The Good, the Bad, and the Sexist of the USWNT’s World Cup Journey

In the world of soccer, the US Women’s National Team is proving to be an unstoppable force. After their most recent hard-fought win against England, this group of 23 athletes will compete in the World Cup finals — but not without criticism.

Throughout the past month of World Cup play, the team has caused a fair amount of controversy. They’ve been called overly arrogant, attacked by the President via Twitter, and scolded for excessive goal celebrations.

In particular, the team’s 13–0 domination over Thailand prompted a wide variety of social media buzz and mainstream media coverage. Many were quick to point out the irksome irony of the slaughter: the women put their male counterparts, who get paid significantly more, to shame. In fact, the USWNT scored more goals in this single game than the USMNT team in its last five World Cups.

When it comes to winning World Cup games, the team’s records speak for themselves. The USMNT did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup and has never progressed past the quarter-finals. The women are reigning champs and have three World Cup wins under their belt.

It’s hard to deny the pay gap either (although US soccer will likely keep trying). According to a New York Times report comparing the two teams’ pay structures, the US Men’s National Team players made $5,000 per World Cup appearance and an additional $8,166 per win in 2015. In contrast, the female players made $3,600 per appearance and $1,500 per win. The injustice of this disparity was repeatedly acknowledged by young people and feminists as the USWNT worked their way towards the finals.

However, the win against Thailand also caused a very different reaction. Preachers of sportsmanship criticized the women for continuing to celebrate as they scored again and again. After four years of rigorous training and a stellar performance when it mattered, the players managed to produce a largely negative reaction from their home country.

There’s irony in Americans rolling their eyes at the USWNT’s supposed arrogance because what these women are doing is undeniably American. The US loves winners, and they love cocky winners. Regardless of the means, the US loves a favorable result, and the USWNT’s World Cup performances (dating back to the first ever World Cup in 1991) have been outstanding enough to gain some major respect — at least in theory. They’re one of only seven teams to play in every Women’s World Cup, as well as the defending champs. Tom-Brady-esque winning machines. So, whether or not the USWNT wins on Sunday, these women have proved themselves to the rest of the world — just not to all the folks at home.

The question is, will the team do enough to get past the age-old wall of American female oppression? The inherent bias against female athletes, the claims that women’s sports are simply less entertaining, the belief in male superiority because of biological differences…. these aren’t easy roadblocks to overcome. There’s a chance the USWNT’s domination might be futile in improving the unequal state of the world today.

The mark of real progress for the USWNT will be a shift in how the US treats their women. For today’s America to truly respect and value these women would be out of character considering the precarious state of female fundamental rights. Recent abortion laws are forcing American women to fight for control of their own bodies, and the wage gap remains a very real problem across numerous industries. The USWNT players can do all they can to earn their statuses as heroes, but in the eyes of their fellow Americans, they’re limited by their gender. All they can do is keep dominating, and hope that their country will soon start working for and not against them.

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