The American soccer player Megan Rapinoe has made herself an object of seemingly unending media attention. I hear she scored some sort of goal in some sort of international championship that the United States has won, and that gave her the platform. Something like that. And now we are all supposed to talk about female soccer players being underpaid. The usual suspects — female Democratic presidential candidates, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to name but a few — all put themselves on record supporting “equal pay” for the U.S. soccer divas.
Yet the divas always win, and the U.S. men never do. I don’t think this one is hard to explain. Soccer is the most popular sport worldwide, except for in the United States, where hardly a soul cares, except for maybe a few immigrants. I am talking, of course, about men’s soccer.
Women’s soccer is pretty much the reverse: it’s most popular in the United States, where middle-class girls have been funneled into soccer practices for years. Federal government interference also played its part: the sport took off after the passage of Title IX, which pushed schools to somehow get equal numbers of males and females to play sports. Today, young American women achieve near parity with American men in participation rates. I wonder if the lackluster performance of the U.S. men in soccer has something to do with the perception of it as a sport for women and children.
In Europe and Latin America, the soccer powerhouses of the world, the situation is reversed. In fact Brazil, Germany, and England all banned women’s soccer until the 1970s and ’80s. The Soviet Union, which had a decent men’s team mid-century, was late to the ban game, prohibiting it in 1972, at the time the West was lifting its restrictions. Russia is always about a decade and a half late to a trend.
Although European nations legalized the women’s version of the sport at about the same time the United States passed Title IX, the interest among women there continues to be weak. In fact, more than half of FIFA-registered female youth players live in the United States.
Second-wave feminists made it their goal to boost female sports participation. Unfortunately, they seem to be most interested in women playing masculine sports and team games. It’s not unlike their attempt to make women more like men in other spheres of life, from careers to sex.
But because women are not as fast, strong, and aggressive as men, female players rarely put on an equally exciting show, and consequently get paid less than their male counterparts. Please note: if we remove the market incentives, everybody hardly gets paid at all, so socialist-style redistribution is not an answer either.
I never understood why women’s sports that I see promoted in this country are mostly just male sports played by women. Is it really necessary to watch two broads beating each other up (and, these days, being beat up by dudes) to claim strong-minded woman credentials?
When I was growing up in what is now Ukraine, men had their hockey in winter, and soccer in summer. Women watched figure skating in winter, and gymnastics in summer. Gymnastics and figure skating are once every four years sports in the United States. In the Soviet Union, we followed it yearly.
I had a pair of skates, and played championship with my girlfriends on the frozen puddle behind our apartments. That was pretty typical. In figure skating, women’s events were more popular than men’s, and couples more popular than singles. Couples choreography is more interesting, plus it’s just more romantic. Did I say something wrong?
The gymnastics we preferred were not artistic, but rhythmic gymnastics. This beast is virtually unknown in the US of A, which is a shame: show a ribbon routine to a four-year-old girl, and watch her jaw drop. The sport was invented in the USSR, which should not deter anyone from enjoying it anymore than we reject Soviet-championed chess and ballet.
Rhythmic gymnastics are halfway into ballet, as a matter of fact, and detractors insist it’s not much of a sport. But why should all sports be played in a masculine mold? Authentically female physical activity looks different from rugby, yet it deserves respect all the same.
Some women like masculine sports. Godspeed; go play them. That doesn’t change the fact that most of us prefer to engage in feminine activities, and to watch feminine activities. If the most important goal for women’s and girls’ sports is to promote participation in physical activities, we might want to meet girls where they are, to get them to practice sports they find genuinely appealing. As it happens, the interest in soccer among young women in America drops as they grow up.
Of course, if the goal of feminism is to shape little girls’ behavior, getting them to be more like men, then soccer will do. Or hockey. Or weightlifting. Every time an American woman announces mastery of a masculine task from welding to drumming, she is answered with a choir of “That’s cool!” I just don’t care. This is not my feminism.
I have no intention to support U.S. women’s soccer, as Rapinoe asked of the public in one of her recent interviews. I find her politics annoying, her personality repulsive, and, most importantly, her game boring. I don’t find two groups of lesbians chasing a round object around a field any more interesting than two groups of men chasing a round object around a field.
When, on the other hand, I look up Torvill and Dean or Rodnina and Zaitsev videos on YouTube, it’s an instant flash of nostalgia, because it’s beautiful. Yes, I am aware of Rodnina’s illustrious career in Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party. It’s just that her athletic achievement appeals to me enough to overlook her politics (and I can say the same about any artist).
I’m sure your average politically left American female, if she by some cosmic chance clicks on The Federalist and reads this article beyond the first paragraph, would be incensed. Because girl-bonding with Rapinoe or whatever. Solidarity and such.
But look at what physical activity the typical lefty American female chooses for herself: yoga. It’s an exercise that emphasizes flexibility, agility, balance, and artistry—the same female athletic qualities that elevate figure skating and gymnastics. This is an area where female athletes shine, and rake in endorsements. Think of the Olympics gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas, for instance, who is making millions.
Women’s sports in America are politicized to the point of federal government involvement. Major media is always proselytizing something, too, and the games that attract most media attention don’t feel feminine. Because women don’t make better men than men, they are destined to be a side show. Yet look at a figure skating pair: who is most important of the two?
There is a room for greater appreciation of authentically feminine sports in this country. With it, we might see greater popularity and increased earnings of female athletes, and, more importantly, greater participation in athletics. Any feminist half worth her salt should be advocating for feminine sports.