This weekend, I’m buying my 15-month-old granddaughter, Julia Grace, a soccer ball. I suspect they may be in high demand.
Why? Because last Sunday, little girls all across the United States got a whole new group of heroes as the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team won an unprecedented 3rd World Cup.
From kickoff to Carli Lloyd’s 16-minute, record-breaking hat trick, the U.S.’s victory over Japan on Sunday was nothing short of stunning, a win so historic that today, New York City is throwing a rare ticker-tape parade in the team’s honor.
In soccer, U.S. women have dominated the sport for a quarter century, winning three World Cups, four Olympic gold medals and ranking near the top ever since FIFA started keep records. Yet, Sunday’s historic victory netted the winning women’s team only $2 million, compared to $8 million the U.S. men’s team got for losing in the first round.
And they’re not alone. Every election cycle, we hear the statistics: full-time working women in the U.S. earn about 77% of what their male counterparts earn.
I don’t know about you, but when I tell my granddaughter that if she works hard, she can do anything, I don’t want to have to add “as long as you’re willing to be paid less than a man doing the same job.”
The promise of the American Dream simply shouldn’t come with that caveat.
But pay equity becoming more than a campaign talking point requires political will, leadership and changes in the law — just like it did to begin to move toward equality in women’s collegiate sports.
The fact is, our women’s soccer team’s path to victory didn’t begin when they walked into the stadium in Vancouver. It didn’t even start when this particular group of women began playing together.
The door for the U.S. team’s historic victory was opened 43 years ago — before any of the women who played on Sunday were even born — with the 1972 passage of Title IX, the law that prohibits discrimination based on gender in federally funded educational programs and activities like college sports.
Full implementation of the new law was required by 1978, but Karen Blumenthal, author of Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, points out the U.S. still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equity and sports.
And Georgia has even further to go.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, Georgia ranks worst in the nation when it comes to Title IX violations, with large gender equity gaps at more than two-thirds of high schools.
Even so, at least one Georgia lawmaker questions the need for Title IX protections at our colleges and universities.
Across the board, pay equity for women is “pathetic,” according to Blumenthal. And, that includes college scholarships, where football remains king:
“Football players tend to go to college on full scholarships, and women’s sports, they tend to take the women’s scholarships and divide them up and spread them around.”
Some worried about whether implementation of Title IX would take resources away from men’s collegiate sports.
Well, we can now say with certainty they had no cause for concern. The Washington Post reports that, since the passage of Title IX, opportunities for men in sports have continued to expand, measured both by the number of teams and the number of athletes, while college athletics is now an $8 billion industry. And NCAA basketball is alive and well.
What has happened as a result of the passage of Title IX was long-overdue growth in opportunities for women athletes. Before Title IX, virtually no athletic scholarships were available for women, and spending on women’s sports was a tiny fraction of what was being spent for men.
As doors opened for women athletes at the collegiate level, more little girls began to play sports, and soccer was — and is — one of their most popular choices.
The bottom line?
Today, most experts agree that the United States would not be the dominant force it is in soccer if it weren’t for Title IX.
In addition to birthing a new generation of female athletes, Title IX helped inspire a new crop of sports fans. This year, viewership for the Women’s World Cup was up a whopping 91% among women between 25-54. Why? Because women who had the opportunity to participate in sports thanks to Title IX are more likely to become a part of the audience advertisers target.
When Title IX was implemented, some criticized the law as an over-reach of the federal government into the affairs of local colleges and universities. Others thought the schools would do the “right thing” on their own if women were “truly interested” in sports.
Well, they were wrong on both counts.
The truth is, systemic inequities are rarely righted without decisive action by visionary leaders. When inequities exist, — and they still do — those toward whom the scale is tipped rarely agree readily to its leveling.
That’s why equality for women, whether on the field, in the classroom or in the boardroom, is a work in progress. A key part of that work is committing to address pay inequity as a problem to be solved rather than a fact that must simply be accepted.
By supporting raising the minimum wage and urging passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, we can take important steps toward closing the gender pay gap.
So, today, let’s celebrate the great achievement of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. Let’s enjoy the parade, ticker-tape and all. And, maybe we’ll even go out and buy a soccer ball for a little girl we love. And then, let’s recommit ourselves to working toward equality of opportunity for every American.