This week has been great for American women in sports. The United States brought home the world cup for the first time since 1999, becoming the only country to win the cup three times in the history of the tournament. The final game was the most-watched soccer match in American history.
While this is a big moment for the women’s team, there are glaring disparities.
Leading up to the big game on Sunday, the airwaves were full of talk on the sexism the women faced. For one, the athletes played on turf, instead of grass, which can cause more injuries and decreases playing quality. The American team boasts some of the best players in the world including Alex Morgan and Christie Rampone, yet struggle to make a living as pro athletes. The pay disparity is even more staggering for the World Cup, where the team earned $2 million in prize money, or 5.7% of the $35 million than the male world cup champion’s last year. The U.S. men’s team, which lost in the first round of the tournament got $8 million in prize money.
And that’s not even mentioning all the ridiculous comments from media and everyday folks about the team’s femininity and attractiveness.
The talking points to explain away the glaring misogyny are predictable. Commentators point at revenue figures and argue that it’s about money, not misogyny. With athletics being merit based, it’s hard to understand this logic. The men’s national team has consistently underperformed in big tournaments such as the World Cup and the Olympics, while the women’s team has consistently been ranked among the top teams in the world and brought home multiple championships and medals.
Despite their consistency and exemplary athleticism, the women’s team has yet to be taken seriously.
Across the pond, another American champion who consistently exemplifies athletic excellence is continuing her amazing performance at Wimbledon. Serena Williams is arguably the best athlete of our time, with her stellar performances and record wins, she truly is an American treasure. As a black woman, Williams is subjected to both the harsh sexism and racism of the sports world. Fans and the media alike have continuously ridiculed Williams for everything from her body and style of dress to her reactions to both losses and victories.
The ever-present misogynoir that Williams is up against pushes discourse about the disparities in sports to a large conversation about anti-blackness and misogyny. A change in prize money would not even begin to address the ugliness Williams is subjected to on a consistent basis. While many have discussed the inappropriate commentary about the femininity of players on the U.S. team, Williams is not afforded the same parameters of “commentary.” Jenée Desmond-Harris wrote in a piece about William’s treatment throughout her career that highlighted how the “so-called complimentary commentary about Williams’ athleticism is grounded in stereotypes about black people (animalistic and aggressive) and black women specifically (masculine, unattractive, and overly sexual at once).”
While the discussion is still focused on appearance and looks, Williams is subjected to violently racist and misogynistic words passed off as observation or commentary. Desmond-Harris explains that the difference is that “Williams’s athleticism is attributed to her ethnicity.” While it’s been argued that tennis might be one of the only sports in which the disparity between men and women has shifted, Serena Williams proves that not the case.
As we continue to celebrate the athletics success of sportswoman, discourse rooted in misogyny has become more visible in pop culture. While this is a necessity in beginning to address the sexist society we live in, we cannot afford to have the same repetitive and exclusionary conversation. Confining discussions about sexism and misogyny to prize money and viewership of matches does not address more than surface level issues.
If we are willing to have a conversation about the disparities and misogyny the women’s national soccer team faces, why aren’t we comfortable discussing the racism and misogyny Serena Williams faces?