This has been the case since long before the World Cup began. University of New Mexico soccer defender Elizabeth Lambert made the news in 2009 for a foul that would never have merited media attention if committed in men’s college soccer. Tennis star Serena Williams’s behavior has frequently been the subject of unfair evaluations: In 2009, she was fined $10,000 for cursing at a judge during a U.S. Open semifinal while Roger Federer’s similar language two days later received less public notice and a lower fine. Celebration, too, has come under scrutiny. Just over a week ago, Oklahoma State softball standout Samantha Show received both praise and condemnation for a decisive bat flip following a home run in the women’s College World Series. Meanwhile, Mississippi State’s Elijah MacNamee hit a three-run home run on Sunday to clinch his team’s trip to the men’s College World Series. He triumphantly flipped his bat to nothing but acclaim.
Women cross the line into what’s decried as “poor” sportsmanship more quickly than men — and they face greater sanction for similar actions. Women, far more than men, are asked to rein in their emotions and demonstrate “class” as they compete in sport. These demands go well beyond the boundaries of fair play; instead, they reflect powerful gender expectations of women’s friendliness, nurturance and humility. Ultimately, the backlash against the U.S. women’s soccer team represents a form of social control that protects the long-standing perception of sport as somehow a uniquely masculine endeavor most appropriate for men.