Five members of the U.S. Women’s National Team have just filed a federal wage discrimination complaint against U.S. Soccer. This suit accuses U.S. Soccer of unjustly paying the U.S. Women’s National Team less than the Men’s National Team. While a majority of the reactions to this suit have centered around a simplistic discussion of revenue generation, I have yet to read one article that gets to the heart of the issue. This is not a discussion of who is more popular, the real question is why have the U.S. Men been afforded greater opportunities than the women to generate popularity and revenue (regardless of their winning percentage)? Discrimination. While many have heard and used the term, not many actually understand what discrimination encompasses. Discrimination refers to a prejudiced or prejudicial outlook, action, or treatment, and the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people. Men’s teams have been promoted for decades, with millions of dollars being spent to draw attention to the team and upcoming events. The women have had barely a fraction of that support.
FACT: preferences do not develop in isolation and popularity does not develop in isolation.
The U.S. Men have not had to put in nearly as much effort to benefit from the previous promotion of their sport. The U.S. men have also benefited from the strength and popularity of the international teams. Further, throughout time the men have been more popular for very obvious reasons. They have been playing the sport longer (some of the top programs for in the NCAA for women’s soccer weren't created until the early or mid 90's) they have had the benefits of sustained promotion, and they have had the international teams to fall back on. So even if they are terrible (which they pretty much are now), the international teams will still draw a lot of fans, and will probably be entertaining to watch.
Additionally, this goes beyond equal payment. This is about training, development, travel, promotion, and even youth development. I’m not sure if many are aware, but the boys development league was started by U.S. Soccer in 2006, while the girls youth development league is slated to begin in 2017, a full 11 years later. Do you think that situations like this don’t play into how "popular" and how much additional "revenue" the men were bringing in? It does. It's little things like this that show how ridiculously unequal U.S. Soccer has been to the women's side throughout their tenure.
The issues are also bigger than sport. Wage discrimination is a factor across all industries for women, as are wages for women in other entertainment industries - acting. Women have always been paid less for equal work. The USWNT is in a unique situation to take a stand because they currently ARE more popular and more successful than the USMNT, and have generated more revenue in 2016 (projections are around $20 million in additional revenue).
The bottom line is that women face these opinions constantly. Men are not more popular for isolated reasons, and that's the key issue. Once people can wrap their heads around the idea of male privilege in sport and in all segments of life for that matter, then we can start having real discussions about equality. But until that happens people will continue to argue that men are more popular because that’s just how it is - not because over the span of hundreds and thousands of years (actually since the beginning of time) men have been in positions of power while women have been subordinate. Privilege exists, and to simplify this issue of wage discrimination by pointing out revenue streams and ‘popularity’ then there is little hope of ever achieving true equity for women.
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