Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Women's Soccer. Or On Fair Pay And Using A Doll's Head As A Ball

Because it's the time of this year's Women's  World Cup*, several articles about women's soccer in more general terms have recently been published.

One, in today's Washington Post, has to do with the pay male and female soccer players in the US receive:

On International Women’s Day in March, all 28 members of the women’s team filed a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging they do the same job as the men’s team in exchange for lower wages and inferior working conditions. The men’s national team has never won a world title and did not qualify for last year’s World Cup.

Defenders of the pay gap pointed to the significantly higher revenue generated by the men’s World Cup, compared with the women’s event. The 2010 men’s World Cup brought in about $4 billion, CBS reported, while the women’s World Cup in 2011 earned about $73 million. The men’s players got 9 percent of their event’s total revenue, while the women’s team got 13 percent of theirs, according to CBS.

Our Supreme Leader, one Donald Trump, was asked about the pay gap, too:

With attention turned to the women’s achievements, politicians, athletes, writers and others weighed in on Wednesday about the pay gap. President Trump’s position, however, was unclear. When NBC correspondent Peter Alexander asked him whether the women’s players should be paid as much as the men’s players, Trump responded, “We’ll talk about that later.”
That sounds really familiar.  From the French Revolution onward women are usually urged to wait for their problems to be addressed until more important matters are settled.  Then it's their turn.  Except more important matters always surface, so the little ladies must keep waiting patiently.

The defenders of the pay gap (in favor of the men's team) base their argument on the fact that the global willingness to pay to watch men's soccer is greater than the global willingness to pay to watch women's soccer.

If the revenue of a World Cup was a cake, then the men's cake ($4 billion) is much larger than the women's cake ($73 million).

Sure, the US men's team was only given a small sliver of the men's cake, but because that cake is so much larger they ended up earning more than the US women's team who got a bigger slice from the smaller women's cake.

So it goes.  That market-based defense is problematic in two ways: 

First, at least part of the reason why audience sizes differ between men's and women's games is that women's soccer was popularized only fairly recently.  It takes time to acquire a bigger global audience, and it will take more time if women's soccer, on the whole, has less resources to spend.

Second, many male soccer fans tell me that they don't want to watch women's soccer, because, essentially, it's not men's soccer.  Indeed, I have been told that women's soccer (or women's ice-hockey) is not worth watching by people who had never even bothered to watch one game.

Customer preferences can, of course, be based on differences in the style of play and what type of play someone prefers (I, for instance,  dislike fighting in men's ice-hockey, because it's bad quality fighting). But it's also possible that the reluctance to even check out women's soccer is based on sexism.

And this possible sexism, in turn, is why I am reluctant to accept the current sizes of market demands as the final arbiter of what fair pay might me.

Another recent article  asks why Brazilian women don't have the same kind of soccer reputation as Brazilian men do.  The short answer lies in sexist beliefs about how ladies should behave and about what the frail female bodies should do:

They’ve been insulted by their very own leadership. On May 16, weeks after the loss to Scotland, the Brazilian Football Confederation held a press conference to announce the World Cup roster. Head coach Oswaldo Fumeiro Alvarez, more commonly known as Vadão, said little that hinted at a re-direction of the team. And when he discussed his players, he remarked that women are particularly difficult to calm down in the locker room.  

The head of women’s soccer, Marco Aurelio Cunha, has publicly evaluated the team’s success on the basis of its physical attractiveness. During the 2015 World Cup, he responded to questions about the team’s progress by stating, “We used to dress the girls as boys. So the team lacked a spirit of elegance, femininity. Now, the shorts are a bit shorter, the hairstyles are more done up. It’s not a woman dressed as a man.”
Hilarious stuff, that.  But things were even more hilarious in the past:

In April of 1941, the authoritarian government of Getúlio Vargas passed Decree Law 3199, which banned women’s participation in soccer, boxing, rugby, polo, water polo, and various track and field events, describing these sports as “violent” and “not suitable to the female body.” To defend the ban, officials cited concerns over maternal health and “proper” sexuality.
The ban was removed in 1981.  But even during the ban girls and women continued playing.  Sissi, a famous female Brazilian soccer player was fourteen when the band ended.  She notes that she had still played when the ban was in force:

Sissi dreamt of representing Brazil on a national team, which had never existed. She remembered that because of the social stigma against girls playing soccer, “It was a lot of me training on my own and playing with doll’s heads.” Without a ball, she would pull off the heads of dolls and kick them instead.
I love that imagery.  It can be interpreted on so many different symbolic levels.


* Do watch the games!  They grow on you even if you think you won't like the kind of skills the female players show.