Thursday, October 30, 2008

Soccer, Feminism, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin

I recently saw a documentary about women’s soccer and the movie reminded me of the DNC’s and media’s unfair treatment of women during the 2008 election. The documentary Dare to Dream describes how the U.S. women’s soccer team kicked through glass ceilings just like women have been breaking through glass ceilings politically this year.

I actually thought the DNC superdelegates would vote for Hillary because of her greater swing state support, huge electoral college lead, big state popularity, and popular vote advantage but towards the end of the primary it became obvious that the superdelegates were not treating Hillary fairly. According to a study reported in the Charlotte Observer there was a big difference between how men and women superdelegates voted. Women superdelegates (before the end of the primaries) preferred Hillary but the men preferred Obama. Apparently gender beliefs slant the superdelegate vote. Also, the DNC acted unethically when they decreased Clinton's delegates by selectively punishing the five states that broke the primary schedule rule so that states where Clinton polled the strongest were punished more than the standard punishment while states that favored Obama (at the time) were given waivers. And the DNC pressured the only woman candidate to drop out of the contest in order to favor a male candidate.

Similarly, the women’s soccer team faced discrimination by their organization, the U.S. Soccer Federation. For example, during the 1996 Olympics the federation gave men a bonus for every medal won but women were told they would only get a bonus for the gold. Team captain Julie Foudy tried many times to resolve the issue by contacting the federation but that didn't work just like Hillary Clinton supporters tried constantly to convince the DNC to treat Hillary Clinton fairly yet our complaints were ignored.

To solve the problem with the federation the women players went on strike and were able to get a compromise deal better than before they went on strike. So that's what people are doing in the Democratic election. Because complaints about unfairness were ignored so long some people decided the only way to get the DNC to listen was by not voting Democratic. I have read many accounts by people who’ve always voted Democratic in previous elections but now have decided to vote for McCain because of the unfair way the DNC treated Hillary Clinton.

Another similarity is journalists’ sexism. The 1996 Olympics hosted by the U.S.A. was the first time women’s soccer was included, yet despite that it was a historical event and a great game with the USA competing and winning the media barely covered the event. Team captain Julie Foudy recounts:

"No one saw it live on television and if they did see it they saw snippets of it." And in a 1996 clip Foudy says: "I think the best avenue to get to fans is through television so it was a little disappointing in the fact that we didn’t get more time..."

It was the advertising media that finally gave the soccer players the media attention they needed by featuring one of the star players, Mia Hamm, in commercials. Quote from the documentary:

The 1996 Olympics was when Mia became the face of women’s soccer. That’s when the phenomenon took off. That’s when all the screaming 12-year-olds first took notice of her.

It's ironic that the much reviled advertising industry helped push women through the glass ceiling and yet the press was blocking our way by deliberately not reporting on a popular and historic women's game.

Three years later the press still was trying to downplay women's soccer. When the U.S. women's soccer team organizers decided to play at bigger stadiums because the team was becoming more popular the press refused to acknowledge the fact that women's soccer was now a phenomenon. They wrote stories falsely portraying women's soccer as very unpopular. For example Jamie Trecker wrote an article titled What if they threw a World Cup and nobody came?

If you are an average America soccer fan, it is likely that you know little or nothing about this year’s biggest FIFA event…if you’re the average soccer fan, anywhere in the world, you almost certainly know next to nothing about this year’s biggest FIFA event.

This is just like the 2008 election when the press was constantly downplaying HRC's primary successes and HRC's and now Palin's qualifications. The women's team had worked hard to sell tickets and four months before the game they had sold 210,000 tickets. At a press conference a male reporter refused to accept that fact:

Foudy: Carla and I as the Captains are sitting up there and I mean just hundreds of people and reporters and the first person was this reporter from the United States. “This is an embarrassment! You’re lying about ticket sales. No one’s gonna come."

Carla Overbeck: You know just hearing that negativity you’re thinking well God…you kind of start to get anxious and maybe you won’t fill it up, maybe you won’t sell it out.

This is the sexism women experience when they try to break the glass ceiling. It's sad that reporters who are supposed to be fair are prejudiced against women.

Unlike what the reporters were saying, the World Cup was successful in selling tickets. Donna DeVarona, Chair of the -99 World Cup Organizing Committee said:

We put more people in the stadium than the Giant’s ever had.

Women's soccer was more popular than any Giants football game! And there is more good news. Finally, the press had to admit that women's soccer was popular:

Greg Overbeck: You go down to the newstand and there’s the New York Times front page, not front page of the sports, front page, big picture, women’s soccer. Washington post, big picture, women’s soccer—on the front page.

This proves that eventually, the press must admit women's success. Also, there's a great clip of the Clinton family meeting with the soccer players after a game. I recommend the documentary Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team (2007) (TV).

All women and girls can identify with the experiences of the soccer players, HRC and Sarah Palin. That’s why it’s wonderful to see women breaking the glass ceiling. When a woman president steps into the Oval office it will be a small step for one woman but a great step for womankind.