The video is electrifying.
“I deserve this!” yells Megan Rapinoe, the most visible member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, holding her World Cup trophy in one hand and a bottle of champagne in another.
“What do you deserve?” asks teammate, Ashlyn Harris, who is recording on her iPhone.
“I deserve this,” Rapinoe replies. “Everything.”
“You deserve all of it, everything,” Harris yells back. “You deserve this. She belongs.”
Like many fans of the national women’s soccer team, I’ve been rabidly soaking up any content I can access featuring Rapinoe, Harris, Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle and the rest of these star players since their fourth World Cup win on Sunday. The unmitigated expressions of joy from the U.S. Women’s National Team ― a squad made of up of women who are loud, openly queer, politically active and nationally beloved ― felt like a collective win for American women.
They have popped bottles (and more bottles and even more bottles). They have danced in the locker room with abandon. They have laughed themselves to sleep. They have celebrated their win all over New York, leading up to the Wednesday morning ticker tape parade, during which Rapinoe came out to DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” and Mayor Bill de Blasio led a chant of “USA! Equal pay!” (Women soccer players have been in a sustained legal battle with U.S. Soccer over their pay.) New York’s downtown streets were filled with crowds, full of young girls and boys who looked at Rapinoe and her teammates and saw superheroes.
I am by no means an athlete. I will never understand what it’s like to be the best at something that takes so much training and skill and dedication. And yet, watching these women ― these fabulously talented, physically strong, underpaid, passionate, united women ― luxuriate in their victories without qualifiers or projected meekness lit up something inside of me and so many others.
Women are socialized to be polite and quiet, never to take up too much space or take too much credit. Don’t be bitchy. Don’t be boastful. Be grateful you’re even here. Be grateful for the bare minimum.
Female athletes are critiqued, often harshly, for their looks, their self-expression, their monetary value and their attitudes. Gabby Douglas was “unpatriotic.” McKayla Maroney was a “snobby” “brat.” Serena Williams was “crazy.” Rapinoe was “disrespect[ful].” For women athletes of color, these baseless critiques are amplified to an even greater degree.
“We are not allowed to have emotions, we are not allowed to be passionate,” Williams wrote in a cover story essay for Harper’s Bazaar’s August issue. “We are told to sit down and be quiet, which frankly is just not something I’m okay with. It’s shameful that our society penalizes women just for being themselves.”
And of course, the U.S. Women’s National Team are always themselves. They will not stop asking to be paid equally to their male counterparts. (In the words of Harris, while her teammate Allie Long puts a full page of their lawsuit into her mouth: “Pay us, bitch.”) They will not stop criticizing a president who discriminates against marginalized people. They will not stop taking up space and loving the hell out of doing so.
“United We Stand,” reads Wednesday’s New York Daily News front page headline, all caps in bold print. “City salutes America’s Team with parade up Canyon of Heroes.” The text sits above an illustration of Lady Liberty, her hand outstretched, holding a World Cup trophy.
Let it sink in: America’s Team is full of women. They’re the best in the world, they’re representing their country admirably, and damn if they don’t know it. Pop the champagne, it’s time to celebrate.
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