Self-Conscious Fandom and Supporting Women's Soccer In The United States

This weekend I came across an article regarding women’s soccer in this country and how its existence could possibly hinder the growth of the men’s game in this country. I’m not that great paraphrasing so here, in the author’s own words:

 

“Do I admire the courage and skill of the women in the WPS, and for those who play for our National Team? Absolutely.

But do I think the league can be a success? Wait, do I even want the league to be a success? Not really. In fact, there have been moments where I just wish it would go away.”

 

Essentially the author goes on to say that he’ll only consider supporting WPS and the United States Women’s National Team when MLS  begins to thrive. But until then, never mind the womenfolk.

 

Now, I’m sure the author is quite nice in real life. I’m sure he was not being disingenuous when he invoked his daughter and how he mentioned that he wanted her to be anything she wanted to be. Hence, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he didn’t intend to come off as a flaming sexist in his presentation of an ultimately baseless argument.

And to those who are reading this with an X chromosome without a Y chromosome: never mind that burning sensation in your gut right now. His argument actually isn’t sexist. But even if you believe this, that’s not what ultimately does his thesis in.

 

I truly don’t mind his decision to not support WPS. Take a look at 2010’s attendance figures so far. Few people seem to anyway. His apathy towards the league is likely tantamount to my apathy towards MLS. I don’t much care for the league and its goofy idiosyncrasies. I support the Houston Dynamo because I park my car at Robertson Stadium and pass by it during my walk to class every weekday. Sometimes I even cross paths with Pat Onstad. It’s easy, it’s convenient and I’m a fan of the sport on principle. But do I care about MLS and its growth in this country? Not really. Obviously my lack of enthusiasm for MLS is not rooted in sexism.

The same can likely be said for the author and his own lack of enthusiasm for WPS. We each have our reasons for not being too enthusiastic about MLS and WPS respectively. And neither has to do with sexism.

But the point that irks me about the piece is the apparent notion that MLS is not thriving and women’s soccer is somehow at fault for this.

 

No, it can’t possibly be the fact that Major League Soccer is viewed largely as a retirement destination for the world’s top footballers because the worldwide perception is that American fans aren’t astute enough to know the difference anyway. Or its much-maligned single-entity structure. Or its silly post-season format where in which its annual champion hails from a contrived Conference format. Or that the league is still seen in many corners as a joke, or as this guy:

 

Nope, it must be the women.

 

What makes the thesis even stranger is that MLS has actually done quite well for itself of late. Attendances are up, media exposure is more prevalent, more top players are being wooed to these shores and the league continues to expand and not retract. In fact it’s nearly been a decade since an MLS franchise last folded. And heck, Manchester United are playing in the All-Star Game this July. Manchester United.

Meanwhile WPS continues to well, you know. I probably don’t need to mention the shuttering of two franchises in five months or how attendance figures have remained modest. And ‘modest’ is a kind adjective.

So MLS; what has WPS ever done to you? And how are the two leagues even remotely related? Are WPS fans really MLS fans and vice versa? Are the leagues competing for the same market share? And if so, why would that be an issue?

The author rues the fact that less than 14,000 showed up at Red Bull Arena to watch Juventus play an exhibition match. And this is a further reason why WPS should cease to exist because uh, yeah, idk. It’s not like would-be attendees of the match made their way down to Piscataway to watch Sky Blue FC play instead.

Believe it or not, it’s not WPS that’s standing in the way of MLS gaining access into the Big Four of American sports. The league is too busy trying to stand on its two feet to be worrying about how to screw over Don Garber and Co.

Essentially, the argument reeks of the neurotic inferiority complex that so many American soccer fans seem to innately posses. Perhaps that’s what supporting a sport that is still not taken seriously by our compatriots does to you. There always has to be a scapegoat for the stagnated growth of soccer in the U.S. Why isn’t MLS selling out the Meadowlands every weekend and why aren’t the likes of Lionel Messi, Didier Drogba and Juan Sebastian Veron here plying their trade in Frisco or Commerce City? Forget the generations of cultural histrionics of soccer in this country. It’s gotta be because of Tonya Antonucci and Lori Lindsey. What else.  

It’s fascinating (and a little disheartening) to see this self-conscious neurosis surface in an attempt to illegitimatize a fledgling women’s league. Don’t want to support WPS? That’s cool. But don’t cook up a ridiculous theory as to why it’s hurting the growth of MLS or the men’s game.

Women’s soccer is struggling as it in this country. The last thing we need is a ribbing from our older brother.

0 thoughts on “Self-Conscious Fandom and Supporting Women's Soccer In The United States

  1. Jim D.

    Yeah, I’m with you. I can’t disagree with his decision, but I don’t buy his argument. Then again, I did get that whole “zero-sum soccer” argument from the leadership of the DCU supporters’ group the Screaming Eagles (of which I’m a long-time member) when I asked them about doing some crossover promotion and marketing with the Bravehearts. Sigh. Maybe I’m just lucky enough to be able to afford to do both, but surely I can’t be the only one. What they didn’t realize was that their attitude made me more likely, not less likely, to pull resources AWAY from SE to the Freedom (vis-a-vis tailgates, merch, extra tix, etc.), and not the other way around.

    I think some MLS fans have something of a complex about the supposedly tentative hold their league has on the American sports scene, rather than looking at all the amazing progress that’s been made in the context of a sports culture that’s had decades if not a century of emphasis on baseball, basketball, and football. The fact that we still have a pro league 15 years in, and a team like DCU with a real sense of tradition in such a short time (even if they’re struggling this year) is something to be happy about.

    Reply
  2. Lina

    Ugh, I like what you had to say, “THe last thing we need is a ribbing from our older brother.” It is something that happens within minority group, this sort of in fighting, one person in the minority group feels insecure and wants to push down another member of his minority group, and say that he is somehow better. This happens with GLBT people and with African-American people.

    Sometimes I take issue with some of the decisions of WPS, but I also appreciate the courage of the women players, working hard to help the league to be successful and also working hard to play a sport very very well.

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  3. teamongolia

    “And to those who are reading this with an X chromosome”

    Males have an X chromosome too; I believe you meant “with two X chromosomes”?

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  4. BrunoReturns

    “with an X chromosome”

    Not to be pedantic, but we all have an X chromosome. “without a Y chromosome” would probably be better.

    I have no idea why this guy would want to link the success of the two leagues in a negative way. Personally, I think that if the women’s game succeeds, it actually increases the potential fan base.

    Granted, any one person will probably not attend a women’s match AND a men’s match in the same week. However, more success – from either league – means more attention, which means a larger pool of fans to draw upon. Win-win in my mind.

    I enjoy both, and only wish that my local Freedom weren’t an hour drive outside of the city.

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  5. Angie

    “And to those who are reading this with an X chromosome:”

    I wanna help this phrase work, but I have to respectfully point out that everyone has an X chromosome. Women: XX Men: XY…unless of course you meant everyone in a unique turn of phrase and I’m just over thinking it.

    On to the point:
    MLS is a joke and has been a joke since long before they even thought the name WPS. The matching Tampa Bay Mutiny necklaces my friend and I ironically bought our sophomore year of high school speaks volumes about that.

    Kudos for calling this guy out.

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  6. Katy

    Hi – I’ve really been enjoying your blog. I’ve been reading for about 6 weeks now and you are keeping my WPS enthusiasm engaged! Thank you.

    His comments clearly rub you the wrong way. I don’t understand why you go to the trouble of explaining away the sexism in Madaio’s statements (were you being sarcastic?). It’s disappointing. His point of view reeks of a sexist attitude – about 5 different ones actually, of the variety that are so pervasive and accepted that it’s difficult to recognize (especially difficult for men to recognize).

    I am going to leave it at that. I realize I’m making statement and not elaborating or backing them up, but this is a soccer blog, so I don’t want to stray from that for too long.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    Reply
  7. Jenna P

    Thanks for the corrections about science, guys. I have little knowledge of science apparently.

    And to Katy – perhaps I was too eager to explain away the sexism in his article. I wanted to explore the other fallacies in his argument and not just go for the most obvious. Does this make sense? Probably not. Perhaps we’ve (read: I’ve) become too desensitized to sexism and particularly in regards to women’s sports. It’s practically a given. Thus I tried to look past this and critique his argument from a different level.

    Anyway thanks for the comment. Much appreciated.

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  8. Katy

    Hi Jenna,

    Thanks for the reply. Yes, you make complete sense; however, I think his arguement (and the fallacies within) are very much based in sexism. And maybe is ISN’T the most obvious; to me it seems like an insidiously male-centered way of thinking that often goes unidentified and unchallenged.

    The zero-sum principle, which I think is what you’re dissecting, relies on a gender binary, and the assumption that a gain for one is a loss for the other. Furthermore, not only is there a binary for definition purposes, but there’s a heirarchy – a center and a periphery. What is male is the default, is normal, and comes first. What is not-male* is a special interest that is defined against what is male; not-male is off to the side somewhere.

    *I say “not-male” instead of female to highlight that this man doesn’t think he’s sexist. He would NEVER directly disparage someone just because they’re a woman athlete, or deliberately restrict opportunity for his daughter. But he fails, and likely ends up doing these very things, because he can’t see that his entire frame of reference – the unstated assumption that women’s soccer simply isn’t important, not like stuff men do – is sexist. “Shhh… the grownups are talking, sweetie.”

    Lina – Very good point, I agree with you. Soccer fans feel like they’re not in the mainstream, or the majority. He’s plucking women’s soccer out of soccer as a whole, in order to place it beneath him.

    One thing that stuck out to me: His post laments the second-class status of men’s professional soccer in this country, and how it’s hard enough for soccer to gain traction as it is. You could replace the phrase “men’s professional soccer” with the word “females” and have an accurate description of our culture, with or without the soccer part. If you’re accustomed to being on the top of the heap, you assume that everything you like should also be on the top of the heap. Everything else equates to rodents looking to live on your scraps.

    OK, I’ll stop now, and let everyone get back to soccer!!

    Thanks again.

    Reply
  9. Jim D.

    For what it’s worth, the member of the SE leadership who expressed the zero-sum soccer principle (a $ for the Freedom is one less $ for SE/DCU) to me was female. Take of that what you will.

    Reply
  10. Katy

    Jim – Noted, definitely. I was thinking of the “zero-sum” thing before I read your post, actually, though I was happy to see you brought it up. It sounded like Jenna was dissecting Madaio’s flawed notion that the existence of women’s soccer was threatening to men’s soccer, and that notion sounded like a zero-sum setup. I didn’t know your context.

    In response to the fact that a woman brought that up to you: I respect that people want their team to succeed financially. But, not all women recognize the sort of sexism I’m trying to point out here. It’s so ingrained, it becomes invisible like the air that we’re breathing right now. I’m not sure it changes my view of how this sexism is operating, but I do see that we were speaking in slightly different contexts and I really appreciate this dialogue.

    And I don’t know how the financial backing works either, so in some cases it might be true that when you have the same people investing in a men’s team and a women’s team, including some fans, it feels like they’re “sharing” money. However, if it really works that way, then the reverse is true as well – any $ for the SE/DCU is one $ less for the Freedom. Somewhat tangential to that line of thinking, if we’re talking about straight competition, it’s almost logical to ask, “Hey why don’t you just take a stand against the Redskins, Wizards, and Nationals while you’re at it?”

    The context in which “zero-sum” came to my mind does have some “general feminism stuff” behind it. There’s a good bit of anti-feminist rhetoric wherein folks seem to see the universe of gender as a zero-sum game (i.e. some people express resentment that Title IX changed a space where at one time, only men participated/benefited). In this line of thinking, any advances in opportunities for women come at a cost to men, and the burden of that supposed cost to men somehow outweighs the benefits gained by women. It’s an extremely shallow philosophy, if you consider that the world has long been an affirmative-action system for men. Whining about having to “share” with women gets no sympathy from me.

    Written in a discussion of those Title IX sticklers, blogger Fannie proposed an analogy better than any discussion my brain could muster:
    “The historical picture in my head is of an archaic father, hoarding all of a family’s food- appetizers, sumptuous dinners, delicious desserts- and divvying it out only amongst the boys. He reasons that the crumbs that trickle off the boys’ table are good enough for the girls, who aren’t that hungry anyway. When the constable comes and notes that boys are getting rather chubby and the girls are skin and bones, she orders the father to share the food more equally. With a grumble, he does so, but not without mentioning, every chance he gets, how sad and unfair it is that the boys no longer get to have all of the dessert for themselves.

    While there is something “sad” about that, perhaps, as the boys themselves did nothing wrong and were culturally trained to be entitled to more, I am ultimately less sympathetic about their plight than I am about that of the girls, who grew up believing the lie that they deserved less than boys, and that this was just a law of nature.”

    http://fanniesroom.blogspot.com/search/label/Sports

    Thank you for indulging me here. I don’t think of myself as knowledgeable in very many areas, nor am I even the type to go commenting and lecturing on blogs I read, but soccer and feminism are toward the top of my passion and knowledge piles. I try to engage in both thoughtfully, and with consideration of my teammates and/or fellow fans!

    Reply
  11. Katy

    Jim – sorry, clarification: I meant to say that I didn’t know your context because I thought YOU were defining the Screaming Eagles’ logic as zero-sum. I didn’t realize it had been presented so bluntly, so I thought you were overlaying a somewhat more universal label to their logic. I made a leap! My mistake.

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  12. BrunoReturns

    @Jim – Sexism is not a purely male phenomenon.

    @Katy – Is his article sexist? Yes. However, calling him out as sexist will accomplish nothing. As soon as you apply that label, everyone stops listening to your arguments because they have already formed an opinion on the sexism issue in one way or another.
    Thus, I think Jenna was attempting to raise the issue above the obvious sexist labeling, into a more intellectual discourse on the merits of his arguments.

    Reply
  13. Jenna P

    Thanks again to the commentees.

    I think sadly we’ve become simply socialized by this sporting culture into believing that sexism is so prevalant anyway that it’s just not even worth pointing out anymore. It’s just…omnipresent.

    And thus people write about theses about things that are so blatantly sexist that it doesn’t even faze them as perhaps being sexist.

    Unfortunately that seems to be the default modus operandi for many people – men and women.

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  14. Nick

    Jenna, you said, “I wanted to explore the other fallacies in his argument and not just go for the most obvious. Does this make sense? Probably not.” I disagree; I think it does make sense. His argument is both wrong (that is, incorrect) and sexist. It’s perfectly reasonable to choose to focus on only one of those two. Katy does a good job of describing why the zero-sum point-of-view is sexist, but it’s also empirically false, and that’s worth remembering and exploring from time to time.

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  15. Jim D.

    Agreed on the point that we should get away from labels, and I’m aware that sexism isn’t purely male. The point that I was trying to make was NOT that SE or the person who communicated with me was being “sexist” but rather that there are many American soccer fans – male and female – who are very, very heavily invested in MLS and its success (or at least their team), and may quite earnestly see WPS as “competition” for the limited soccer dollars of their fanbase, rather than seeing it as something that raises the profile of American soccer as a whole. In neither of my comments did I accuse anyone of sexism, and I think it’s overly reductive (not to mention arguing in bad faith) to suggest that everyone who makes that argument is sexist. The fact is, soccer fandom is a niche in American sports (albeit a growing one) and women’s soccer fandom is a niche within a niche. I happen to think that these niches need not be at cross-purposes, but I’m not going to shout “sexist!” at someone who disagrees on this point. Just to be clear about what I’m saying.

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  16. Bob

    Wow, Imagine to my surprise to stumble onto your blog and realize that I’ve generated so much conversation and been lambasted a both sexist and inept. Not bad for a a single blog posting. Yes, I’m Bob…

    I realize that this discussion is long over on your blog, but would very much appreciate you letting me post my case.

    (By the way, I’m OK with you skewering me here, but leaving a comment on Bleacher Report or at my regular blog would have been fair play… at least let me jump in the discussion. You’ll see on the original soccersoapbox.com version of this article, I am very open to reasoned debate.)

    So after stumbling upon this blog and all the assorted comments and stewing them all day, I’m trying to figure out some sort of redeeming response that isn’t a novel. (Note, I largely failed…)

    @Jenna… I appreciate your starting position that I’m not a sexist pig, but that I’m just an idiot. Of the two, I’ll take idiot any day. (I realize I’m not let off the sexist bandwagon yet, but we’ll revisit that in a moment.)

    Your premise seems to be that I blame the WPS for the struggles of MLS. At the micro (direct correlation level) I never specifically blame the women’s game for where MLS is today in that blog – nor do I believe that it is the case. I talk about the still-precarious financial position around MLS as to demonstrate that there is hardly any guarantee around successful professional soccer at this point in the USA. It remains a money-losing operation.

    I do, however, suggest that at the macro level dollars directed into women’s professional soccer may not serve my purpose (my purpose = the success of the SPORT of soccer in the US) as much as a dollar invested in the men’s game. Not because of any inferiority complex, not because I don’t appreciate/respect women athletes but simply because it is hard to see a high likelihood of success of the WPS – which takes a second class sport (soccer) combined with second class attention (women’s professional sports) and unrealistically expects success.

    Do I wish the market was so thriving that this wasn’t a consideration? Sure. But I don’t believe it is. So I appreciate you seeing that my argument is one that says, if you want soccer to succeed invest in the most likely winners – and WPS (to me) is an unlikely winner.

    I also appreciate you can wholeheartedly disagree – but I’m not sure that it is based on a “neurotic inferiority complex.” If I said, “The WPS is killing MLS and soccer,” then sure…

    @Katy… wow. I don’t know how to disprove a charge of sexism – five kinds of sexism, I think you suggested. Reading your commentary, I don’t think my insecurities are what was at play here.

    From a single blog post, whose primary suggestions were that I have a) trouble caring about the women’s league and b) I fundamentally think investment in it is not the best investment for soccer’s future – you’ve decided many things about my hidden biases, my fundamental belief that women are lesser and my hope to hold them down.

    Let me add some color to my a) and b) points… as far as what I care about, I don’t care about baseball or golf or even some lower-division soccer leagues either – no matter what gender is playing.

    As far as my suggestion that investing in WPS might not be as helpful as investing in the men’s game – while it might sounds directionally sexist if we choose not to look at the world around us– is demonstrably true. (This gives me no pleasure, by the way, but I think it to be true. Though I suspect you doubt my every word anyway.)

    Let’s address this zero-sum-game argument too – since that seems to be a centerpiece of my execution-by-blog-commentary. You oversimplify my argument to be something like: what’s good for women is bad for men, and thus we must keep women down. That’s wrong, that’s not my argument, and frankly it smacks of intellectual laziness and an insecure view of the world. If I think investing in Apple stock is more likely to get me to retire quickly than investing in GE stock, does that mean I have a hidden hatred of GE?

    What evidence have I given you that I have anything but respect for women, women’s soccer and its athletes. I just happen to think that at this point, with its current structure, with soccer’s precarious position in our country (albeit in an outlier of a week that I stumble upon this) and with women’s professional sports already a very difficult endeavor it is a poor investment. And if it’s a poor investment, that leaves very few other options for better investment and, yes, they are around the men’s game. Which part of that argument is based on my thinking less of women, rather than a judgment based on the world around me?

    You suggest I fail to hide my latent sexism because I harbor “the unstated assumption that women’s soccer simply isn’t important, not like stuff men do.” Your darn right it was unstated, because it’s not my belief. I never claim that a US Men’s team is more worthy, that women don’t “deserve a league”, or any such belittling fact. Nor do I believe them. Again, lazy accusations made since I was not here to challenge them.

    You especially dislike that I worry about soccer’s “second-class status” in this country. You suggest that “You could replace the phrase “men’s professional soccer” with the word “females” and have an accurate description of our culture.” Yes, I suppose that’s true… I’m guilty as charged in wanting soccer to be a first-class professional sporting obsession in the USA.

    But your connecting that to women’s struggles for equality is a scholarly invention you created to make a point – and only works for you since you’ve created an interesting but fictional depiction of my views. It makes for interesting reading but is not based on anything evidence I provided you in my blog. Frankly, you could replace those words with “blacks” or “Hispanics” or “handicapped” does that mean I hate all of them too? Investment value commentary and social standing commentary are not the same thing.

    You’ve turned this into a feminism term paper, but you’ve invented the plot. Here are the facts as I see them. Soccer IS a 2nd class professional sport. (A fact I don’t like, but accept.) Women’s professional sports are 2nd class sports. (If judged by money paid and attention earned. Again, we can wish it wasn’t the case, but it is.)

    As a soccer lover, I want it to get more attention. And yes, that desire for that trumps my attention around women’s professional sports to make that same ascension as well. (I picked soccer generally as my crusade, but it is great that that there are crusaders out there for women’s professional sports.)

    But, while you connect that to a hidden desire to be “top of the heap” (I’d just support the NFL) and “rodents living on scraps” (might I suggest decaf?) analogies… Seriously?

    @all other commenters… After Katy paints me with a pretty heavy sexism brush, it’s easy to jump on. Given my commentary above. I offer the same as I do to Katy, here or elsewhere, please explain how I’m being sexist. I’m being brutally honest, and pragmatic.

    And yes, people, as a blogger… I was being a bit provocative. Go figure. If we could live in a world where soccer was on everyone’s mind 24×7, our men’s a women’s leagues were profitable and well sponsored and there were never concerns about another team or league folding, that would be great. Do you really think we are there yet?

    Reply

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