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The U.S. Women’s Soccer Pay Dispute Reflects Deeper Sociological Problems

On Feb. 22, an article entitled “U.S Soccer and Women’s Players Agree to Settle Equal Pay Lawsuit” was published in the New York Times by Andrew Das. Das has been writing about soccer’s equal pay dispute since 2016, when there were first arguments about the equitable treatment of female players in U.S. soccer. Players claimed that there were unequal working conditions between the men’s and women’s teams, as well as wage discrimination. Their lawsuit was dismissed originally and had to be appealed in order to establish a deal. This six year argument finally came to an end on Feb. 15 with a multimillion-dollar settlement. This settlement included $24 million paid to a group of several dozen women from U.S. soccer, but more importantly it included a pledge to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national soccer teams in all competitions. This lawsuit has garnered the attention of many prominent figures such as athletes, celebrities, politicians and even presidential candidates. This movement for equal pay was so popularized because it has brought to light the struggle for equality in women’s sports in countries all over the world. In recent years, players and teams of other sports have united to fight for their own working conditions and better pay, inspired by the U.S. teams. Analyzing this issue from a sociological perspective can provide an understanding of an underlying phenomena that perpetuates these inequalities that exist in sports between men and women.

Societies have social structures, and if these structures exist, then there must be a reason for it. These social structures include things like institutions, relationships, roles and norms. Each of these structures is indispensable for the continued existence of the others and for society as a whole, so these structures will be evaluated on their functionality. If something is useful, then it will continue to be used as it always has. To understand society, it is important to look at the structures that make it up. An example of a social structure would be gender roles in society. These roles first taught people that men were to work outside of the home and provide for the families, while women were to take care of the domestic responsibilities in or around the home. This division of labor contributed to the stability of society. These roles and beliefs were passed on to subsequent generations because they were an effective way to keep society and the family functioning properly. People were expected to follow these rules and norms; they were expected not to challenge the prevailing culture. 

A structure is present as well in the women’s soccer team. The team owners and the U.S. soccer organization evaluate the women’s team based on their functionality, and these evaluations then influence how this team is treated. Das wrote “The federation briefly argued that the men brought in more money and drew higher television ratings, and thus deserved higher pay, but soon abandoned the stance amid public backlash, player fury and a closer reading of equal pay law.” The federation used the functionality of a women’s soccer team versus a men’s soccer team to justify a difference in pay. This justification is seen throughout the world of sports, where men are paid more, broadcasted more, provided more sponsorships, and given better overall working conditions because of the belief that the men’s function is better or more important than the women’s function. There exists the belief that the men are working harder so they deserve more. This has created a normality in the sports world that men should be paid higher. 

This normality of higher pay for men has been a structure in society since gender roles were first established. But we see a challenge to this structure now, just as there was during World War II when women assumed the role of breadwinner as well as their traditional domestic role when their husbands went to war. This change was okay at the time, as it was needed to stabilize the functionality of society and the economy, however when the men returned from war, this challenge was no longer accepted as men wanted to reclaim their jobs. Society fell into an imbalance as women did not want to forfeit their positions. The structures of society were challenged and this began to change the norms. 

Just as those women during industrial times, the women of the U.S. soccer team are now challenging the social order. This defiance threatens the constancy and normality established by society. This breaking of societal norms caused much controversy amongst the fans of U.S. soccer, and much debate over how to proceed with the legal case. So, perhaps it was this threat to the stability of U.S. soccer that caused the prolonging of this case for six years. And although a settlement has been reached, the women of the U.S. soccer team have effectively shown their strength and their refusal to continue to follow tradition. Society will hopefully continue to redefine the role of women and break the structures which she has been born into.

A lover of donuts, cheesy rom-coms, warm blankets, and the Chicago Cubs
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