As Japan became the first Asian country to win in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, there was plenty to cheer about. But outside Japan, there was a lot of familiar disrespect. There’s no question that men’s soccer is taken more seriously than women’s soccer… this is true for almost every sport; especially team sports. Why, we call it the “Women’s World Cup” and the “World Cup;” not the “Men’s World Cup.” But I’m not going to go off on some feminist rant – it’s true that for most sports, men would demolish women if they played against each other. You can see this, for example, in the Canadian women’s hockey team who competed last year in Vancouver for the Olympics. One important form of training was a number of games against teams from the male Midget AAA league (minors). It certainly upped their game to become the best female hockey players in the world, earning them the gold against the U.S. However, some of the sexist comments I’ve heard about the recent Japan vs. USA match were just so appalling that I had to write about it.
Just Ask Men
Americans have nothing to lose
Is it just a stereotype that Americans are arrogant? (Whoa; ya, I suddenly went there) In one online poll asking “is America arrogant?”, the multiple choices are “definitely,” “of course not,” and “undecided;” each asking to explain your answer after. The second most recent participant of the poll clicked “Of course not,” and writes as an explanation (mistakes preserved) “Although we are not perfect, and have made our share of mistakes, I think we have done more good in our 230+ years of exsistence than any other nation on earth.” …not arrogant indeed.
I find that many American sports fans are especially quick to say “who cares” when their teams lose at international sporting events. American comic personality Stephen Colbert epitomized the exact sentiment of what I feel to be the American stance, in an announcement of Japan’s victory on his TV show: “Congratulations to the Japanese soccer team… for rescuing America from the brink of caring about soccer.” In effect, American fans have become so good at inflating their self-esteem that they either a) have something to be happy/proud about, or b) have nothing to be upset about (because, you know, who cares?). It’s a feat that has, according to the 2010 documentary “Waiting for Superman,” led them to become the most confident people in the world.
The sound dogs make
Perhaps I’m being too hard on Americans (and obviously I’m making a gross generalization), but there are people like those at AskMen.com who come up with such repulsive nonsense that it makes me wonder how widespread these views really are (a Google search picks up thousands more). They’re quick to say “who cares” after America lost, which is pretty telling. Or as SunTimes.com wrote, “Who cares? Soccer is a game to watch occasionally, when it matters.” I guess the real question is, when does it matter? It seems pretty obvious to me – when our team is winning! Regardless, let me save you the trip and share the entire AskMen piece here:
“Yesterday, the Japanese women’s soccer team shocked the world when they beat their heavily favored U.S. counterparts in the impossibly dramatic finals of the Women’s World Cup. It was a stirring moment for a nation in desperate need of one, and for a brief moment, it made us forget that what we had seen in the weeks leading up to yesterday’s game was a caliber of soccer not even close to the top levels of the men’s game.
Save for some thrilling finishes, the women lacked pace, were clumsier and were overall much less dynamic than even the most uninspiring male players. So why did Sunday’s championship game set a new Twitter record for most tweets per second (7,196)?
Are people actually starting to care about women’s sports or was the drama of the final so compelling that even casual sports fans decided to tune in? One thing we do know: It definitely wasn’t for the women themselves. Woof.”
Ahh… There’s nothing like a little degrading sexism topped off with an entirely irrelevant insult to the best athletes of the women’s soccer world for not living up to the sexualized standards of a proudly self-described “man.” Seriously, I can’t get over the fact that a website called AskMen reflects so poorly on males. This is embarrassing. I have a sense of humor, but equating the women to dogs like that just isn’t funny. If it was funny, like Colbert’s quip, it would be forgivable; but it’s only disrespectful.
The real pansies?
Males naturally have bodies that allow for more physical endeavors (to make a long evolutionary story short, all because it’s the female who gets pregnant, not the male), which means they have no advantage in sports like figure skating, where physical strength is not as important as the psychological endurance under the spotlight.
I suppose you could argue which league is more exciting, though statements like “The women [...] were overall much less dynamic than even the most uninspiring male players,” are really just subjective opinions. Competitions vary, and sometimes I would agree (for example, the women’s hockey in Vancouver 2010 was very disappointing), but most of the time, one is not more interesting than the other – another subjective statement, indeed. Still, the amount of divers is way higher in men’s soccer than in women’s. I haven’t seen any women start holding their faces and collapsing to the ground when a ball grazed their legs yet (though I’m sure it has happened). You can see the caliber of blatant dives, feigns, acts, and theatrically imaginative performances in this hilarious compilation video below:
But don’t take my word for it. A study published earlier this month in Research in Sports Medicine found just that. American researcher Daryl Rosenbaum and his colleagues at Wake Forest University School of Medicine viewed 47 soccer games from two women’s tournaments, watching for injuries. In particular, they were looking for feigned injuries – which they refer to as “injury simulation.” They categorized injuries based on things like bleeding, using a stretcher, on-field treatment, etc., into “questionable” or “definite” injuries, and recorded a total of 270 apparent injuries. That’s 5.74/game for women, compared to 11.26/game for men. This means that the action stops twice as much in male games. Furthermore, 13.7% of female injuries were seen as authentic, compared to only 7.2% of male injuries (Rosenbaum, Sanghani, Woolen, & Davis, 2011). Foolishly, soccer officials still refuse to implement video-replay as supplements to important decisions, which I believe would dramatically cut down on faking (and bad calls)… but that’s a topic for another day.
I didn’t watch every match of this tournament (in Japan time, for example, the finals started at 3:45AM) so I can’t speak for every other team… but let’s talk about the Japanese team, called “Nadeshiko” (“beautiful flower”). If you want to complain that they weren’t very professional, fine. As CNN reports, “Unlike the U.S. Women’s Professional Soccer League, Japan’s L. League is non-professional. In fact, many of the league’s players work normal day jobs to pay their bills.”
The Japanese team “obviously didn’t do it for the money,” says the Japan Times, considering the entire team will receive only ¥1.5 million for winning the World Cup. Compare that to the ¥35 million-prize for their male counterparts to win a world cup, or ¥237 million ($3 million) for their American (female) counterparts if they had one in the finals. But at least the Japan team was happily greeted by hundreds of fans at the airport in Japan, after a plane ride in economy class. Indeed, the funding in women’s soccer in Japan is minimal. According to NewsJunkiePost.com, the Japanese team members are not even from middle-class families, but working-class families.
“Nadeshiko’s team captain, Homare Sawa, is one of those working class players. It was reported in Japanese TV that her mother is so poor that she wasn’t going to be able to fly to Frankfurt to see her daughter play. It wasn’t until a sportscaster heard the story, that he donated a plane ticket so that the mother could go see her daughter and the rest of the team play.”
I’m not about to suggest boycotting AskMen.com or anything like that – I like the site. But for an organization that gives out and tags their advice as “become a better man,” they have no idea what they’re talking about here. It would in fact be in male readers’ best interest to ignore garbage like that, or do what I’m doing and chastise it.
Someone who seems to be even more disheartened than I am is Amanda Marcotte from Slate, who says “Hostility to women’s soccer is just naked, irrational sexism.” I think it’s a little more contextual than that, but she makes her point. “Machismo about soccer has gotten so out of control,” she says, “that the BBC initially refused to air the quarter-finals game between England and France.” Finally after enough protests, the BBC aired the match.
Who cares, really?
Did Japanese people care?
Most Japanese people had never even heard of the Nadeshiko Japan team until a few weeks ago, and they certainly didn’t know much about the players until Japan started gaining ground in the tournament. But the idea that nobody cared is not accurate enough. The truth is that people simply didn’t know about it – and chances are, if Japan didn’t advance very far, we still probably wouldn’t have known much about it. It’s kind of a shame that men proportionally get so much more media attention than women in competitive sports, but it’s a fact of our societies. News organizations are not as motivated to print/broadcast these stories, because enough people like the AskMen guys don’t want to see it. And it’s no surprise that media often caters to what people want (which is why sensationalism does so well) in order to get more viewers.
But let’s not forget what kind of records were broken because of that final match. The tweet record, to be honest, does not even come close to reflecting the excitement of the Japanese people. The team won around 7:30 in the morning on a Monday – most Japanese people weren’t even awake. And yet, Japan sent joyous victory tweets, reaching 7,196/second, the new record following Japan’s former tweet-fest last New Year’s celebration.
Did Americans care?
In one broadcast from The Young Yurks Sports, Ben Mankiewicz argues that the only reason anyone watched the matches was because some places like ESPN gave it so much attention. Since all the other major sports were finished, there was nothing left to promote. I actually agree with Mankiewicz on a lot of what he said, but these points I mentioned lead me to ask… so what? Is the argument here that Americans are so mindless that they’ll watch something not because they’re interested in it, but because it was advertised? I don’t buy it. They hear about it because it’s advertised, but they watch it because it’s interesting. Marcotte puts it nicely in another Slate piece:
“ESPN did a great job of pushing the tournament by putting it on its first channel and front paging coverage of it every day of the tournament, and I think they’ve gone a long way to prove that if you promote women’s sports as much as you do men’s sports, the audience will come.”
In fact, the associated press paints a very different picture of America’s level of interest than the one AskMen suggests:
“The Women’s World Cup final has earned the highest television rating for any soccer game on an ESPN network.
Japan’s comeback to beat the United States in a penalty shootout Sunday drew a 7.4 fast national rating. The previous high was a 4.0 for last year’s U.S.-Algeria men’s World Cup match.
With an average of almost 13.5 million viewers, it was the sixth most watched soccer telecast ever in the United States. The record is still held by the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, which had an 11.4 rating.
Ratings measure the percentage of all households with televisions tuned into a program.”
The sixth most watched soccer telecast ever? That’s pretty clear. Sure, there will be people (not just men) who simply won’t be interested in watching women’s sports, and I’m not trying to convince anyone to do so (it’s a personal choice; to each his own). All I want to do is call out anyone who says “no one cares.” Such statements seem to diminish the victory, and what it means for Japan. Or, as was said on the GaijinPot blog, “…Don’t go accusing the Americans of choking. [...] The American’s didn’t blow it; the Japanese won it.”
[July 23 update: I just found an incredibly disturbing image from Failblog, where they took about eighty or so Facebook comments about Americans' reactions to the game, and put them into a collage of hate, ignorance, and stupidity. Facebooker Tommy says "fuck all u slant eyed ,nailsalon, rub and tug massues, ninja, rice eating, tsunami loving gookie smelling, cat cooking ugly fucks! kobiashi looking cunts," to which his friend Carly responded "Couldn't have said it better." Wow. I'm sure she couldn't. Tommy's response was then "there really so ugly they should be kept in cages, sweat shops, or killed." But who cares, right? Unrelated, Eric laughs "Hiroshima Nagasaki nuclear tsunami. Ha ha." Scotty threatens "Apparently Hiroshima didn't get our message across," similar to Alexander who says "fuck the damn japanese. still got those little bastards in WW2 though...win!" Daniel isn't upset, though; he says "its ok we won WW2." It's astonishing to see how much this idiocy proves the points I raised earlier (though I'm assuming the majority of Americans are not this idiotic). The author at Failblog said it best: "For a country that doesn’t give a s**t about soccer, some American folks got mighty upset at Japan’s penalty shoot-out win over the US in the Women’s World Cup Finals over the weekend. [...] I guess the only thing Americans dislike more than soccer is losing.”]
The bottom line is that people cared about this tournament. Or at least, 13.5 million Americans cared. And I’m guessing it wasn’t because the girls were “overall much less dynamic than even the most uninspiring male players.”
Rosenbaum DA, Sanghani RR, Woolen T, & Davis SW (2011). Estimation of Injury Simulation in International Women’s Football. Research in sports medicine (Print), 19 (3), 162-9 PMID: 21722004