For the First Time in My Life, ‘Equal Pay’ Is No Longer a Hollow Chant

In a new deal, the men’s and women’s national soccer teams will be paid an equal rate for the first time in history. And I feel... hopeful?

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For the First Time in My Life, ‘Equal Pay’ Is No Longer a Hollow Chant
Photo:GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)

The idea of “equal pay” has always seemed more like a pea than a promise to me.

As a little girl, I obsessed over Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Princess and the Pea.” In classic girl-meets-asshole fare, the prince announces he is entitled to marry a pure-blooded princess after discovering that one-too-many fake princesses have thrown themselves at him, and decides to put his suitors to the test. The Queen mother then decrees that a single pea buried under twenty mattresses and another twenty feather beds will reveal the true princess, for only real damsels were delicate enough to be injured by such a thing.

For nearly three decades, the idea of “equal pay” has felt exactly like that annoying fucking pea: How could such a little phrase carry so much gravity—and so much hope—yet induce so much dread? We’ve long known that equal pay has been a possibility. It was out there somewhere, taunting us. We’ve seen it achieved in other countries. We’ve seen it slapped on bills, acts, and national holidays. We’ve even seen it scrawled on posters alongside Rosie the Riveter at a seemingly endless stream of rallies. Still, we could not get through the piles of bureaucratic bullshit within our government or overcome our societal indifference towards women. As of this week, however, equal pay has become a reality for a small group of women athletes.

New collective bargaining agreements approved by the United States Soccer Federation and its men’s and women’s national teams stipulate that the women’s team will be paid the same amount for game appearances and tournament wins as the men’s team, according to The New York Times. Starting with the 2022 and 2023 World Cups, after the Soccer Federation takes its cut, the prize money won by both teams will be pooled and split equally, regardless of gender. These women might now make $450,000 in a single season, at least.

Within the sporting world, US women’s soccer is a bit of an outlier. In opposition to most women’s teams—WNBA players make on average about $126,000 to the men’s $5.4 million—the women’s national soccer team has far more viewers and championships than the men’s team (four to the men’s zero). Yet, while this week’s news is an exciting first step, there’s simply no guarantee that we’ve found the blueprint for equal pay across industries.

Just as the prince would’ve very much liked to have a “real princess” to wed, I would’ve very much liked to have grown up in a world where the conversation about equal pay didn’t require a conversation at all. For the next generation, and perhaps my own children someday, the world I always dreamed about will be a reality—or, more likely, one single, teeny step closer to that reality.

Unfortunately, this historic win is also happening while we fight for bodily autonomy, which for some women (many of which are women of color), means literally fighting for their lives. As conservatives continue to violate women’s right to make their own decisions about what is best for their bodies and livelihood, forcing underserved women to scrounge up money and travel across state lines to get healthcare, achieving equal pay is just one of too-many rungs on an extremely tall ladder leading to the one, simple thing women are asking for: Basic decency and respect. It’s not lost on me that in 2022, one—JUST ONE—organization has gotten its shit together to make pay equity happen. And worse, that it only happened after years of public relations crises and disastrous litigation in which the US Soccer Federation actually argued that women soccer players, who worked more, played more, and won more, were not doing equal work to the men.

While we wait for other leagues and industries to catch up, we can at the very least celebrate the women of US soccer who have, at long last, forced their governing body to cough up those pesky missing 17 cents. As for “The Princess and the Pea?” Fuck the prince and the queen. That poor girl deserved a good night’s sleep. Just as, regardless of sex, regardless of gender, and regardless of sport, we all deserve the right to fair and equal compensation. One pea down, only about a few thousand (million?) more to go.

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