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Jewish World Review July 26, 1999 /13 Av, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Two cheers for women's soccer --- sort of --
HOORAY FOR WOMEN'S soccer! I think.

The recent performance of the U.S. Women's Soccer team leaves me with profoundly mixed feelings.

Let's begin with admiration. The members of this team are wonderful athletes who have worked incredibly hard to achieve their current skill. Michelle Akers has battled chronic fatigue syndrome and endured numerous knee surgeries to become a champion. The others have clearly trained hard, as well.

But it isn't just practicing your dribbling or heading that makes a champion. A great deal of athletic success (or any success, actually) is psychological.

The best example of the mind of a champion was Brandi Chastain. In the quarterfinal match against Germany, just five minutes into the game, Chastain made a huge blunder.

According to National Public Radio, she was near the U.S. goal and was attempting to clear the ball away from a German player when "she accidentally kicked it past her own goalie and into her own net, giving Germany a 1-0 lead."

Now, I don't know about you, but if I had done something like that, I would have been so mortified that they would have had to carry me from the field on a stretcher.

Chastain was not so abashed. Here's her relaxed explanation to NPR: "You know, I thought I was making a good decision until I looked up and saw she was already coming for the ball. And I just turned around, I said, 'Oh, now we've got to score two goals."

Later in the game, Chastain did score a tying goal, and the U.S. team went on to defeat Germany 3-2.

That is called strong-mindedness, and it accounts for success every bit as much as talent. Three cheers for Chastain? No, perhaps only two.

Here's why. Though she showed herself a great athlete, and certainly made the feminists in the TV audience swoon, she seems to have some trouble sorting out what it means to be a feminine, female athlete.

For example, Chastain posed for Gear magazine wearing only a soccer ball and cleats. It's a coy photo (nothing erogenous shows), and yet it demeans her. She told Time magazine that she had "run her butt off" to achieve the body she now so immodestly displays, but that is beside the point.

On this subject, feminists and anti-feminists can agree: To pose nude for mass-circulation magazines is a degrading act. It encourages men to lust after her, not admire her. The two are not mutually exclusive, but it's a matter of emphasis. A lady may be flattered if a man is inflamed at the sight of her -- but she doesn't strip naked to elicit it, either. Sure, exhibitionism is in the air.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are doing their best to sell tickets to "Eyes Wide Shut" by inviting the whole world to their love-making. (They will get a percentage of the gross, which explains a lot.) Still, was it necessary for Chastain to tear off her shirt when the team charged to victory?

The usual stupid people said, "Well, the men do it." Memo to commentators: Men don't have breasts. You can look it up.

If men tore off their shorts as a victory gesture and ran around in jock straps, that would be more comparable to what Chastain did. And people would think they were ridiculous. Perhaps Chastain has a need to exhibit herself. But once again, her display introduced sex where it didn't belong.

The underlying error in so much of the hype surrounding the women's soccer team was the idea that women were now doing exactly what men do in exactly the same way. A commercial showed Mia Hamm throwing Michael Jordan, karate style. Please. Women, even beautiful, strong women like Hamm, are no match for strong men.

That's a fact of life. It doesn't mean women athletes have no place in professional sports. Women's tennis has been profitable for years, and the sports in which women compete at the Olympics are among the most popular spectator events (skating and gymnastics).

It's terrific that women's soccer is now achieving popularity with a wide audience. Kick the hell out of that ball, ladies. But keep your clothes on.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate