When the US Women’s Soccer team won the world cup in 1999, I saw them fill a long-empty role. Suddenly these women with strong and healthy minds and bodies flooded the media in a very positive way; counter to the usual sexualised and exploited images of models and stars we were all (almost) immune to noticing all around us. While there had been occasional women athletes in the media, this was the first time that those in my generation and those younger than us saw wider society acknowledge that sports for women were not just an individual pursuit once adulthood had been reached, but a team effort.
That summer at camp, I saw the excitement in the eyes of young girls as they talked about the team, the players, their techniques and their own dreams to become athletes. This became something that general society could accept as a valuable dream for a young woman. Little girls could aspire to keep their interests in sports and still grow up to be respected women who were not constantly measured against gender stereotypes. I saw these young women thrilled that this team was everywhere in the media and-most importantly- being treated as serious athletes.
While women’s sports are not something that tends to stay high up the agenda in popular media once large sporting events are over, that moment has carved into my soul a deep respect for the US women’s soccer team. The roster has changed and I cannot follow the team closely living here in Scotland, but I was overjoyed to be part of their current Olympic journey as they once again re-enter the spotlight and inspire a new generation of young girls and women. I think that anyone working with (or who even knows any!) young people can use the Olympics as a rare discussion starter about heroes, media perceptions and the importance of believing in oneself regardless of the gender roles that are used to brainwash.
We had front row seats to the team’s Olympic opening match in Glasgow on Wednesday and it was AMAZING!