Woohoo! Soccer! World cup champions! Congratulations to the U.S. women who beat Japan, 5-2, in yesterday’s final game. We haven’t seen this much excitement about women’s professional sports since 1999, the last time team USA won the World Cup. But remember back then when all the talk was about ladies underwear?
Specifically, everyone seemed to have an opinion on Brandi Chastain’s sports bra, which she revealed after whipping off her jersey and sinking to her knees with a victory scream. Chastain reportedly just turned down a $200,000 offer for that famous article of clothing, saying she would give it to her nine year old son, instead. This is what her iconic bra-baring pose looked like on the cover of Sports Illustrated:
Much has changed in sixteen years. Fashion rules have shifted so that the sight of a sports bra – on an athletic field or jogging down the street – no longer raises an eyebrow, let alone elicits widespread media coverage. There seem to be more soccer fans around these days, too, including Vice President Biden who attended the World Cup game in Vancouver, and our own Mayor Peduto, who had the city set up a giant screen for a watch party in Schenley Park that attracted over 1,500 fans. [Post-Gazette, 7-6-15]
But much has not changed in the world of women’s sports. Despite the addition of a fifth professional team to the Pittsburgh roster this year (ultimate frisbee just joined soccer, hockey, baseball, and football), this sports crazy city still does not have a single women’s team. While the federal Title IX is now over 40 years old and has been an immense success in providing more opportunities for girls in education, including athletics, women at all levels continue to face huge disparities. The female winners of the World Cup will earn 40 times less than their male counterparts. [Jezebel, 7-6-15] Talk about a gendered wage gap.
The marginalization of women’s sports can even be seen in linguistic constructions: the U.S. Women’s Soccer team just won the Women’s World Cup. Using “women” to modify these terms reinforces male normativity, the way in which a supposedly “neutral” phrase is invisibly male and the default state of being.
And of course, women athletes are still objectified and made into sexual objects in a way that few male athletes ever are. Women have sometimes participated in this process explicitly – as Brandi Chastain herself did, posing nude for Gear magazine – but more often we see images like this piece of “click bait” that ran at the bottom of my screen this morning:
Ugh. Seriously? The day after Team USA’s incredible win? No thanks. I will stick with images like this of strong women, who are helping to redefine athleticism as inclusive of a much wider gender spectrum, not just a masculine thing, so that female athletes don’t have to prove they can be man enough on the field, yet still feminine enough to make the 15 Hottest list. Here’s Pittsburgh’s own Meghan Kligenberg doing just that:
Now that’s something to celebrate!