World Cup players knock down barriers

Impact: America's soccer win demonstrates that women can succeed as a team, disproving conventional wisdom.

July 18, 1999|By Pat Schroeder

"HUGE" IS THE only word to describe the impact of American women winning the Women's World Cup Soccer championship.

I was born in 1940 and grew up female in the middle of this century. My generation was constantly told, "Women are not team players." We saw many women individually break through the glass ceiling, from Margaret Thatcher to Billie Jean King. But there was no cracking of the conventional wisdom that we could be divas but not trusted team members.

That conventional wisdom, which exploded in front of our eyes by an incoming missile called the U.S. women's soccer team, should blast through some of the final barriers against women assuming more leadership roles. We can lead, not just star. We can be team players, not just solo acts.

Last weekend's excitement also buries some of the Barbie-doll influence. America saw that women can be cheered for their skills, not just envied for their looks. I get chicken flesh whenever I think back on the exciting championship game. Being an avid supporter of Title IX since I was elected to Congress in 1972, this was a dream come true.

When I was young, basketball rules for girls let us dribble only twice, and we couldn't cross the center line. I guess we were considered too frail and fragile to play by boys rules. No one can accuse our soccer team of being frail or fragile.

As a soccer mom, I continued to fight the silliness of the notion that girls should be protected. We lived in Northern Virginia while I was in Congress, and my 8-year-old daughter played soccer on a boys team. Yes, she and two of her friends thought the girls team was too tame. I was shocked by the number of parents who called and asked if I knew my daughter was on the boys team. I told them I'd figured that out because I laundered her shirt that said, "Annandale Boys' Soccer Team" and went to her games. They were horrified that I didn't show more concern for my daughter's future.

Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in athletics and academics, was so controversial that many considered it a wacko feminist idea. The "jockocracy" hated it and said it was a frivolous waste of taxpayers' money because women were untrainable for "real sports"; we were just too weak and delicate to perform. At a Denver high school, I remember a basketball coach who stopped his team's play and asked them to show me what they thought of Title IX, and they all mooned me. That's real class.

In fact, the fervor against the equality of women's sports was so rampant that the university coaches threatened members of Congress who voted for Title IX that they could never attend university football games again.

I showed up to play on the congressional baseball team in the name of Title IX. I wore a Title IX uniform made by a staffer, instead of the hometown outfit that was traditional. Needless to say, my colleagues were horrified that I wanted to play. They also hated the shirt. That was my last day as a congressional baseball player -- talk about feeling like a skunk at a garden party.

Now Title IX is the toast of the land. It's been in effect long enough to nurture and train these fantastic athletes. Their performances will propel women forward into leadership roles during the next century, because they have shattered the stereotypes of what women can and cannot do.

They have provided little girls with a picture of the millennium woman -- a woman who is self-confident and capable of excelling in anything she chooses to do.

Finally, I hope American women show leadership and take on General Mills. In 1997, it put the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team on the Wheaties box and, last year, the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team. Last week, the U.S. women's soccer team was waiting to hear. Good news: General Mills was being inundated with calls.

We hope General Mills does the right thing, but even if it won't celebrate this victory, we will.

Pat Schroeder, former congresswoman from Colorado, is president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers based in Washington. She wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.

Pub Date: 07/18/99

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