Written by Marianne Mansfield
Today—Friday, July 10—the U.S. women’s soccer team will be celebrated with a rare ticker tape parade in New York City. Why rare? Because it’s seldom that a team that does not call the metropolitan NYC area home is feted with such an honor.
That’s all good as far as it goes. Unfortunately, the parade offers little recompense when the disparity between the earnings of women and men professional soccer players is taken into account. The total payout for the women’s World Cup tournament was approximately $15 million dollars. In 2014, the comparable figure for the men’s World Cup was $576 million. This isn’t some paltry little variation. It’s a Grand Canyon-sized chasm.
As I writer, I thought, “There’s my topic. I’ll write about yet another example of how the work of women is devalued—this time, in the sports world.” Sadly, though, I couldn’t get my wheels to grab the pavement of the topic. I’ve written about it too often. I’m just sadly beleaguered when it comes to it.
Then I had the pleasure of listening to a TED (Technology, Education and Design) talk given by former President Jimmy Carter in May of this year. It isn’t long. Check it out.
I’m tempted to end my column right here, because Carter says it all. I won’t, however. In addition to the overall value of the content of his talk, what he says frames the Women’s soccer pay fiasco in a global context. That’s where it should be. Not just sports and not just the USA.
President Carter identified the No. 1 abuse of people on Earth as the abuse of women worldwide. He attributed it to two factors: a misinterpretation of holy scripture in global religions, and the excessive resort to violence as a means for correcting social problems. He called out religious leaders of all major religions for the use of scripture misconstruction as a basis for discriminating against women in leadership positions, ranging from their places in family structures to the clergy. Carter also highlighted the over-representation of the poor, minorities, and women incarcerated worldwide.
Among the abuses of women and girls former President Carter shone a light on were the practice of genital mutilations, honor killings in societies that consider a woman who is raped as a source of shame to her family, and the slavery of human trafficking. In Atlanta, Georgia, for example, between 200 and 300 girls are sold into sexual slavery a month. Why Atlanta? Because it has one of the largest airport facilities in the world. Human traders can move their prey in and out with relative impunity because of the number of people who pass through each day.
Carter also discussed two vast institutional complexes in the United States, which he faulted for their laissez-faire official stance on the abuses of women taking place within their jurisdictions. They were the US military and the higher educational system. And oh, by the way, look at the overwhelming preponderance of men who call the shots in both those systems. While we are beginning to see isolated efforts on behalf of women and girls in some colleges and universities, as well as some slightly more systemic efforts in some enclaves of the military, it is certainly too little. If you listen to Carter’s talk, you also hear for how many women and girls it is too late.
President Carter concluded his list of abuses against women and girls with the disparity in pay. What’s not to know about this anymore? And yet, it continues to exist. One example he cited was that of the Fortune 500 companies a mere 23 are led by women CEOs.
We’ve come full circle. In the universe of abuse of women, the Women’s Soccer Team of the USA in 2015 is simply the next group queued up for mistreatment. Taken as a collective, women worldwide are being beaten down by systems that are predisposed to maintain the balance of power as it has existed for centuries—that is, grotesquely skewed in favor of the male.
As far as this talk went, I went with the former president. It was only in the end that we parted ways. President Carter exhorted women in his audience to speak up, vocally and ferociously demanding eradication of the abuse. And then he implored the women to enlist the assistance of their husbands and brothers and fathers.
And I went flat.
First, why must it be only women who demand the end of such heinous behavior? And why, are we advised to enlist our big, strong guys when we find ourselves ineffective in our efforts?
I would suggest a third, crucial step in the process. Let us stand together. All of us. Let it not be the responsibility of those who belong to the gender abused to scream for those who can’t. Let it not be the choice of those who do not belong to that gender to opt in or out of the fight.
There is more enlightenment out there than when I was in college 40 years ago. President Carter is one very powerful example. I know that, but the repeated instances of horrific abuse and scandalous discrimination must be recognized for what they represent. As a global society, we have miles to go before we sleep.
Thank you, former President Carter, for speaking out for us and standing with us.