How About Those Women?

As someone who knows next to nothing about soccer, I nonetheless tuned in to the Women’s World Cup Finals last night. And read avidly about it again this morning. The Americans’ 5-2 win over Japan was dazzling, and it may have made me a fan. That and the fact that someone called soccer the next feminist fight.women's world cup 4

There was the matter of the artificial turf installed for the women’s games while the men’s teams always play on natural grass. Made of plastic and rubber, the fake stuff can reach temperatures of 120 degrees and cause burns and unnecessary injuries. A gender discrimination lawsuit filed before the games was withdrawn when it became apparent that FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Federation could not be moved on the subject. At the time, American striker Abby Wambach expressed hope “that the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields – and the tremendous public support received during the effort – marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports.”

And then there’s money. Prize money being divided among the winning women’s team members is $2 million compared to $35 million for the men. Overall prize money reaches ever greater disparities. And don’t even think of the difference between what professional players of different genders make.

women's world cup 3But still, wasn’t it glorious? Four goals in the first 16 minutes? That’s some change from the soccer games I’ve seen that go on and on and wind up with a score of 0-0. And the players – on the men’s teams as well as the women’s – lithe and trim, gracefully flying across the field (yes, I know it’s called the pitch) and managing the ball with unbelievably deft footwork. So much more enjoyable to watch than American football with its bulked-up players padded head to toe to move a few feet on the field or head-butting one another into eventual brain damage.

No wonder that worldwide football, the sport we call soccer, is revered around the world. And isn’t it great that it’s becoming so popular here? Among young girls as well as boys. “I’m so happy for every little girl who dreams about this,” American coach Jill Ellis said in a televised interview after the game.

As Bill Plaschke wrote in today’s Los Angeles Times, “The women’s team, which has long dominated the world stage and now holds the record with three World Cup championships, is celebrated not only as a powerful sports franchise, but as an affirmation of America’s commitment to gender equity on the playing fields.”


When Did My Elbows Get Old?

world cupThe World Cup is under way in Brazil, and even if you have minimal interest in soccer – or football as the rest of the world calls it – information seeps into your consciousness. For example, I am now thinking about Brazil, a country I’ve never visited, and Brazilians, people whose paths have crossed with mine over the years. I know they, like many in South America, are known to place a premium on beauty, especially female beauty. Brazil is one of many Latin American countries that stage a lot of beauty pageants throughout the year. In fact, Brazil has Las Gatas do Paulistäo, a contest to find the best looking female soccer fan in the country.

One time, a man told me of his visit to his wife’s family in Brazil and a conversation he’d had with a group of local men. There are three ways you can tell how old a woman is, he was told: Check out her neck, her hands and her elbows. I know about the neck. Just as Nora Ephron’s hilarious book I Feel Bad About My Neck pointed out, no amount of skin cream and sunblock can stop the neck’s downward slide into wrinkledom. You can try to hide things with a cleverly tied scarf if you’re handy that way or a turtleneck if you can stand the itching. But eventually, you need to give in: This is what my neck looks like, you’ll tell yourself.

As for the hands, they’re a lost cause unless you want to spend the rest of your life indoors, hands perpetually encased in gloves. Someone told me the juice from an aloe plant will remove brown spots on the hands caused by the sun. So I planted one on the deck but have yet to try it. Sounds sticky. And yes, I know sunblock will prevent the spots but how many times a day are you willing to reapply the stuff that gets washed or sweated away? So again, these are my hands; they are hands that work.

lemonBut elbows? How funny. It conjures up images of a guy sidling up alongside a woman and angling his head in a way to glimpse an elbow. I have a dim memory of a pre-teen me reading in a magazine the benefits of rubbing one’s elbows with a lemon half – or two halves, one for each elbow, and doing it. I no longer remember the benefits of the procedure and besides, at SEVENTY-NINE CENTS EACH in the supermarket this summer, there are better things to do with a lemon. Think gin and tonic.

Our cleaning woman back east was from Brazil and would periodically return home to visit family and have plastic surgery. She was a very pretty woman about my same age and the flaws she thought needed fixing were, to my eye, infinitesimal. But their eradication was important to her. When the World Cup was on and Brazil was playing, she’d move from room to room to clean, turning on the nearest television to follow the game and occasionally, when things got interesting, just sit down transfixed. I wished I could be that enthralled with the sport or, in fact, with any sport.

To my mind the best thing about international sports competitions is all the extraneous information that comes across in the commentary provided during down times. One couple I know became so taken during the last World Cup with what they learned about the country of Uruguay they’ve planned a trip there during this year’s event. They’ll get to see the country and also witness reactions of soccer fans with considerably more interest than exhibited by most people here. Someone else told me they could get the same thing by leaning out the window in Queens. But I don’t suppose it would be altogether as satisfying.

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