‘Hide your kids! Hide your wives! And lock your f***ing doors! Because we’ve got the key to the motherf***ing city and I’m coming for all y’all bitches!’
The US women’s football team, celebrating their World Cup successes on a parade through New York City yesterday, were out to prove sport wasn’t the only arena in which women were equal to men.
Ashlyn Harris, goalkeeper and unofficial Instagrammer-in-chief, launched proceedings with the announcement ‘We’re on a float, bitch!’. In her running commentary of the champagne fueled celebrations, Harris dropped the b-word and the f-bomb again and again as her team mates grabbed an ABC News microphone and took over the show.
No one is shocked to discover women can swear and drink and generally behave badly while having an uproariously good time. No one expected the stars to take to the float in order to distribute flowers while silently waving to passers-by. But the team’s antics are noteworthy because if male athletes had behaved like that, they’d be hung out to dry by precisely the same commentators now rushing to celebrate the women’s bad behavior.
In the UK, Manchester United player Jesse Lingard posted a sweary holiday film on Snapchat earlier this summer. Apparently, he never meant the video showing him and his friends messing about to be made public. But when it inevitably did, Lingard was criticized in the national press, reprimanded by his manager and had to get his team mate Marcus Rashford to issue an apology on his behalf. Whether they like it or not, male footballers are treated as role models for impressionistic fans who might ape their every action. Male footballers are expected to behave impeccably at all times.
Such is the desire to demonstrate love for the women’s game that female players are held to a different standard than men. It seems we just can’t get enough of US team captain Megan Rapinoe yelling, ‘I deserve this’ while holding her trophy and spraying champagne over the crowds. But if a male athlete were to do this he’d be taken to task for toxic masculinity sooner than Harris could say, ‘pass me the next bottle, bitch.’
I can’t be the only one who couldn’t care less what footballers get up to. They are sports stars not guidance counsellors and it’s ridiculous to expect them to be paragons of virtue. But there is something galling and odious about the US women’s off-pitch shenanigans. It seems they want free rein to behave worse than men at the same time as arguing for equality in all other respects. On the mic-grabbing, champagne-swigging parade, the women tore up a copy of the team’s equal pay lawsuit to throw about as confetti. Later, when the US Soccer president, Carlos Cordeiro, took to the stage to publicly congratulate the team, he was greeted with loud ‘Equal pay!’ chants.
The US women are undoubtedly talented footballers and well worth watching. But having won their case to be taken seriously on the pitch, they are determined to use the platform they’ve been granted to berate us all with their political views. Before they’d even won the World Cup, Rapinoe had announced the team did not want to meet with President Trump. Since returning home, she’s used a television interview to praise Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and offered to have a ‘substantive conversation’ with ‘anyone who believes in the same things we believe in.’ Incredibly, Rapinoe is now being discussed as a potential presidential candidate.
So here’s another ugly double standard. Rapinoe is not only allowed to do politics, she receives adulation every time she opens her mouth. Liberal commentators lap up her brand of identity politics and her shout-outs to women with pink hair, purple hair, women with tattoos and dreadlocks, ‘white girls and black girls. And everything in between. Straight girls and gay girls.’ The worship of Rapinoe stands in stark contrast to the treatment of Israel Folau, the Australian rugby star and devout Christian fired for posting anti-gay comments on social media.
It’s great that women’s soccer is becoming more popular. But in the rush to celebrate it’s worth remembering: it is still just a game. The US women are amazing athletes but they are neither role models nor elected politicians. We can marvel at their skills on the pitch without needing to hang on their every word off the pitch. And if campaigners want women’s football to be treated equally to the men’s game then they need to ditch the double standards.