|Essay type:||Rhetorical analysis essays|
|Categories:||Women Discrimination Sport Money|
Fresh off the heels of a world cup win, the US Women's National team embarked on an equality battle against the wage disparity with their male counterparts. The female world cup that took place in 2019 attracted a monetary reward of only $ 4 million for the winner. This cash reward does not compare to the $ 38 million bounty that the male winners received a year earlier for winning the same world cup. During the wake of this reward and salary disparity, the US Women's National Soccer Team (USWNT) would face a losing legal battle towards ensuring equality in the payment structure. Despite the lost battle, however, various feminist proponents felt that the team had a valid case for the calls to equal pay and recognition.
In this critical article, the author shall follow the path of feminists in the battle towards recognition in what has mostly been perceived by society as 'masculine' sports. Following in the successful creation of complementary women's teams alongside the male sides in male-dominated sports, the author investigates whether society is ready to accept women's participation as peers in such brawny sports. This study shall thereby make inferences from the hegemonic control of the sports culture by the male gender and the continued involvement of the females in such competitions. Questions on the directionality of the feminization efforts in the modern-day sporting sector shall be used to provide a contrary theory towards probable societal restructuring to revalue the female role in male sports.
Brief History of masculine grounding of combative sports
The inception of combative sports like soccer occurred in a moment when the boys and men in the western world were looking to re-establish their masculinity (Magrath, 2017). These sports were as such grounded on utter mannish force and body forms. Men in these sports required a certain level of physical and mental conditioning. As such, aggressive sports were formed to counter the growing feminization of the western culture. When allowed to participate in these sports, women were supposed to consider the primacy of their roles as mothers. Their potential athletic ability would thereby stay considerably limited compared to their male counterparts (Gilenstam et al., 2007).
The concept of hegemonic masculinity has continued to dominate sports both in the field of play and on media platforms. This ideal requires that men that are engaged in sports must look heterosexual and physically 'sportsman-like' (Magrath, 2017). The physical heterosexual appeal of men in combat sports began with the inception of the sports themselves (Kalman-Lamb, 2019). Kalman-Lamb (2019) investigates combative sports as a mode of athletic labor and its attempt towards social reproduction. The author argues that society continues to use combative sports as a means of exploiting the athletes to the capitalistic benefits of investors. The community has, furthermore, been indoctrinated to believe that the sportspeople should provide their labor at the highest athletic and skill levels (Toffoletti & Thorpe, 2018). The masculine athleticism standards are thereby used to judge the women in such combative sports.
Through generations, soccer and other combative sports have been naturalized as male social fields. However, recent studies in women's involvement in sports appear to expose 'leaks' in the entrenchment of masculine hegemony in these sports. These studies continue to recognize the achievement of women as athletes and ritualistic fans of the competitions (Cottingham, 2012).
Women in soccer – the current position in the US
The athletic activism aimed at addressing equity in soccer in modern society continues to open forums for discussing gender equality in sports (Allison, 2017). According to Allison (2017), the supporting role that women have played to their male counterparts in these sports no longer holds merit. Women are instead getting more and more active in these sports while also advocating for equal recognition for equal output in the games. This rise of women's presence in soccer and other athletic sports has been attributed to various factors that aim to challenge masculine dominance in the societal sphere (Toffoletti & Thorpe, 2018).
Since the beginning of the feminist movement in the 20th century, women have been more and more engaged in the 'traditional' male roles in the social systems (Magrath, 2017). The rise of the equal rights movements has led to societal trends that depart from the viewing of women as only mothers and support systems for men. Feminist movements have worked in research and practice to debunk the societal normative views of the passivity of women in social settings. While women were previously restricted to secondary chores that only acted to support the dominant roles of men, they currently continue to take more active positions in leadership, white and blue-collar jobs. Society previously women in male-dominated professions as attempting to compete to be like men (Magrath, 2017).
Currently, though, women's position in the sports and other male-dominated sports has worked to create considerable balance in the social functions. In soccer, women appear to have legitimized their place in the competition by breaking the stereotypes around the masculine body of an athlete (Bridel & Rail, 2007; Pfister, 2015). The soccer world currently recognizes the involvement of women in the game. Competitions like the women's world cup and women's club soccer have elevated the position of women athletes in the game. Marketing efforts by clubs and national soccer associations appear to work to publicize these women's soccer movements (Pfister, 2015).
The US national team has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of this continued appreciation of women's soccer (Das, 2020). As of present, the team has won the highest number of world cup tournaments – standing at four. The women's national team has won the world cup more times in 29 years of existence than the men's team in nearly a century. The men's team's best performance on the big stage was a third-place finish. Through simple athletic comparison, thereby, the women's team should receive more recognition and compensation than the male side. The reality, however, presents a different story. This mismatch in achievements versus reward has been a subject by social justice workers and the women in soccer in their efforts to seek legal mediation against such discrimination.
Equal Play, Equal Pay
The calls for equality in pay and appreciation for the efforts of the women's national team has been faced by opposition in the sports arbitration courts. In 2015 and 2019, the USWNT sued their employers for what they considered as gender discrimination in the sport. After winning their fourth world cup, the team demanded that they need to be recognized as equal (if not better) employees over their male counterparts. These lawsuits were in line with the new calls by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission towards equal pay for men and women. After months of a legal battle, the women's team failed to have a favorable ruling.
Cheryl Cooky, an associate at Purdue University dealing with gender and sexuality, recognized the parallels in the battle of women in sports for recognition with the trend in the business world (Tulshyan, 2019). Athletes in sports are considered as employees in the business world. They thereby need to collectively bargain for better working and living conditions at the workplace. From the power in their numbers during the latest legal fight, the women's team passed a powerful message to the social setup regarding their plight as athletes.
In their argument for equal pay, the women claimed that their team was a better product than the male side. Their debate centered on the games played by the women's and men's teams and their respective win rates. While presenting empirical data to back their claims, the team also determined that their team generated more revenue than the male side. They thereby laid bare what – in a strict capitalist world – would be robust business criteria for recognition and better pay. This hard evidence presented a delicate situation for the courts as there was a clear case of mismatch between defined criteria for compensation and the actual returns.
Emotions and Fandom in Women's Sport
While the women in soccer claimed the need for equal pay and recognition based on revenue returns, an important factor towards a societal acceptance of the sporting activity is mainly based on the degree of fan emotional and ritualistic investment (Birrell, 1981). In late capitalism, sports impacts on the social thread have been defined by the ability and inclination of the sports fans to recognize with a particular sports brand completely.
Through the ages, sports institutions have been characterized by pure religious emotions and imagined communities of fans bound together by their love for one brand or hate for another (Kalman-Lamb, 2020). Soccer and other sports are immersive and ritualistic institutions that evoke similar gusts of emotions among the fans (Kalman-Lamb, 2020). Fandom thereby requires the fans to be bound in communities that provide meaning and purpose in a highly individualistic capitalist society. These intense emotions by fans develop over years of continuous attachment to the brand. The fans show these feelings through ritualistic spectacles within the social communities (Birrell, 1981).
At this point, the author would like to critically question the emotional investment of the fans of female soccer to the soccer teams. It is essential to note that the female soccer teams arose as a part of the general men's teams. Women soccer through the world has not seemed to delineate itself from the shadow of men's soccer. Thereby the female soccer team's fans appear only to be extending their support for the female team from their male fan community. Supporters of women football look to be more invested in the manly sport than the female one. While they may spend emotions on women's sports, this emotional investment may only be secondary as the fans extend their love for the male team to their female counterparts.
If the women's teams wish to gain as much ritualistic following as their male counterparts, these teams must build themselves entirely apart from their male counterparts. The teams must make proactive efforts to exist independently of the male teams and develop their own set of a fan base. The level of investment of a fan base in a sport depends on the emotional and ritualistic value placed on the competition (Birrell, 1981). Currently, a male soccer fan base is characterized by fans who would pay any amount of money to travel to the stadia and experience the atmosphere developed by their fan communities (Kalman-Lamb, 2020).
The female soccer domain has not quite established such a consistent and ritualistic fandom that would go to every length to experience the community created by female soccer. Interestingly, even the female members of the soccer fandom appear to be religiously linked to masculine soccer than the feminist's side (Cottingham, 2012). The rise of female fandom, however, raises exciting opportunities for establishing a fandom around female soccer (Magrath, 2017).
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