She Plays Sports, But…

Famed science fiction writer Joanna Russ once laid out the arguments against the value of women writers in a series of essays detailing typical criticisms of women’s work, which started with “She didn’t write it….” This list* came to mind as I pondered the discussion about the phenomenal achievement by the U.S. women’s soccer team in winning this year’s World Cup. With a nod to Ms. Russ, I offer my version of “She plays sports, BUT…”  Each time a complaint is leveled about women’s sports, women provide the answer, only to create a new variation of the “Yes, BUT…”  Call it, “She isn’t worth the sports money because…”

Kajmeister take-off of the famous litany by Joanna Russ: “She writes, BUT…”

The US Women’s National Team kicked ass every which way but Sunday, last Sunday. They want the adulation, respect, and money that goes with it. They’re getting the adulation, but the respect and money will be harder to get.

Megan Rapinoe, Golden Boot 2019 Winner, photo by Francisco Seco

Sports Pay Stats

The USWNT gender equity pay lawsuit has come sharply into focus, particularly now that they are champions of the human race in 2019. It’s even prompted several “Fact Check” and economics-based arguments, full of statistical references, “Well, you have to look at revenue….” Or “If you compare people who attend the games…”

Several writers even claim the women make more than the men in the World Cup prize money because they receive a higher percentage. The men’s teams’ $400 million prize money in 2018 was 7% of revenue, whereas the women’s team’s $30 million prize money was 23% of revenue. See? Women get more! I must be just one of those gals that doesn’t get math… #HowMenAreBetterMath

You want stats? Here are some interesting comparative sports stats. The men’s Cameroon team, in World Cup years 2014 and 2018, were to be paid around $100,000 ($104k and $111k, respectively) according to their national team agreement. They finished 32nd in 2014, oh, but didn’t even qualify in 2018, even though they won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017. The U.S. women were paid $37,500 for earning a trip to the 2019 World Cup. I guess the national federation for Cameroon just has more money than the American soccer organization.

Want to know who makes about $37,500 in sports? The NBA Summer G-League players. That’s the triple-A or double-A minor leagues for basketball. Those are the just-out-of-college or hoping-to-make-the-team wannabes that the NBA wants to see if they can actually play. That’s not where Lebron or Kawhi or Steph spend their summer.

Rose Lavelle, capping off USWNT’s 2-0 win over Netherlands, photo from thebozho.com

The US women’s soccer players did eventually earn about $250,000 each in total for winning the World Cup. The Guy that won the baseball Home Run derby the following day, which is basically hitting balls tossed by a coach …. got a million dollars. (Pete Alonso of the Mets) The best paid women soccer players in the world—Alex Morgan and Marta da Silva—earned around $250-300,000 for in 2018. For the year, 260 days on the road, not just an hour of televised batting practice.

Megan Rapinoe, winner of the golden boot in this year’s World Cup, playing a game where goals are rare, earned a whopping $12,500 per goal ($75,000 for participating—not including her bonuses, divided by 6 goals).  LeBron on last year’s Lakers squad, where he sat out hurt for forty games on the team that didn’t even make the playoffs, earned $647,272 per game and $23,623 per point. Twice as much. I could do stats all day.

Let’s take another look at that Rose Lavelle goal, photo by Richard Heathcote

More Revenue, Right?

But there’s that revenue argument. The revenue is so much bigger for the men, goes the argument, so they should be paid more. Here are three points to think about. First, there are far more men’s teams world-wide than women’s teams, so comparing overall revenue for the entire World Cup is apples and oranges. Secondly, a chunk of revenue comes from sponsorships, which has primarily focused on men in the past. However, as the Washington Post fact check article explained,  it’s not exactly clear whether that revenue is for the men or the women–it’s mixed.

In years where the men play in the World Cup, US Soccer makes revenue from the men’s participation; in women’s World Cup years, it’s the women.

There was a long-standing gap between revenue generated by the men and women, but that has disappeared in recent years. The women’s team contributed close or more than half of the federation’s revenue from games since fiscal 2016. Overall, from fiscal 2016 to 2018, the women’s games generated about $900,000 more revenue than the men’s games. In the year following the 2015 World Cup win, women’s games generated $1.9 million more than the men’s games. And in recent years, the men’s revenue tally also includes the fees that opposing teams pay in order to play the United States.

Washington Post “Fact Check”

Lastly, revenue is strongly driven by television broadcasting rights. Fewer women’s games are televised, so the women’s “circuit” earns less revenue. Ah, but the women’s regular games aren’t televised because there’s less interest in them. Or they’re televised at 8 in the morning. On the same day that other men’s matches are televised, in prime time. Hmmm. Doesn’t this become a circular argument? How can interest be created, if no one can watch the games? It’s certainly an argument that supports how they can’t ever earn the same kind of revenue. Here are a few more facts about that interest in women’s soccer.

The best-selling Nike soccer jersey ever is this year’s USWNT jersey. The highest rated soccer game ever watched in the U.S. was the women’s final in 2014, against Japan (25 million viewers). This year’s women’s final drew 14 million viewers, which was 22% more viewers than last year’s men’s final. Now, last year’s men’s final was between France and Croatia. Because the U.S. men’s team didn’t qualify.

They’re Just Not Aggressive Enough Too Aggressive

So the women are bringing in the kind of money that men brought in, but it can’t trickle down because, well, they’re women. Even today, complaints are being lodged that women don’t play the game as well because they don’t pass, they aren’t as fast… they don’t dominate the game the way men do. This has also long been a complaint lodged about women’s sports. Enter Serena Williams, who piles up ace after ace in her annihilation of opposing tennis players. Enter Claressa Shields, the ONLY American boxer to win two gold Olympic medals, now 9-0 in professional tourneys. Enter the U.S. women’s team, that scored thirteen goals against Thailand.

But Serena rages too much! Umpires assess points against her because she points a finger. Claressa Shields was told by the U.S. Olympic federation, between the London and Rio Games, that she needed to stop saying mean things like, “I like to make the girls cry.” The football women were pilloried for piling on, for demonstrating too much happiness about scoring, for acting up and acting out. “Insufferable smuggery,” said Piers Morgan.

Keep finding excuses, folks. Eventually, even “it’s just not ladylike to be such a dominating winner of the most popular sport in the world” can be answered with the lift of a pinky.

Alex Morgan celebrating a goal against England, photo by Catherine Ivill

*For the record, here’s the infamous Joanna Russ cover of How to Suppress Women’s Writing:

Queasy Endings, Happy Endings in Shakespeare

As You Like It , 2019, an excellent musical version, free in the park by SF Shakespeare

Shakespeare is my jam, which is why I particularly like summer with its Shakespeare Festivals popping up in every district park and on every street corner. I also just finished a class, which knocked me on my ass, filled my head with iambic pentameter, and turned a lot of my bardic understanding upside down. Isn’t that just like a comedy?

There’s nothing like a good lusty Elizabethan comedy – boy falls in love with girl at first sight, girl dresses up as a man, twins get mistaken for each other, bears and donkeys gambol in the forests, and they all get married in the end. Eighteen of Shakespeare’s 38 plays had the comedy label slapped on them by the playwright’s buddies who helpfully subdivided his plays the early folios. We all learned about those divisions in school: comedies end in marriages and no (usually) deaths; tragedies center around a protagonist whose flaw causes mayhem and his own death; and histories were about the kings.

Yet comedies aren’t so easy to categorize. In fact, the last five chronologically are often recategorized by modern scholars as “romances” because they contained tragic elements. But, then, there are the three middle comedies, written before the romances, which have also been called “problem plays.” They are problematic indeed.

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Are We Not Proud?

As 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and the 49th anniversary of the San Francisco LGBT Pride March, this seems the perfect essay topic to round out the month of June. It’s also the 30th anniversary of the first time I marched in pride, the 26th year since I was at the 1993 Million Queer March in Washington D.C., and the 7th year since the last time I did that slow walk down the mile or so on Market Street in June, tweeting on a whistle, waving my rainbow flag, and wishing I could sit down soon.

American Pride, American Anti-Pride

Our unique cultural history is full of expressions of pride and also full of disapproval. After all, some of the original European settlers were Puritans, “thrown out of every decent country in Europe,” as Bill Murray says in Stripes. Puritans were excessively anti, weren’t they? Plus the Catholics. Pride is the first and, therefore, worst deadly sin. Being proud in some religious interpretations meant you were unwilling to surrender–theoretically to a higher power–but logistically to the control of the straight white man standing on the pulpit.

It’s always seemed a bit ironic that the Puritans were seeking religious tolerance in the New World so that they could practice their religious intolerance, but we’ll let history sort that part out. Certainly, the New World liked the tolerance part of it and established that clear separation in government between church and state, which started to let different attitudes about sinning and behavior–including pride–blossom throughout society. When the writer of the Declaration of Independence becomes a Deist, fire and brimstone speeches naturally become less popular.

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia

At the same time, these new Americans in 1776 were ecstatic about the nation they were bringing into being. John Adams wanted “pomp and parade” and fireworks, and the United States has celebrated just so for centuries now. Americans love to revel in their pride of country on July 4th, now replete with parades and festivals. It’s coincidental that the holiday comes right after LGBT Pride Month, but great that we can continue the celebratory spirit.

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R.U.R.F.R. Are You Ready for Robots?

Creepy? Silly? Big Brother? Futuristic? The Beginning of the End? The Signal for the Singularity from which the Terminator emerges?

Malibu Security Mart Robot, photo from Roland Woerner

Mobile security robots are popping up with increasing frequency at gas stations, malls, and casinos. It caught my attention when this morning’s news had a snippet that Huntingon Park is installing a “robocop” to patrol city streets. Another story from CBS Los Angeles back in February asked, “Is 2019 the Year Robot Security Guards Go Mainstream?” Whether we label them robots, bots, nanos, androids, automation, or Big Brother, the permeation of programmed surveillance throughout our culture is something that requires continuous vigilance and assessment.

Robocop from 1987, photo from filmschoolrejects.com

Imaginary Cautionary Tales

Like many, I find the increasing examples of robo-guards disturbing, in part because there are so many stories about robots gone haywire. Reference to the word “robocop” immediately conjures up Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 dystopian tale of a privatized military and a militarized police force. Will Robinson’s companion robot from Lost in Space, the show I grew up watching, was originally programmed to sabotage the ship and murder the humans. Even when the robots are cute, like in Wall-E, there are often mastermind machines behind the scenes determined to tame or neuter humans. See also Oblivion. See also Forbidden Planet. See Iron Giant, Westworld, well, just see this handy list from BuzzFeed.

The word “robot” comes from a 1920’s Czech play by Karel Capek called R.U.R., which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots. Capek coined the word roboti as a deliberate reference to the Old Slavic word rabu or slave. In the play, humans are producing robots (androids we might say, since they have human features and characteristics) originally to take on menial work. But the humans start to die out, the robots rebel, and they are left to restart the world in their image.

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Cleopatra & Godzilla: With or Without Backstory?

Most decidedly epic.

Cleopatra arrives in Rome, photo from 1963’s Cleopatra, 20th Century fox

I had the opportunity to watch both the 1963 Cleopatra and 2019 Godzilla, King of the Monsters this month and found myself loving them both. They share eerie parallels. Both are expensive movies, which also were wildly popular despite getting horrid reviews. Both reflect on the past and are engrossing films, even if you bring no prior knowledge to the viewing. But both really pay off if you know the history outside the story and let that backstory clothe your experience, almost like an extra dimension. Trashy pinnacles of cinema; perfect for summer watching.

History shows again and again
How nature points out the folly of men…

Blue Oyster cult

The 26th Most Expensive Movie Ever Made

By the time Cleopatra premiered in 1963, the film had overspent its $5 million budget by somewhere between $20 and $39 million. The lavish Roman epics that were popularized in the 1950s were driving up costs, but films like Ben Hur, which were costly and well-received, paved the way for Cleo. Variety puts the ultimate cost of the 1963 Fox epic at $44 million, so even before it came to the screen, it was rumored to be a disaster. Cleopatra was a huge box office success, the highest-grossing film of the year at $57 million, but was considered to have lost money. As you watch the scene where Cleopatra enters Rome on a giant barge, flanked by hundreds of costumed dancers, you can’t help but hear *ca-ching* with every painted golden trumpet.

Continue reading “Cleopatra & Godzilla: With or Without Backstory?”