The Women's World Cup passed by this year with drastically less fanfare and media attention than the buzz that usually surrounds the Men's World Cup. This disparity ties into a larger issue of disinterest in women's sports.
As this Atlantic article highlights, there is a lack of discussion of women's sports in feminist circles- both academic and activist. In the late 1970s, one researcher attributed this gap to the fact that 'Female athletes were perceived as either unconcerned with or hostile toward the women’s movement...Feminists didn’t want to be “doubly damned” by “the suspicion of lesbianism” that both feminists and female athletes faced...Sports was seen as a realm where men proved their manliness, negatively predisposing many feminists toward sports in general. And...Sports was considered “frivolous.'
Beyond feminist circles, the issue of disinterest in women's sports has expanded in recent years due to media's control over the extent to which sports are broadcasted to the larger public. The fact that women's soccer is only shown on ESPN during the World Cup translates to smaller stadiums with fewer available seats. Furthermore, Wimbledon announcers calling the male tennis players 'men' and the female tennis players 'girls' only hurts women's status as equal athletes.
In order to both convince the media and larger public to take women's sports seriously and extend the same level of respect that male athletes receive to female athletes require feminists to fight for equality in sports. The fact that the minimum salary for the National Women's Soccer League ($6,842) fails to cover basic costs of living (compared to the MLS minimum of $60,000) should provide enough convincing that female athletes are suffering from gender injustices.
If feminists take up the cause of women's sports, then additional benefits will follow such as breaking down gender barriers and challenging gendered assumptions about women's athletic capabilities. Women athletes will not receive true equality until 'play like a girl' is seen as a compliment.
Feminists need to focus on sports because it’s an institution of massive cultural significance and an area rife with “serious” issues, such as sexual violence, pay inequality, and a lack of women in leadership positions. “Who wouldn’t want to do what they love and say that’s their job?” says Reeves. “I’m not saying I would never play again, but I can’t live off of what they gave me. I can’t.”