There are quite a few people who think that women entertainers should keep their mouths shut and perform. Whether its the Dixie Chicks being told to shut up and sing or Serena Williams being criticised for arguing a call – opinions, grievances and emotions should all be kept silent, and the show should go on. Little girls should be seen and not heard.
Try telling that to Megan Rapinoe.
The Fifa Womens World Cup 2019 will go down in history for many, many reasons. Not only the incredible quality of the playing, or the incredible viewing figures of the USA vs Netherlands final, but also – and most importantly – because of the politicisation of the tournament. I would even go so far to call it positive politicisation.
Sure, everyone is sick to the teeth of politicians on both sides of the pond, if not globally. However, as they say, the personal is the political. And if youre a woman or an ally who agrees in the fundamental pillar of equality – equal pay for equal work – then you cant fault any of the athletes using this global platform as a way of heightening awareness of their cause. If they hadnt, it would have been a massive missed opportunity. Bad marketing. Bad business.
For example, back in 2016 members of the US Womens National Team (USWNT) filed a class action lawsuit against US Soccer, claiming discrimination in pay. Did you even notice?
In 2017, Norway made history by granting equal pay to its women and mens national soccer teams. Did you notice?
Ada Hegerberg, winner of the 2018 Ballon dOr (who was shockingly asked to twerk after accepting her award) refused to play in this years World Cup because of Fifas gender pay gap. Again, did you notice?
Look, Im what you could call a Massive Feminist and Im embarrassed to say that I dont really recall any of the above happening.
But Im guessing youve heard about that arrogant, pink-haired American lesbian Megan Rapinoe who made the World Cup “all about her”, right? You heard about her saying shes “not going to the fucking White House”? You heard that she didnt sing the national anthem, and didnt put her hand on her heart like a good little American girl. (You then also probably heard about the time that she, gasp, KNEELED!) You probably heard her say that it was “science” that America couldnt win the World Cup without gay girls. And did you see her, arms stretched, chin up, chest out, celebrating and relishing in the crowd appreciating how goddamn good she is at her job?
I bet you did. You saw her. You heard about her. You heard the crowd chanting "EQUAL PAY" as she and her teammates gathered up all their gold, silver and bronze hardware after the final whistle and thats the difference.
The 99ers walked so the 19ers could run.
Brandi Chastain ripped her shirt off so Megan Rapinoe could one day, essentially, tell the president to fuck off.
And this is why its important – no, wonderful – that this World Cup became a place for both politics and football, because they are interlinked. Its akin to what feminists call intersectionality. We must pay attention to the intersection between sports and politics, especially in womens football, because for a supposedly beautiful game, it can be incredibly ugly.
As this eye-opening Time article points out, beyond the spotlight of Rapinoe vs Trump, women are blocked from playing football across the globe. South American countries are having to rebuild their womens football teams up from dust, after they were all but obliterated. The abuse of athletes is rampant – and while things are undeniably so different across most European countries, as Frances head coach Corinne Diacre said, “It's true that it's more difficult for [women], the difficulties are multiplied by two. We know it's always been like that, so we have to deal with it. But there [can be] a lot of wickedness.”
A less discussed but incredibly important reason why the USWNT is as good as it is actually down to public policy. You can see the impact that Title XI – a law from 1972 that prohibits discrimination in education programmes and activities that receive federal financial assistance – has had on generations of women who were young girls that were inspired by watching the 91 or 99 World Cup and who then had access to school teams and clubs so they could actually learn how to play.
And while far too many countries are still facing issues the mentioned systemic issues of abuse, corruption and the dismantling of their womens clubs, the UK is in a position where it can take on the USWNT. But if the national teams of Scotland or England are ever to become world champions or dare to also use the word “dynasty” in the future, the UK must first reconcile with the numbers and its own public policies. For example, the Guardian reports that while the US has 21,065 licensed female coaches, 12 per cent of their total, England only has 3,520 – 5 per cent of the total. England coach Phil Neville says, “Were working on [grassroots] and making great strides. That takes four or five years and were 18 months into that.”
For a game and a worldwide system of federations that can be so disproportionately white, so disproportionately middle class – it is really important to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity and representation that teams like the US showcase. As Megan Rapinoe said in her victory speech before the New York Ticker Parade of her team, “We have pink hair and purple hair. We have tattoos, dreadlocks. Weve got white girls, black girls, and everything in between. Straight girls, [and] gay girls”.