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When Women Winning Is Controversial

Madeleine Janz

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On June 11th the US women's soccer team beat Thailand in a qualifying match by 13 points. That's essentially unprecedented in soccer games, which typically only rack up three or four points. And on top of all this, it's women's soccer, an intersection that is often belittled and called "boring" or "too slow." The US women's team proved all of these misconceptions wrong when they dominated in this early World Cup game. So, this should be enough to prove their worth, their talent and their need for equitable pay, right?

Unfortunately, no. One small detail of this riotous game rubbed many misogynists the wrong way. After each goal, the American team celebrated each other and the goal by jumping around, cheering, and hugging. For non-sports watchers this is quite a common site at any sporting event, regardless of skill level or notoriety, so it is not at all surprising that on such a large stage this very successful team would celebrate. But, for the benevolent sexists who believe women can be strong but shouldn't be proud of it, this display of joy was unacceptable.

In a Google search of the game, the second most searched keyword is 'controversy' as if the very typical sportswomanlike conduct of scoring and cheering is a debate. Many naysayers called the team cocky, aggressive, and offensive while still commending their physical abilities. Unfortunately this kind of benevolent sexism isn't unique to sports. No matter how successful the team, in this case, or the individual in the professional world, there will be something to nit-pick. They're too confident, or too loud, or the worst of them all, "bossy." This genre of sexism allows these women to be great at what they do, but stops short of allowing them to recognize their own talent or acknowledge it in a larger arena.

Stay-at-home moms are not allowed to demand respect for their hard work. Working women aren't allowed to demand equal pay or fair treatment. Women in male-dominated fields are told to be meek and follow archetypal feminine roles. Women in tech and business have felt this pressure ever since they entered the professional world, and when things like this so-called "controversy" happen, it opens up more conversation about what it means to be a woman in the world.

As with most issues surrounding sexism and misogyny, there is no way for women to ever be enough for the unreasonable standards set for us. But, that doesn't mean we can't take action. Demanding that our coworkers, family and friends take us seriously in the work that we do and make space for pride and celebration is a great way to set a precedent for how women should be treated in our communities. Often this is really hard to implement at work, where we are trying to coexist in teams and respect our bosses. But, for work environments to function well for all genders, we must know our professional worth and fight for our rights. The US women's soccer team won't stop winning or celebrating, so neither should we.

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