The XX Factor

Americans Love Women’s Soccer

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Congratulations to the Japanese team for winning this year’s Women’s World Cup.  As a U.S. fan, I was sorely disappointed, but have to admit that the U.S. didn’t deserve to win after Ali Krieger’s defensive mistake that led to one of Japan’s goals, as well as the choking during the penalty kicks.  Japan’s emphasis on patience may make them a frustrating team to watch at times, but it’s hard not to admire the calm and determination they showed on the field. The sadness at the loss is also moderated by wanting good things to come to the Japanese in light of recent events.  

My last post on the World Cup caused some scoffing, mostly based in the acceptable-levels-of-sexism genre, aka the argument that as long as sexism isn’t as bad as it used to be, feminists should shut their yaps.  Elise Knutsen at the Observer particularly perturbed me, because she used the relatively generous response in the United States as proof against my claims (and claimed that I ignored American male supporters in a post where I linked to coverage by prominent male supporters), but barring the usual problem of some resentful American men swearing there is no such thing as a sport women can excel at, most of my examples were international.  Considering that the World Cup is an international sporting event, the lack of respect that soccer players get in some of their home countries does matter.  But don’t take my word for it.  Consider that the French women’s team posed naked in a German magazine in a provocative ad that asked if nudity is what is required to get men to care about women’s sports.  I imagine part of that was poking the German team in the eye for doing soft core porn, but it also suggests that the players themselves feel a legitimate grievance about the lack of support they’re getting.  

But it is true that I didn’t take the time to praise those out there who are actually showing up and treating the Women’s World Cup with the enthusiasm it deserves. Part of that is no one is handing out cookies for people who shove aside their prejudice to enjoy men’s sports, so I don’t know why you should get them for being unbigoted enough to care about women.  On the other hand, it is pretty heartening to see the great turnout of support for the U.S. team.  The bar I watched the game at was so packed that we actually went to a friend’s apartment to use the restroom rather than wait in line.  It went a long way to quelling my irritation that it was so much harder to find a brunch place to watch the quarter-finals than it was during the men’s World Cup.  ESPN did a great job of pushing the tournament by putting it on its first channel and front paging coverage of it every day of the tournament, and I think they’ve gone a long way to prove that if you promote women’s sports as much as you do men’s sports, the audience will come.

But for my money, the most amusing evidence that women’s soccer is catching up to men’s soccer in the U.S. is that it’s provoking the same tired complaints about soccer from our sports chauvinists as you get every time the men’s World Cup comes around.  I’ve had to endure the same complaints about penalty kicks, about low scoring, and even the size of the net that you endure every time the World Cup provokes American sports fans to lift their heads long enough to watch some men kick a soccer ball around.  And that’s how you know you’ve really arrived—when you have to put up with the same B.S. as men, and  no one even mentions your gender while putting you through it.