What does a soccer game have to do with your career? If the soccer game in question is last night’s World Cup clincher and you’re a working woman, a lot. Most of us probably won’t experience what it’s like to be a world-class athlete fighting for dominance on a global playing field, but even if you’re not a sports fan of any stripe, you can learn a lot from the US women’s national soccer team.
(Abby Wambach during US v. England, photo dated Feb. 2015; Photo Credit: joshjdss/Flickr)
1. Women still have to work twice as hard for half the recognition.
At The Atlantic, Maggie Mertens describes the difference between attending the men’s World Cup games – there was a lottery just to get tickets, and a lot of media coverage before, during, and after the event – and attending the women’s:
This year, I’m going to the World Cup again. There was no lottery, and tickets were half the cost of the ones I bought last year, including a ticket to the final. (Which, last year, would have been nearly impossible to come by, not to mention afford.) The games I’ll attend this month will be played at a 32-year-old stadium with an artificial-turf field. Some of the games in the tournament will be played at a stadium with 10,000 seats, while the smallest stadium in Brazil seated 37,634. Even though this year Team USA are favorites to win, there’s been little preview coverage of the tournament. When I tell people I’m going, most of them say, “There’s a World Cup this year?” There is, only it’s being played by women, not men.
If you need proof that sexism is alive and well, look no further than women’s sports, which are often the butt of jokes from professional comedians, with the empty stadium at the WNBA game vying for a spot as the 21st century’s version of, “What’s the deal with airline food?”
Sure, a professional athlete isn’t exactly scrambling to make ends meet the same way that a working mom with an office job might be … but then again, she isn’t pulling down David Beckham money, either. Which brings us to our next point.
2. The gender wage gap is real, and it exists at all levels.
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo earned $80 million in 2014, $52 million of which was salary and winnings. For comparison, US forward Abby Wambach’s salary for 2015 was reported to be between $190,000 and $300,000 – including endorsements.
Why such a wide gulf between male and female athletes’ salaries? See the previous point re: enthusiasm for women’s sports in general. The question, of course, is whether it’s inherently more interesting to watch men play a sport than women. Given that we’re talking about world-class athletes on a level playing field – men playing against men, and women against women, thus wiping out any possible sex-linked differences in speed or strength – probably not.
The bottom line is that much of what holds women back professionally, both in sports and in the world of work, has to do with subtle sexism. For athletes, it’s the ingrained attitude that women’s sports are less interesting; for other kinds of workers, it’s women opting into lower-paying careers, either because they’re encouraged to give back to the world instead of thinking of their bank accounts, or because lack of social support means that they have to choose flexible careers in order to also have families.
3. It’s hard to break the cycle.
“This huge media platform doesn’t exist for the national league. So media often tells the women’s league, you don’t have the level of interest we need to make this successful. But that narrative falls apart when we see how they are able to do just that with the World Cup,” Rachel Allison, a professor of sociology at Mississippi State University, tells The Atlantic.
In the same article, Cheryl Cooky, co-author of a study on the exclusion of women’s sports from media coverage, says that men’s professional sports have higher production values, better camera work, and better commentary than women’s. They also have a larger media machine, which is where our metaphor comes into play: the media outlets can claim they don’t invest in women’s sports because there’s no interest, but it’s likely that there’s no interest in women’s sports because there’s no coverage.
A similar problem plagues women in business. When companies have female CEOs, they’re more likely to have women in other executive roles as well … but with women holding only 5.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions, it’s hard for female executives to get a foothold on the corporate ladder.
Media representations of working women are also part of the cycle. Think of the last time you saw an ad depicting a woman in a position of power at work; odds are, she was one of very few women in that fictional boardroom.
The US women’s national soccer team is getting a lot of media attention today. Maybe if the fans are loud enough, media outlets will devote more of their budget to featuring women’s sports. If they do, it will show that the public is interested in successful women, at least in once sector of public life, and that could have positive implications down the road for other women’s careers.
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