By Leah S. Dunaief
Last week a theme in this column was a defense of men. In a neat turnabout, this week is a shoutout for women. The catalyst, of course, is the victory of the United States women’s soccer team. We all watched or cheered Sunday as they defeated the Netherlands team, 2-0, to win the four-yearly Women’s World Cup championship in France. And we all felt tremendous pride in their accomplishment on behalf of our nation.
Let’s face it. They won because they had to win. They became symbols of issues larger than themselves, and in order to drive home those issues most effectively, they had to be winners. You might even say they leveled the playing field in multiple ways.
In becoming winners, they achieved a record four championships for the United States since the tournament began in 1991, this while the men’s counterpart fell later that day in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup final to the rival Mexico team, 1-0, in Chicago. The fact that the most visible and outspoken women’s team member, Megan Rapinoe, who was named most valuable player and who also won the Golden Boot for being the highest scorer, was repeatedly identified as a lesbian, gave her the additional burden of championing the rights of marginalized communities. And the swelling chorus of “Equal pay! Equal pay!” from the spectators at the end of the match was a victory for social justice that brought tears to my eyes and similarly affected many other women in the workplace.
In 1963, when I was interviewing for a position with Time Inc. in New York City, I was told that my salary would be $65 dollars per week. Since I had been supporting my husband, who was a medical intern, and myself for several months already, I knew that we could not manage on that pay and said so to the interviewer. “Well,” she explained, “the men in that position earn $110 because they are the family wage earner.”
“But I am the wage earner for my family,” I objected. “Why is that, dear?” she asked.
“Because my husband gets $30 a month at the hospital and has to use that money to launder his ‘whites’ (intern’s hospital uniforms).” “Oh, then we’ll pay you the $110,” she consented.
I left her office thrilled that I had the job, but my cheeks were burning because I felt like a second-class citizen. Some 10 years later, there was a class-action lawsuit from a large group of women employees against the company demanding equal pay for equal work. It took years, but eventually they won. This has been a private uphill fight, corporation by corporation, agency by agency, for what should be so obvious, and that struggle is still going on, more than 55 years later. The difference is that now it is a public matter and the injustice rings out to fill a sports stadium.
“It’s complicated,” answers the United States Soccer Federation, trying to explain where the money comes from and how it is allocated. To heck with that! It’s always complicated to right social wrongs, to win social change. Old views have to be altered, windows of the mind have to be opened. These women athletes have thrown those windows open wide.
Furthermore, why should I care whether the star player is gay? That makes as much difference as knowing whether she paints her toenails purple or showers in the morning or at night. Do I need to know if the orchestra conductor at Carnegie Hall is a Republican or a Democrat? Or whether the chef in my favorite restaurant is right-handed or left-handed?
Let’s get real. For those who refer to the “good ole days,” nostalgia can have its place. But I say thanks for the world we live in today, where any number of social injustices have come out of the woodwork and into the light. Before they can be changed, they must be acknowledged. Their emergence has been possible because of talented warriors like the U.S. women’s soccer team.