Hey, U.S. Sports—Your Misogyny is Showing.

The United States Soccer Federation thinks men are superior players, and so members of the U.S. women’s national team should not earn as much as their counterparts. At least, that’s what the Federation’s lawyers argued as the women have filed for relief under the Equal Pay Act—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In their filing, attorneys for U.S. soccer claimed the job of playing for the men’s team “carries more responsibility” and “requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength.”

The lawyers also argued that the men play in front of significantly more hostile audiences, especially in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and that the hostility they face—which the women do not—is “evidence of significantly different jobs.”

In the face of protests by players, fans and sponsors, the president of U.S. soccer, Carlos Cordeiro, issued an apology and said the language in the filing does not reflect the values of the federation. U.S. national team member Megan Rapinoe called the lawyers’ arguments “blatant misogyny and sexism” and said she doesn’t buy the apology.

Pictured: Megan Rapinoe at at Allianz Field in St Paul, Minnesota in September 2019, where the U.S. beat Portugal 3-0. (Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons)

Cordeiro resigned shortly after the apology.

Cindy Parlow Cone will take over as the new president of the organization—the first female to ever be in charge of the organization.

The lawsuit was filed a year ago. Despite greater success than the U.S. men’s national team, including four World Cup victories and four Olympic gold medals—the men have never won either—the women’s team is paid less than the men’s team.

From the Beginning, the Inherent Misogyny of U.S. Organized Sports

A cursory overview of the development of organized sports in the U.S. suggests Rapinoe is right about the sexism and misogyny.

During the Second Industrial Revolution, from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, many white men left farming for factory work. White women were mostly relegated to the domestic sphere. Fathers left to go to work, and sons were left at home with mothers.

White patriarchal society feared spending so much time with their mothers might make boys weak, effeminate—and gay. The answer was organized competitive team sports.

In team sports, boys could learn the masculine values of discipline, hard work, sacrifice, strength and power. Sports would make sure boys became manly, heterosexual men.

Sports also elevated men’s bodies as superior to women’s and made sure this was true by constructing sports to match up with male bodies—excluding women from sports to make sure they couldn’t challenge men’s superiority.

So, even today, we as a culture hold in highest regard the sports that highlight differences between male and female bodies (such as football), and, even when women play the same sports as men, as the lawyers for the U.S. soccer federation argue, their sport is inherently inferior because women play it.

Misogyny is Not Unique to Soccer

Soccer players are not alone in facing misogyny in their sports. Only Grand Slam tennis tournaments offer equal pay for women. Most other tournaments do not.

Although the WNBA just negotiated a better contract for its players—the minimum salary is now $57,000 with “core” players making up to $215,000—players’ salaries fall far below their male peers in the NBA. For example, the lowest paid player in the NBA makes $197,933. The highest paid player for 2019-20, Steph Curry, makes $40,231,758.

In 2019, Jackie Young, the number one draft pick in the WNBA was given a $59,000 salary. Zion Williamson, the NBA’s number one draft pick, was given $8.1 million.

Sports pundits often argue that these salary discrepancies are justified because men’s sports generate more revenue, and people are more interested in men’s sports because men’s sports are more skilled and exciting.

But we see what we believe—even though, in fact, since winning the World Cup in 2015, the U.S. women’s national soccer team has generated more revenue than the men’s team. Because we already believe men’s bodies are superior and men’s sports are therefore more exciting, we see men’s sports as more demanding and male athletes as more worthy of vast viewership, higher salaries and greater reverence than women who play the same sports.

Venus Williams made this point clearly in a 2006 op-ed in The Times of London entitled “Wimbledon Has Sent Me a Message: I’m Only a Second Class Champion.”

In 2007, Wimbledon paid Venus Williams the same $1.4 million as the men’s champion, Roger Federer. More than three decades earlier, Billie Jean King had made similar efforts for the U.S. Open. In 1970, King was awarded $600 for the women’s title, while the men’s winner was paid $3,500.

Later, King responded, “Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too.”

In 1973, King threatened to skip the Open unless women and men were paid the same, and so the Open gave in and made the prize money equal.

In 2017, the U.S. women’s national hockey team threatened to boycott the world championship if U.S.A. Hockey did not raise their salaries. Quickly, hockey’s governing body offered training stipends, larger bonuses for winning medals and the same provisions for travel and insurance as for the men.

The U.S. soccer federation, however, fights on against equal pay, even though the U.S. men’s national team also supports pay equity.

One spokesperson for the suing soccer players said the soccer federation’s argument “belongs in the Paleolithic Era. … It sounds as if it has been made by a caveman.”

At the recent SheBelieves Cup match in Texas, the women’s team turned their warm up jerseys inside out to hide the soccer federation’s logo, but the four stars representing their World Cup victories were still visible.

They also won the tournament. 

Both sides have now asked for a summary judgment that would end the lawsuit. The soccer federation has asked for the suit to be dismissed. The women have asked for $67 million in damages.

The two sides will present their arguments to the judge on May 30. The trial is scheduled for May 5. The Tokyo Olympics soccer tournament begins 11 weeks later.

About

Susan M. Shaw, Ph.D., is a Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University.