It’s Time to Unpack USSF’s Sexist Statements Against the USWNT

from Megan Rapinoe’s Instagram, @mrapinoe

Earlier this month, the USWNT won another title when they swept through the SheBelieves Cup. What should have been a lighthearted, celebratory moment was overshadowed by a truly mind-numbing statement made by the USSF. The statement argued that the male players should be paid more because the women aren’t as skilled as the men. At first I thought, we don’t have time to unpack all of that. But with recent events giving us so much more free time… We are going to unpack all of this.

A Bit of Background

Just a few months before the start of the 2019 World Cup, 28 players in the USWNT player pool filed a lawsuit against US Soccer. The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court of Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The players are seeking equal pay and treatment plus back pay. A total of 41 complaints were filed in the case. To wrap it up, the women wanted to be paid what they were worth. At the time, the women’s team had three World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals, and the record for the most-watched soccer match in the US, the 2015 World Cup final. But the USWNT’s battle for equal pay started long before this. In 2016, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and now retired goalkeeper Hope Solo filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They argued that despite bringing in more revue than the men’s team, they still made around four times less.

So Why Does This Matter?

You might be wondering why this matters at all. The USWNT is possibly the most famous women’s sports team of all time. Surely, they’re paid well enough. But you see, it isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that despite having four World Cup championships, four Olympic Gold medals, bringing in more revenue, having more fans, and winning more games. they are still treated as though they are inferior to the men’s team. It isn’t just about this team. The team, lead by iconic lesbian Megan Rapinoe, is using their power and influence to do the right thing. They didn’t have to do all this, but they did because the way they’re being treated is deplorable. They’re setting an example to all female athletes across the world. In fact, several other women’s teams have stood up to their federations for equal pay and better training conditions. They’re sending a message. They won’t be treated as lesser, when they’ve proved time and time again that they’re the best in the world. In doing so, we uncovered the somewhat unsurprising truth of why the federation won’t pay them what they deserve.

SheBelieves Drama

The beginning of March also marked the start of now annual SheBelieves Cup. But this event is much more than just another soccer tournament. The SheBelieves Summit takes place alongside the games. Women around the world seek to empower other women and girls in the sports world through representation, through getting us to cheer for a team that looks like us. While the games themselves went exactly as we expected, (tldr: we crushed) something happened just before the final day of play. The USSF released a statement saying the women cannot be paid as much as the men because the women are not as skilled as the men. If you sighed as much as I did just now, take a minute to compose yourself before you get lightheaded.

The USWNT were already crowned the champions before they even set foot on the pitch due to goal differential. But out of respect to their opponent, and to sent a message to the USSF, they played the game. Prior to the game, the US players turned their jerseys inside out as a form of protest. With the USA crest hidden, the only thing visible was the crest’s outline, their four stars to signify their four World Cup wins.

As if that wasn’t enough, Pinoe and Christen Press scored two absolute bangers to put an exclamation point to their statements. Within hours of this protest, four stars only shirts and hoodies were available for sale and selling out.

And being the amazing women that they are, the USWNT donated the profits to stadium employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s Break This Down

We all knew the real reason they won’t pay the women what they deserve was pure misogyny. They tried to cover it up with excuses like the women don’t bring in as much revenue. In case you were wondering, they actually bring in more than the men’s team. Between 2016 and 2018, the USWNT brought in $51 million in revue, while the men brought in about $49 million. In fact, the women’s team broke the jersey sales record last year. Fanatics saw a 500% spike in USWNT jersey sales. The home jerseys the women wore during the 2019 World Cup became Nike’s #1 selling jersey last year. So all this talk about the women don’t bring in as much money is a bunch of nonsense. They went ahead and said the reason they won’t pay them. They’re sexist.

It’s Basic Biology, Kids

People might argue that it makes sense because the men and women’s senior teams cannot play each other. You’re right. They can’t. Not because of lack of skill, but because of biology. They may play the same game, but the way they play is vastly different because of course they will play to their strengths. A woman’s center of gravity is lower than a man’s, which allows for a more powerful lower body. This is evident if you’ve ever watched the women play.

Then, there’s the difference in overall endurance. While studies have shown that women have more in the way of endurance, men tend to excel when it comes to muscle power due to having more muscle mass. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that women were less tired than men after doing natural muscle exercises. Nine women and men of similar age and athletic ability were asked to flex their foot again a series of sensors. The male participants were more powerful and faster, but they became exhausted faster than their female counterparts.

In fact, muscle mass is the distinguishing factor in power between male and female athletes, not as some would expect, our hormones, although those do play a role. Dawn Scott, the former high performance coach for the USWNT even factored in the women’s menstrual cycles into her training regiments. Why? Our bodies go through a lot when we menstruate. It isn’t just the blood loss we need to worry about, but the rise and fall of certain hormones affects not only our moods, but our energy and fatigue levels. Also, it’s really hard to get up and do a dozen burpees when your cramps feel like an alien is about to burst out of your belly. For an elite athlete, tracking periods helps decide diet, amount of rest needed, and what exercises to do on which days.

On top of all that, testosterone increases aggressiveness. You might wonder why this matters in a non-contact sport. Well, technically soccer is considered a limited-contact sport, meaning the rules are specifically designed to prevent contact between players, but contact still happens. Anyone who regularly watches women’s soccer knows how physical it can get. There is shirt-pulling, elbows to the face, and always pushing. Now imagine a male player thrown into the mix. With longer limbs, more height, and more muscle mass, he could do a lot of damage. That’s not even factoring the rise in testosterone levels prior to physical competition. Scientists speculate that this rise in testosterone promotes athletic performance. The reason for separate male and female teams is to keep things level without biology giving men the upper hand, but also to keep the women safe.

To say that the women underperform under “similar circumstances” is complete buffoonery. The men and women play the same game with the same rules. Several NWSL teams play on the same pitch as the men’s team with a goal that’s the same size. Yet, the men’s national team never win any major competition, let alone qualify. 

The league and its lawyers are defining men as the default players, and men’s physiology as the default body. This erases women completely as a distinct category. It casts the entire league of worldwide women’s teams as the junior to the men’s varsity. It imagines that if there were tryouts for a team with both men and women, none of the women would make the cut, and that this would be purely coincidental. ‘They just weren’t skilled enough, and their non-men-ness had nothing to do with it,’ the coach might say. 

In a world where men are the default and women are lesser men (the world we lived in before the women’s liberation movement), it doesn’t matter how packed the stadiums are for the women’s team, it doesn’t matter how much merch they sell or how many championships they bring home. It doesn’t matter how many endorsements they get or how many brands are desperate to make them the face of their latest ad campaign. At the end of the day, the women’s league is cheap labor. Especially when you consider the average pay of a male player in the MLS is about $345,867 a year while the maximum salary for a female NWSL player for 2020 will be $50,000 a year.

There can never be similar conditions in mixed-sex spaces so long as women remain oppressed. This not only applies to the pitch, but outside of it as well. No matter what the profession, women are paid less than men and given less credit even when women are now better educated than their male counterparts. A study from Cornell University found that when women take over what was a male dominated field, the pay decreases. And even if by some miracle of the goddess patriarchy suddenly vanishes, the differences in male and female physiology would put women in danger in sports. Saying the women have no skill because they are biologically different than the male players is the very definition of misogyny.

The Aftermath

After all the backlash, Carlos Cordeiro resigned as president of US Soccer. Cindy Parlow Cone becomes the first woman to serve as president. But this does little to fix the major issues within the federation. The women have been fighting for so long, and with every new generation joining in on the fight, we get a new lesbian to lead them. It may be exhausting, but it’s definitely worth fighting for. But why is the federation is so determined to bar these women from what they deserve?

Well, at the end of the day it is still a male-owned operation in a male dominated world, isn’t it? And to give the women the pay they deserve would give them independence from men. It would be just one step closer to capital, to access, to, at the very root of things, freedom from their oppression. And why would an oppressor freely give up all that power? These world-class athletes’ agenda is for so much more than equal pay, it’s about acknowledging misogyny and fighting it. You have to say the monster’s name before you can kill it.