Its crucial women call out double standards, but its also important we dont cry sexism to absolve ourselves of bad behavior


Should America be ashamed of itself?

I know thats an evergreen question (and the answer is normally yes), but in this particular instance Im talking about the US womens soccer team (USWNT) thrashing Thailand 13-0 in the World Cup on Tuesday. Despite being a record-breaking performance, the exuberance with which USA celebrated goal after goal after goal has prompted criticism and accusations of unsporting behavior.

A lot of this criticism, it should be said, came from male sports commentators. The goal celebrations at 9-0, 10-0, 11-0 are so overboard. Why are they even trying to score any more? Im on team Thailand at this point, said Jeff Paterson, a Canadian sports reporter.

0.0 problem with the scoreline as this is the tournament, but celebrating goals (like No 9) leaves a sour taste in my mouth, Taylor Twellman, an ESPN analyst and former player for the US mens national team, said on Twitter.

And commentator Max Bretos similarly tweeted: I would tone down the celebration on the ninth goal, but thats just me.

There is something infuriating about a bunch of male commentators telling the worlds best womens soccer team: Tone it down, ladies! It smacks of sexism, as many people were quick to point out. Responding to the criticism, Abby Wambach, a former player for the USWNT, tweeted: For all that have issue with many goals: for some players this is [their] first World Cup goal, and they should be excited. Would you tell a mens team to not score or celebrate?

Wambach followed this up by noting: [T]his isnt rec league soccer. This is THE WORLD CUP!!!!!!!!! Stop judging these women with patriarchal glasses. You would never say this about a mens team. Period.

I understand Wambachs frustration; Im sure every woman does. It doesnt matter whether youre on a soccer pitch or in a boardroom being a woman means constantly battling impossible double standards. If youre too friendly youre considered unprofessional; if youre not friendly enough youre considered a bitch. If you speak up, youre told youre too aggressive or emotional; if you dont speak up youre told youre not assertive enough. You can basically never win when youre a woman, even when you win 13-0.

Professional sport is particularly rife with double standards; female players are rarely given the same levels of respect as their male peers. Theyre certainly not given the same levels of compensation. The USWNT is currently in the middle of a federal lawsuit against US Soccer, alleging institutional gender discrimination. US Soccers response to this lawsuit has essentially been to claim that the womens team three-time World Cup winners isnt entitled to equal pay with the mens team because theyre not performing equal work. This is beyond patronizing.

Did sexism play a part in the criticism leveled against the US performance on Tuesday? Absolutely. Does that mean that none of the criticism is valid? Absolutely not. While Wambach is right to point out double standards, she is wrong to boil everything down to sexism. You dont have to be wearing patriarchal glasses to think that USA could have behaved a lot more decently on Tuesday. Im not saying they should have taken it easy on Thailand or scored fewer goals but there was no need to be quite so over-the-top in their celebration, especially when they were playing a team that was clearly the underdog. The exuberance wouldnt have been an issue if USA had thrashed France 13-0, but this wasnt a fair fight. The celebration felt unnecessary and cruel.

Plenty of female athletes have pointed this out, including Hope Solo, the teams former goalkeeper, who acknowledged in the Guardian that some of the celebrations were a little overboard. Clare Rustead, a Canadian soccer analyst and former player, was more blunt, calling the performance disgraceful and tweeting: The USWNT displayed poor sportsmanship excessively celebrating many of the 13 goals against a 34th-ranked team. It has nothing to do with the final score. You are one of the best teams in the world. Act like it. And yeah, I definitely would have said the same about a mens team.

Its important that we call out double standards, but its also important that women dont cry sexism to absolve ourselves of bad behavior. The USWNTs behavior on Tuesday was objectively disappointing; they could and should have performed a lot better. But with all that said, I would like to reiterate that its a brilliant team full of inspiring women, and Im rooting for them all the way. (Unless they play England, in which case Im hoping they get thrashed 13-0.)

  • Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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