The Women’s World Cup starts today. Let me say that again: the Women’s World Cup starts today. A three-week international celebration of soccer is officially labeled with a gender modifier.
Imagine a world where the “World Cup” started today and we looked forward to the 2018 “Men’s World Cup” in Russia. Difficult, I know. Here, this might help:
This seems simple, but it isn’t just a matter of semantics. Our language determines our reality. We say “World Cup” for the men, because white men represent the culture of power. Reminding women that they are “the other” World Cup reinforces the master narrative: the women’s game is an inferior version of the men’s.
Swedish channel TV4 bought the FIFA broadcast rights and, in a brave showing of gender equality, planned on calling the competition simply “The World Cup.” But FIFA threatened to sue for breach of contract unless the official, gendered title was used.
FIFA is finally facing a reckoning. And it is fitting that those pompous criminals should suffer right before 24 teams of talented athletes, who happen to be women, take to pitches across Canada because Sepp Blatter and his ilk are bona fide misogynists. Jules Boykoff and Dave Zirin reported in the Nation:
Blatter has long flung misogyny in every direction. In 2004, when asked how to jumpstart the popularity of women’s soccer, he suggested, “Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts.”
A decade later Blatter was still at it. He said about the dearth of women inside the FIFA power structure was because “Football is very macho . . . It’s not easy for the ladies to have a position inside FIFA.”
It’s not easy for women at the awards podium either. US soccer phenom Alex Morgan recently told Time magazine that at the FIFA World Player of the Year ceremony in 2012, “FIFA executives and FIFA president Sepp Blatter didn’t know who I was. And I was being honored as top three in the world. That was pretty shocking.” Morgan stated, “I have experienced sexism multiple times [in FIFA], and I’m sure I will a lot more.” With Blatter’s reelection, the odds of blatant sexism in her future will only surge.
Lest we think Blatter has been cured of his inability to recognize the biggest stars in women’s soccer, the following year at the World Player of the Year Awards in Zurich, he mistook Abby Wambach’s wife, Sarah Huffman, for Brazilian soccer star Marta. Grant Wahl reported that Blatter ambled up to Huffman and bearhugged her, exclaiming, “Marta! You are the best! The very best!” Wambach said of the incident, “He had no idea who Marta was, and she’s won the award five times . . . For me, that’s just a slap in the face because it shows he doesn’t really care about the women’s game.”
Words matter. What starts as a simple label slowly metastasizes into a full blown double-standard. Today marks the first time, ever, in men’s or women’s World Cup history, that the competition will be played on artificial turf. Every game, on turf. Remember when Seattle hosted the (Men’s) World Cup Qualifier against Panama back in 2013? FIFA demanded that sod be laid over the turf at CenturyLink Field. Demanded.
Consider the names of our two domestic leagues: MLS and the NWSL. What if MLS was called MLMS and the NWSL was merely the NSL. I know. We could play this game all day and still get nowhere. But as long as this summer’s competition is “the other” World Cup, such discrimination will continue. Take a stance for humanity and equality. Tell your friends you’ll be watching the World Cup. And leave it at that.