There are few sporting events I get as excited about as the World Cup. I played soccer in high school, in the NCAA, and for five years post-college, including two glorious years in the Golden Gate Women’s League, Premier Division. What the U.S. Men’s National Team has accomplished is extraordinary, with a second consecutive appearance in the knock-out round and incredible teamwork and fortitude against three formidable opponents.
Only one thing mars my enjoyment of the World Cup, and it’s the absence of one small word. Just a tiny qualifier in a statistic that really should be corrected as our team moves forward. So I ask the American commentators, please stop announcing that Landon Donovan is the “all-time U.S. leading goal scorer.” He is not. With 57 international goals, he’s not even in the Top Five.
The all-time U.S. leading goal scorer is Abby Wambach, with 167 international goals, followed by Mia Hamm (158), Kristine Lilly (130), Michelle Akers (105) and Tiffeny Milbrett (100). In fact, Abby Wambach is the all-time leading goal scorer in the world, among all soccer players, male or female.
One could argue that the men’s game may be a lower scoring game than the women’s, with 12 women having 100 or more international goals and only one man (Iran’s Ali Daei), or perhaps women’s soccer careers simply last longer, allowing them to play more games on the international stage. After all, the U.S. Women’s National Team generally goes a lot farther in the Olympics and the World Cup than our men do, so of course they would have more opportunities to put points on the board. For a more direct comparison of the statistics, however, consider this: four current or past members of the U.S. Women’s National Team are among the top 10 goal scorers in the world, including #1 and #2, whereas our highest scoring male player is #20.
I don’t want to take anything away from what Landon Donovan has achieved. It is commendable. But every time he sits there, silently allowing that phrase to be rattled off – “all-time leading U.S. goal scorer” – without pointing out that he is the all-time leading men’s goal scorer, it does take away from what Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm have achieved – total world domination.
In sports like tennis and gymnastics, where the U.S. women clearly outstrip their male counterparts, no one talks about the men’s statistics without that clarifier. Why is soccer different? Why are almost all other sports different? Why do people consistently claim that Mike Krzyzewski is the winningest coach in college basketball when he is still 115 wins behind Pat Summit, with a significantly lower win percentage (his .763 to her .841)? How hard would it be to simply slip the word “men’s” into the conversation, if nothing else, in the interest of accuracy?
The issue of establishing women’s achievements as “women’s” but allowing the male position to be the assumed baseline goes far beyond sports. When Sonia Sotomayor was being confirmed for the Supreme Court, members of Congress repeatedly asked her (repeatedly) if, as a Latina, she would be able to remain neutral. I don’t recall ever in the history of confirmation hearings, anyone asking, “As a white male, do you think you’ll be able to remain neutral when deciding issues of law?” Given the decisions of this week, maybe they should have!
We have to stop assuming that the male position is objective, unbiased, nonpartisan, with no need to be qualified as male. All one has to do is notice that the (mostly) rich, white men in charge have done nothing to punish the (entirely) rich, white men who crashed our economy — and in fact, took steps to ensure that their financial advantages be maintained — to see that men are anything but objective when it comes to assessing the achievements and crimes of other men, who happen to look exactly like them.
I see it consistently in social media, particularly on LinkedIn, a business-focused site where men are more active in discussions than on other sites. They will state their views and opinions as absolute fact, ignoring the reality that they are only expressing the male opinion. This came up in a recent interaction where some people were talking about how to solve a serious workplace problem and I suggested a group meeting, where it could be addressed most efficiently, with consensus among all involved.
One respondent replied: “No one in the workplace wants more meetings! Absolutely no one! When you suggest holding more meetings, it negates every other thing that comes out of your mouth.” Hmm…it negates every other thing I say. Nope, no hyperbole there.
I pointed out to the commenter that just because he doesn’t believe a meeting can solve the problem, it doesn’t mean no one does. In fact, across all studies, it has been proven that women in the workplace prefer more open communication and collaboration and that this leads to better results for the company. He then told me I was dead wrong and left the conversation.
All of these things are related. The man who insists that “no one wants meetings!” and the Congressman who asks Justice Sotomayor if she can be neutral (as if he is) and the sportscaster who fails to accurately state that Landon Donovan is the all-time leading U.S. men’s scorer are all saying the same thing – we are the baseline, and the rest of the world has to conform to us.
It starts with the language we speak. If we are always going to refer to women in the corporate world as “the female CEO of such-and-such company,” then we have to say, “the male CEO.” Who knows, maybe with that descriptor, the markets will become aware of how often men fail, and stop seeing manhood as a requirement for the job.
The male position is not the neutral position. It has a point of view, the male point of view, which not everyone shares, and which is not always superior. Either clarify everyone or clarify no one, otherwise it sends that message that one group is the norm and the other is a deviation, even when “the other” is more successful in the field.
And next time someone on national TV refers to Landon Donovan as the all-time leading goal scorer for the U.S., it would be great if he displayed some of the dignity and grace we know he possesses and say, “All-time leading men’s scorer. There are seven U.S. women higher on the list than me.”
Valerie Alexander is the author of Happiness as a Second Language, a #1 Seller on Amazon in both the Happiness and Self-Help categories. She runs workshops and seminars for companies and organizations seeking to maximize their results by making happiness a priority and supporting advancement for women.Join the Speak Happiness community to get two free workbooks, “One Day of Fluent Happiness” and “How to Find Happiness in the Workplace Every Day,” as well as the monthly Speak Happiness newsletter.