism does not matter in the first place; it’s her sexy body that ultimately counts and will generate revenue, not her talent.
The most recent news that has been flashing ubiquitously throughout social media and appearing across various headlines is that of equal pay for male and female athletes, thanks to the USWNT winning the World Cup Title. Again. One headline read, “The high ratings in the tournament has been made for their case for equal pay,” (CBS). Another news article was titled, “The soccer team’s 2-0 victory against the Netherlands proved that the US women are still at the top of the game — and, the athletes say, that they should be paid as equal to men” (CNN). Do you notice anything strange about these excerpts? It seems as though the sources justify that the women have “earned” this equal pay solely because they’ve won four world cups. “The U.S. Women have won four World Cup titles since the women’s tournament began in 1991, while the USMNT has never made it to a World Cup Final since play began in 1930. The men did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup tournament and have had a rather disappointing few years, and that disappointment continued Sunday evening as the USMNT fell to Mexico 1-0 in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final on home soil” (NESN). As elated I am that the women have won, what if they hadn’t? Would it justify this unequal pay?
The reason I pose this question isn’t solely for the purpose of the World Cup and the USWNT’s fight for equal pay. From my research and personal experience, it appears that in almost every career path, women are required to work harder than men, in an effort to achieve equality. Sounds self-contradictory. It is. One gender must work harder and more in order to achieve equality. This applies to the woman who has earned her seat at the boardroom table, but still must work overtime to assert her views, while also cautiously attempting not to be bossy doing so. This speaks to the female candidate, who has an amazing education and an abundance of experience in the engineering field, but is not selected because she’s a woman, and to some (subconsciously or not), engineering is not a place for “girls”. Think back to the election; Hilary Clinton was objectively overqualified for the position, while Donald Trump was a successful businessman, which is distantly related to running a country. But we all know how that turned out. The list goes on. Women work harder than men in an effort to achieve equality. But even so, we clearly have not reached it.
Some facts. “When it comes to the World Cup the pay structure is ‘so skewed’ that the men in 2014 received $5.4 million in performance bonuses, despite losing in the Round of 16, while the women the following year were paid a collective $1.7 million for the winning the whole thing… Between 2014 and 2017, the women say they were forced to play on artificial surfaces (rather than safer natural grass) for 12 of their 62 matches at home, compared to the men playing one game on an artificial surface. On three occasions, the USSF rolled natural grass over artificial surfaces for the men, despite the women being forced to play on artificial grass in the same stadiums.” There are countless other discrepancies; do some research if it interests you. What particularly intrigues me is the USSF’s response. In the lawsuit, a USSF representative stated, “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.” In accordance with this statement, when asked about the pay gap in women’s soccer specifically, President Donald Trump responded, “I would like to see that, but you’ve also got to look at the numbers. You have to look at who’s taking in what.” Well, if you want to talk numbers, according to the WSJ, “In the three years after the women’s team won the World Cup in 2015, their games generated more total revenue than men’s games. The 2015 Women’s World Cup final also had more views than any other soccer match in U.S. history, men’s or women’s, at that time.” Nike also reported that the U.S. Women’s jersey had higher sales than all others in one season. But you can still see this pattern. Women must completely surpass men in order to achieve equality, which blatantly undermines the meaning of equality to begin with.
Many have also argued, sure, USA women have done great from a revenue-perspective with the World Cup. But what about outside of the World Cup? To which I respond, first off, there are numerous ways in which female athletes are excelling outside of the World Cup. Look to UConn Women’s basketball, or Kendall Coyne who recently made history as the women’s fastest skater, trending across most news channels and social media platforms. Nonetheless, if you generically search “best women golfers” one of the very first results that pops up is a page that will bring you to “Hottest Female Golfers”. So if we’re looking to value womens’ athletics solely from a revenue perspective, then we should also account for the sales they generate by sexualizing themselves on the covers of various magazines. Or maybe consider the way in which our culture perpetuates this idea that women are worthy of anything only for their body; how sexy or beautiful they are. That then helps to explain why attendances, in general, are lower at women’s sporting events. They aren’t playing soccer in a skimpy bathing suit, so why go?
Why? Because these women are training just as hard as the men. They are pushing their bodies to the limit. They are excelling. And against all odds, they are winning. These women are representing our country, even when our country isn’t representing them. Women across the world have long-deserved equal pay. It’s time. It’s been time. Time is now.