The XX Factor

The Ugly Side of Women’s World Cup

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Congrats to the U.S. women’s soccer team for today’s 3-1 win over France in the semi-finals of the World Cup.  The game felt like a nice, easy trot to victory, especially after Sunday’s nail-biter of a game against Brazil.  (Which produced one of the most fun sports fan videos I’ve ever seen.)  As both a fan of women and the World Cup, I’m always happy to see the U.S. women’s team do well and increase American enthusiasm for women’s soccer.  Plus, star players Abby Wambach and Hope Solo, the goalkeeper, are fun personalities to root for, with Solo having what is probably the greatest name ever for a professional athlete to sweeten the deal.

However, we are talking about women’s sports and nothing can ever be simple when it comes to women using their bodies to do things other than sexually entice men and bear children.  While it would be nice if we could just conduct a single women’s World Cup without sexual objectification, lesbian panic, and claims that women’s sports don’t count as real sports, I don’t imagine that will be happening any time in my lifetime.  (And assuming I live another 50 years, that means I’ll be suffering through at least 12 more bouts of this nonsense while trying to take in some ladies kicking a soccer ball around.)  While most of the comments under Josh Levin’s Slate recap of the US/Brazil nailbiter were about sensible, relevant things such as the refereeing and Wambach’s remarkable poise under pressure, unfortunately there were still a number of lesbian-baiting comments and comments from men who appear to believe that out of all the amazing things about Solo one could list, the only one they find interesting is her good looks. And, as David Plotz notes at Slate, many female players still feel compelled to do naked pictures and even soft core porn in order to raise enthusiasm for their team.  All the men have to do to get exponentially more attention is put a few soccer balls in the net.  

Pathetically, machismo about soccer has gotten so out of control that the BBC initially refused to air the quarter-finals game between England and France, which would have deprived English fans of an opportunity to watch their ladies produce, through exhaustion and injuries, the most gallant loss I’ve seen this tournament.  It was only under a sea of protest that the channel relented and showed the game.

This kind of sexism against female soccer players is not only ugly, but just plain silly. There’s an argument to be had that sports such as basketball and football that rely on strength and size are more entertaining when men play them, but soccer’s rules don’t provide women any disadvantage to play.  On an even playing field, a women’s game is just as exciting and interesting as a men’s game.  If anything, the lesser incidence of flopping in the women’s game makes it more exciting, because there are fewer breaks in the action.  (Not that you would know that there’s less flopping if the only game you watched was the flop-fest between the U.S. and Brazil.  Women aren’t averse to the practice if they need it to get an edge.)  Hostility to women’s soccer is just naked, irrational sexism.  And some of the biggest victims are the people missing out on a great World Cup because they’re too prejudiced to watch women who can kick as much ass on the field as the men.