Female Presidential Candidates Should Watch the Women’s World Cup Closely
We All Got Squeamish About American Women Winning a Soccer Game. How Will We Handle a Woman Winning the Election?
Reactions to the U.S. women’s national soccer team pummeling Thailand with a historic 13–0 win in the first week of the 2019 World Cup win offer some disturbing insights into what we expect of girls in general, and the women they grow up to be. If you listened to critics, these world-class athletes were not only supposed to play exceptional soccer, they were also expected to hide their own feelings and avoid embarrassing their opponents by playing too well. Gee, it sounds an awful lot like what’s expected of girls in school and women in the workplace where females are quickly labeled too confident, too emotional, or too competitive.
From tweets to newspaper columns, sharp criticism came as fast as a well-booted soccer ball in flight after the U.S. women scored the largest winning margin ever in World Cup play. First, critics said the goal differential was just too big, that the better-financed American team should have held back on scoring to avoid humiliating the less endowed Thais. Eventually, naysayers dialed back and concluded that it was OK for the women to keep making goals well after it was obvious they had the win, but that they should have contained their displays of joy. Even former American goalie Hope Solo adopted that position in The Guardian, “some of the celebrations were a little overboard” she judged, “it’s not always necessary.”
To say we would not ask male athletes to concern themselves with the emotional well being of their competitors in the course of playing a sport by the book is such a gross understatement that it almost feels too obvious to mention. Nor do we generally seem to be bothered by wealthy countries bringing home more gold in international competition. In fact, broadcasters happily display national medal counts nightly during the Olympics, even after the American haul becomes embarrassing by its largess. And nobody ever suggested that U.S. basketball dream teams should restrict score differentials to Kumbaya margins.
So the important issue here is identifying just why so many people felt so uncomfortable seeing these women succeed so fully. We need to ask ourselves why professional females who are the best in their field could even be asked to tone down their prowess because that same expectation is perpetuating persistent gender bias in other areas. It is the elephant in the room when people say that they don’t think a female candidate is “electable.” It is the extra standard women face when trying to “lean in” at the office, the extra judgment a high school girl braces for when she debates raising her hand to answer a math teacher’s question in AP Calculus. And it could prevent Americans from electing the best person for the job of U.S. President.
Until we all get comfortable with women who are the best at something taking the W without apologizing, we are going to continue to perpetuate gender inequality, and inhibit young girls from shining. Nobody wants to see blind narcissism. Boasting makes most of us cringe, and we’ve had far too much of it from the current White House resident. Indeed, empathy is a strength, not a weakness — and U.S. team players showed plenty of it in their interactions with the losing team after the match. But we won’t be ready to elect a female president until we enjoy seeing women who play by the rules own their wins, and even celebrate them.