5min readCulture 09 July 2019
With one fight down and another one left to go, the US Women's Soccer Team has officially won the World Cup. Yet their battle for wage equality rages on. Only now, they have crowds of fans chanting"equal pay" to back them up.
On March 8th, when the USWNT filed its suit against US Soccer, it was already an intense period for the whole team: weeks before their next training camp and only a few months from their first World Cup match. For most people, this would not be an ideal time to begin a lengthy legal battle, but there would be no more waiting for this team. Alex Morgan spoke to the New York Times and stated, "We don't always want to be patient, you have to seize the moment." Female patience is overrated and, often, undeserved, so it's refreshing to see these women ready to throw down when the time is right for them. However this timing also meant that the lawsuit became unintentionally, inextricably linked to their performance in the World Cup. And we all know how that ended…
With this victory, the USWNT has further solidified themselves in the hearts of fans and novices alike. They've broken records, beat out all of their competition and generated some seriously top tier memes. This win (and their entire performance) may have thematically supported their claim to higher wages, but team pride only goes so far. What do the numbers really look like and what does this mean for the larger issue of pay inequality for all women?
For those not steeped in knowledge of how athletes make money (as I was before this entire debacle began playing out), here's the skinny. First and foremost, the issue is complicated because of varied revenue streams and some imprecise statistics, as well as the fact that the men and women teams' wages have different structures. The USWNT earn a base salary while the USMNT do not, but the men earn large bonuses even on matches they lose. Both the men and women earn victory bonuses, but the men's are significantly higher than the women's. Additionally, bonuses are available for merchandising, match attendance and specific tournaments, which are completely variable. Despite the complicated nature of this issue, the suit has broken it down into sample scenarios where no matter how you slice it, the women earn less for better work. Some people are happy to accept that the women's team earn less money because there are fewer fans; people don't show up in frenzied droves to attend their games like the men's. But if the real problem is money made versus money paid, then it's easy math.
It's important to note that the World Cup prize money, though similarly discriminatory in its paltry amount, is not considered in this suit, because the suit is against US Soccer, and FIFA is the organization that collects and disseminates World Cup money. US Soccer does claim to base many of their financial decisions on the practices of FIFA, but the two are technically separate entities. And one giant corporation falling in line with another, does not excuse the behavior. So winning the World Cup doesn't technically impact the lawsuit at all, but it certainly looks worse for US Soccer to find the literal champions of the world (two times in a row, I might add) unworthy of equal pay. Especially considering the USNMT's comparatively, ahem, pathetic performance.
FIFA and USSF are both structures that are deeply entrenched in masculine ideals, systematic sexism and the failings of capitalism. We are raised to believe that capitalism is a meritocracy, if you work hard you'll make more money and be more successful. But looking at the pay and performance of the USWNT, merit has nothing to do with it. Because if it was about who was better, these women would be making a hell of a lot more. So what these women are fighting for with this legal battle and what winning the world cup is getting them one step closer to, is money, yes, but it's also respect. Because in our world, the two are often one and the same.
Because if it was about who was better, these women would be making a hell of a lot more. So what these women are fighting for with this legal battle and what winning the world cup is getting them one step closer to, is money, yes, but it's also respect.
According to Megan Rapinoe, it's about "Not just blindly throwing cash at things, but investing in infrastructure, in training programs or academies for women, in coaching for women. All of it. I don't think you, sort of, get to the point of having an incredible business by running it on a budget that's a dollar more than it was last year. You have to make big up-front investments and really bet on the future. I think that the women's game has proved time and time again, World Cup after World Cup, year after year that we're worthy of the investment. The quality on the field and the product on the field is there, and we just sort of need that business step to be in line in terms of all the steps we are making on the field in terms of performance. So for me, I always say that, it's always money."
The USWNT's World Cup performance parallels their legal battle in a powerful way, their success and their popularity both underscore the justification for earning more. It has been thrilling to watch our country's team revel in their success and hard work, thrilling in a way that I have never before experienced as an American woman. This World Cup has made lifelong fans out of people who never looked twice at a soccer ball before and it is that kind of commanding respect that the USWNT wholly embody. Although it looks as though their lawsuit may just end in mediation, the impact that their stellar World Cup run has had will be indelible on the USWNT's history as well as pay discrimination at large simply because of what it symbolizes. This victory represents what we ladies may already know but that the world (and the USSF) needs to be reminded of: women kick ass. And it's time we got paid for it.
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Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."
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