Why women athletes deserve your support

If you’re a female athlete like me, you know the drill when it comes to wanting people to take you seriously (For everyone else: people tend to not take us seriously). That’s why, when the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup this summer, I was over the moon about the amount of media coverage they were (and still are) getting. They’re on over 25 different Sports Illustrated covers; they’re featured in the FIFA 2016 video game; they’ve all but crushed the late night talk show scene.

These women have started a revolution in the world of women’s soccer, a revolution characterized by the fact that people are now actually watching women’s soccer. Their final against Japan this summer was viewed by an average of 25.4 million audience members, destroying all previous records for televised soccer matches in the United States.

Those are some incredible numbers, especially considering regular season women’s soccer matches are almost never broadcast on major sports networks, and they generally look like they’ve been filmed with a home video camera circa 1997.

Of course, it’s not all good news for our women: they were forced to play this year’s World Cup on artificial turf instead of real grass despite a pending gender discrimination lawsuit, the result of which was the actual equivalent of having all of the skin scraped off of their knees in 90 minutes or less:

They’ve also had their fair share of gratuitous sexualization: several of the players have appeared in a number of magazine swimsuit photoshoots, and there are entire articles dedicated to ranking the respective sexiness of each individual player.

Then there are people like former (thank goodness) FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who once suggested that the women wear “tighter shorts” to increase viewership, and was notorious for not even recognizing women stars at FIFA events.

Of course, this isn’t just a soccer problem: women athletes across the board face issues when they want media to take them seriously. Tennis star Serena Williams has faced constant criticism for appearing “too masculine” and “not smiling” at press conferences. The New York Times implied runner Lolo Jones’ success was entirely dependent on her looks. Race-car driver Danica Patrick was called a b—- on live television for asking interviewers to find another word to describe her besides “sexy”.

From my own experience, these are problems that start early-on for women, and they continue for the duration of our athletic careers. In the beginning, it’s hearing everyone scream “OOOOOH!” when you beat a boy one-on-one at recess, as though you’ve somehow broken the barriers of time and space by besting a male. Then, it’s hearing that guys don’t like girls more muscular than they are, and suddenly getting self-conscious about your powerful legs.

And, if you get far enough, it’s realizing that you’re getting paid a minuscule percentage of your male colleagues’ salaries, and it’s all you can do to not throw in the towel (or give in and do a half-naked Sports Illustrated shoot to make some extra cash).

That said, I’m one for ending on a positive note, so I’ll wrap up with this: if we can keep supporting all women athletes in the positive ways we’ve been supporting our women’s soccer team — by watching their games, buying their merch, and honoring their accomplishments in lieu of their looks — things will change for them. Women and girls who play sports need to know that their achievements are valid and worthy of recognition. They’re just as good as their male counterparts, and they deserve to be taken seriously.

Caitlin recently graduated from Saint Mary’s College of California with a degree in Politics and is now About-Face’s Online Presence Program Coordinator. In her free time, she enjoys going to the gym, wishing she lived in Rome, and reminding everyone that the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is, in fact, far superior to the men’s side.

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