This was the main question an article I read the other day asked, and while the article itself was all right, the writer did bring up the interesting (though oblivious) point that the Women’s World Cup next year would not get as much attention as this year’s tournament has.
Take a gander why.
It’s weird. Articles are coming out of the wood works that Americans are more invested in this world cup than in years past. While there was a rise in the popularity of soccer after the women’s victory in the 1999 World Cup, it hasn’t been as crazy as this. But why? The women’s team is constantly great, while the men have usually played on a scale from lack luster to average, but immediately when the men start playing well -great even- is the moment Americans start to root passionately for the American team?
But this disparity always seems to be the case. As part of the Duke University Pep Band, I have to attend an equal number of men’s and women’s basketball games throughout the year, and the difference between them is astounding. While students wait in line for hours on end to enter Cameron for a men’s game through rain and snow and midterms, the women are lucky if they have twenty students in the stands supporting them.
In my three years at Duke, the women have been constantly better. The men have this sort of cockiness ingrained to them from Duke basketball history they didn’t create and expect they’ll win games because of it along with talent that’s wasted if used for showboating or without follow through. Sometimes they won the games they were suppose to win, sometimes they didn’t. The women however, would always show up to the court, confident, ready to go and play a consistently good game as a team.
Now, there is a litany of reasons as to why this is, but those are just semantics right? We can argue all day about the biology and athleticism that favors men over women and makes for more exhilarating games, but the proof is that there is a huge potential for support for women’s sports that we ignore/don’t care because it’s women who are playing these games and therefor it’s inferior/sub-par to men’s games. There’s the World Cup, and then there’s the Women’s World Cup. We have to make a clear distinction to what it is because the default thought when it comes to sports is men.
There are few sports where women are give more visibility then men, and the most predominate one in my mind is gymnastics. Gymnastics is perhaps my favorite sport to watch, but the more I watch it, the more I think it’s a perfect metaphor for the experience of women in this society. Unlike most other games, in gymnastics you start off with a perfect score and then get deducted points as you perform your routine. So, you strive for perfection and you have a bunch of people critiquing you from very angle -posture, technique, abilities, the wow factor- and the judging itself is so arbitrary at times, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t quite reach perfection can you? You’ll have commentators, spectators, the world discussing your faults and strengths, examine every contortion your body makes to tell you through different mediums that you could have done better, that if you had focused, you should have done better.
Despite all this you still train seven, eight hours a day to make the most death defying routines with almost impossible flips and jumps look easy, graceful. Through all this, you can’t forget your appearance either; you’ll get deducted points-censured- if your ponytail isn’t in the right position or your leotard rides a tad bit too high, if you’re not the pristine image of what a gymnast should be. You do this for most of your life, and then once you hit twenty you’re pretty much past your prime because extreme youth always triumphs in this sport.
Even in other sports that aren’t set up like gymnastics, appearances often take precedence over these women’s actual talents and abilities. Serena William’s outfits make more headlines then her domination in the women’s tennis field. Britteny Griner, the biggest player in the WNBA, is said to have ‘mannish’ features. Danica Patrick is known more her sex appeal then her success out on the racetrack.
Why are we more obsessed with the appearance of female athletes than their actual skills in competition?
Sports are great for both genders. They foster sportsmanship, teamwork, perseverance, hard work, and teach children to not only win but also to lose. But when we as society tell young girls that their abilities and talents aren’t as important as their male counter parts out in the field and that the most important thing about them is their looks, we’re doing more harm than good.
While I don’t think watching the World Cup is anti-feminist, I do believe it’s time to start a revolution to give female athletes the credit, support, and attention they deserve. So, if you’re cheering loudly for the men’s soccer team this year like I am, make sure to cheer just as loudly if not louder for the women’s soccer team next year and the next and the next.