Marching down the streets of Vancouver from Doolin’s Irish Pub to BC Place Stadium to watch the Women’s World Cup Final filled me with more national pride than I had ever felt before. There we were, nearly 50,000 strong, decked out in red, white and blue and singing the praises of our country and the team we supported. As we passed the opposing team’s fans, I heard no jeers, only messages of support. I secretly wished an impromptu harmony of Lee Greenwood would erupt, but I was satisfied with chants of the American Outlaws’ “I Believe” and chorus of “Yanks Go Marching”.
The medley of patriotic chants and songs didn’t end for several hours, as our women’s team went on to rout Japan 5-2. At the end of the match, there I stood in the aisle, arms stretched into the air in celebration, with a faint sting in my eyes. I watched in jubilation as Abby Wambach, the 35 year old veteran, circled the stadium proudly displaying our flag. She was still wearing the Captain’s armband that America’s new “it” girl, Carli Lloyd, had given her as she was substituted in the 78th minute. In this moment, I wasn’t just proud to be an American, I was proud to be an American woman.
I turned around to the little girl sitting behind me, and a glimmer of hope crossed my mind. Just like young Carli Lloyd, who was inspired to work toward playing in a World Cup Final as she watched the ’99 team sail to victory, I hoped every little girl in the stadium would never doubt the endless possibilities awaiting her in our fine country next door.
I had never really thought of myself, or American women perhaps, in that context before; I grew up believing that I could do anything regardless of my gender, no questions asked. But in the weeks leading up to the World Cup Final, a series of events led to a sort of epiphany for me surrounding gender equality at home and abroad. It started at my local watering hole, where last year I, along with dozens of my neighbors, had to leave work early just to be able to secure a spot in the bar during men’s World Cup, even during the Group stages. This year, on the other hand, we had to almost bribe friends to join us in the noticeably empty pub after work to watch our girls in the Semifinals. It really hit me when my friend in England, a country notoriously obsessed with the sport, asked if anyone here was watching the competition, because as he put it “…no one gives an arse over here, which is sad”.
I was floored. The sport in general is one of the least watched in the States, so I wasn’t too surprised by the dismal outpouring of support, though it did pale in comparison to the previous year’s spectating. But, England? I thought for sure they would have at least a decent following.
Despite the smaller fan base (and let’s not even talk about FIFA’s treatment of the women’s competition), our women continued to dominate the competition as they’ve done many times before. With the win over Germany, Rufio and I bid on tickets and caught a standby flight to Seattle just four days later to show love for our national team.
The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) is the most successful women’s soccer team in the world. In comparison, our men’s team has historically been one of the worst in global competition, although there has been a marked upward trend in the last 3 decades. As the world’s most beloved sport, this gender disparity in favor of the girls isn’t seen in many other countries, if any. There are plenty of reasons why our men’s team isn’t as dominant globally, but in contrast I think the strength and power of our women’s team compared to the rest of the world is a true testament to the level of gender equality and empowerment Stateside that does exist, despite areas of disparity. Many attribute Title IX legislation many decades ago to this literal leveling of the playing field, and certainly it gave women across the country opportunities for growth in many different aspects. Equal opportunity laws only go so far, however. There has to be socio-cultural acceptance and implementation of equal rights and liberties to truly make an impact, and in the States we’ve come a long way toward that goal. (Though we have farther to go…)
As the confetti fell and our team hoisted the trophy, I was overcome by euphoria. Certainly we as a country are plagued by plenty of social injustice, and long-ingrained inequalities still exist between men and women, but if the dominating win by the USMWNT shows us anything, it’s that we are well on our way to leveling all the playing fields, not just the pitch.
Were you as inspired by the USWNT in the World Cup as I was? Share your comments!