The student blog for Drake University first year seminar entitled Visual Politics

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chastain's Defining Moment

The 1999 Women’s World Cup forever changed the face of women’s sports in America and all over the world. An extremely talented, dedicated, and hardworking squad of American female soccer players led our country to gold in the final match played in Pasadena, California. Scoreless after regulation and overtime, the game went into penalty kicks. Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, and finally Brandi Chastain each put away their penalty kick to win over China who missed their third shot. As an impressionable eight year old at this time, I wanted to be Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain and play soccer for the national team. This event and this photo specifically, changed our culture’s tradition views of women and the sports they play. This game exposed women’s athletics to the world. After the final was televised live, this photo appeared on the cover of magazines all over the country. This photo becomes iconic because of the moment in history it represents and also the controversy it led up to.

When Americans look at this photo, they often apply social codings to it. Each person looks at it and interprets it differently. A common reaction to a photo like this is one of some shock and maybe judgment. Up until this point, traditional views of women and their roles in society did not support activities like sports. Professional female sports are still not well recognized or even close to being as popular as male professional sports. Most women are expected to give up athletics after high school or college and follow a more traditional career and lifestyle. Although many women want to follow that tradition by choice, it is still possible to continue a career in athletics and follow a somewhat traditional lifestyle. It’s not uncommon for a player on the Women’s National soccer team to be married or have a child. These women learned the balance between both extremes. There are also transcriptions attached that evoke emotion from the viewer. A strong emotion is the strength conveyed by her body shape and the fact that she has her shirt off showing her, frankly, ripped muscles. It also fuses the ideas of daily American lives of playing soccer, which millions of young children (male and female) play, and watching high level sports on television such as professional football or basketball. This creates a relationship between the viewer and how they think about women’s soccer. In a way it changes it to a positive relationship because of the success the national team achieved, especially on US soil.

On the other hand, it created controversy. Although this isn’t a hot topic in politics, it did cause people to think and form an opinion on women’s roles and traditions. Seeing a female rip her shirt off in front of the largest crowd a women’s event has ever had, is something that doesn’t happen every day. One end of the argument thought she should’ve acted in a more moderate or conservative way in her response to winning the world cup. On the other hand, she did win the most prestigious tournament in the world for women’s soccer. In my opinion she did nothing wrong. The emotions she must have felt would be completely overwhelming and incredible. It’s very natural to get excited and want to run around and celebrate. Although this controversy wasn’t widely argued, it did result as a product of this photo. The iconic status of this image is still intact for our generation but it is slowly becoming less and less well known with younger generations. For me, this will always remind me of why I started playing sports and the inspiration that team was to thousands of young females.

Megan Fisher

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