Equal pay for equal work – in sports and life

Hope Solo is among the members of the U.S. women’s soccer team accusing the U.S. Soccer Federation of pay discrimination.

Hope Solo is among the members of the U.S. women’s soccer team accusing the U.S. Soccer Federation of pay discrimination.

This has not been the best moment in the relationship between the traditional sexes. (And we have to say “the traditional sexes” when talking about men and women, because we are moving toward a time when people will define themselves as something other or by no gender at all.)

The situation between the sexes has gotten tense on the campaign trail – as we have practically daily proof – but recently the battle shifted to the sports world as five veterans of the U.S. women’s soccer team charged the U.S. Soccer Federation with pay discrimination in everything from per diems to compensation for participating in exhibitions. This despite the women’s superior achievements to the men’s team. 

“We continue to be told we should be grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional soccer and to get paid for doing it,” Hope Solo told “Today.” “In this day and age, it’s about equality. It’s about equal rights. It’s about equal pay. We’re pushing for that.”

This comes on the heels of a misogynistic rant by Raymond Moore, then CEO of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., in which he said that the women rode the coattails of the men in tennis and that they should get down on their knees in gratitude.

Let’s just say that down on your knees is not something a man should say to any woman. Not surprisingly, Moore is now gone, having resigned in disgrace.

But not before Novak Djokovic, the men’s winner and new men’s earnings champ, was drawn into the fray and said that the men should make more, because they draw more. (He didn’t help his argument by sympathetically noting that women have more biological hurdles than men do.)

Nole – an intelligent, sophisticated, cultured man with a wife who’s a PhD candidate in finance – was accused of being sexist. Some critics wondered how he’d like to make less than the more popular Roger Federer. (He does in terms of endorsements.) Or how he could make more than Serena Williams last year. (He played some 30 matches more than she did.)

Nole took to Facebook to regroup and reconsider and met with Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, two of the prime movers for equality in tennis. The three posed for pictures after the meeting and King pronounced Nole “a champion and a class act.”

I would say I was disheartened with Nole – and the other male players who rushed to agree with Moore in substance if not in style – but then, I’d have to say I was disheartened with myself. I’ve always preferred to watch male performers. It’s not just sexual or aesthetic. I like their looks, sure, but I also love their power. I find it thrilling. Plus, men have always gotten to do stuff. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, which stretched from the Balkans to India. There really is no female equivalent.

But I’m not alone. It’s well known that women will watch movies that interest men but the reverse is not true. That rationale is always used for paying female stars less than their male counterparts. That, supporters – often men – say is Hamiltonian economics. That is the marketplace.

Men’s tennis is more popular than women’s tennis. I would say it’s more interesting. The men have rivalries, particularly among the former Big Four of Nole, Fed, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. They have hot guys like the eternally inappropriate Nick Kyrgios. (I’d just love to know what he thinks about equal pay.) And they play more sets in some important tournaments, like the Slams.

Even when the men and women make equal prize money – as they do at the US Open – there are subtle forms of discrimination against the women. For years, they played on “Super Saturday” between the two men’s semifinals, then Saturday became their day and Sunday the men’s, then the women got Sunday, with the men lost in the shuffle of Monday and now we’re back to the women on Saturday and the men on Sunday. But the men’s final always comes last, clearly the crowning moment in the tournament.

This is the format for all tournaments. The message is simple: The guys’ final is more important.

It’s always been said in feminism that to change the culture, you have to change the conversation. But I think to change the conversation, we need to change the culture. It has to start when children are young. When I was a child, male was the default. (For years, I thought Lamb Chop, the Shari Lewis puppet, was a boy. I think I was like Marcy in “Peanuts,” always calling everyone “Sir.”) To this day, I despise words like “chairperson.” “Chairman” to me is fine.

But we’re going to have to reset the default and introduce children to women’s accomplishments and interests at an early age. And we’re going to have to make a greater effort to support the fight for equality.

It will mean putting more fannies in the seats of women’s events. And continuing to push for equal pay – something women have still not achieved a half-century after the most recent wave of feminism.