Megan Rapinoe: A New Leader for the Resistance?

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(Sports Illustrated is selling this cover. Get yours and start your own women’s soccer memorabilia library!) 

My lesbian love affair with soccer began with Bend It Like Beckham. I admired the way that the protagonists pursued their dreams (albeit clandestinely)  despite all the familial and social obstacles they faced. Nowadays, I connect this paradigm to Megan Rapinoe’s refusal to yield to the expectation of honoring the national anthem as well as visiting the White House (or the f*ucking White House as she emphatically puts it).

Even as a child, Megan also harbored a passion for soccer. For her, soccer is intimately intertwined with her identity. It provided her with an outlet and escape from rural living. Today soccer has allowed her to create a platform consisting of all the issues she cares about, including resistance, revolt and anti-patriotism.

Rapinoe inspires fellow celebrity figures, especially in the realm of sports, to dispute and subvert the notion that players should keep their beliefs off the field.

Rapinoe inspires fellow celebrity figures, especially in the realm of sports, to dispute and subvert the notion that players should keep their beliefs off the field. A refusal to do so triggers consequences such as the harassment Colin Kaepernick endured for kneeling during the national anthem. Since male sports are perceived as more “serious”, women have to be loud in order to be heard and make national news.

Women are often seen as sensitive and complacent, with the expectation of yielding to male authority rather than shaking things up. Rapinoe’s rejection of this behavioral code is so subversive because it’s socially dangerous. It also emphasizes the issue of safety and sexism in the White House. Congruent with her passion for women’s rights and denouncement of sexism, she spoke in favor of equal pay for female athletes and at large, an issue that doesn’t gain enough publicity in today’s political battlefield. The US women’s soccer team as a whole even sued in order to gain as much financial compensation as their male counterparts, especially since they outperform them.

One of the first stories that come up in a “Megan Rapinoe” search on the internet is her dropping the F-bomb on TV. To me, this demonstrates her passion and outrage. It’s also a strategic move, as she’s gaining more publicity for this “taboo”. Her repeated television appearances display her desire to serve as an activist through her passion for soccer.  On CNN, she called Donald Trump out explicitly for his hateful and discriminatory rhetoric “your message is excluding people”. She became an unofficial spokesperson for anti-discrimination resistance when she also mentioned other minorities suffering under trump’s administration, proving that she’s as intersectional as she is driven to cause a shift in the current paradigm.

In a CNN interview, Rapinoe discussed the issue of responsibility, obviously mentioning that Trump maintains the most responsibility as leader of the US, but also discussing a more subtle responsibility that Americans as a whole have access to if they truly want to create change.

Rapinoe’s views on resistance and dismantling heteronormative and male systems of power are also very provocative in comparison to the rest of the American population. My favorite quote of hers from her interview on CNN, and one that everyone should remember is: “protest is not comfortable, ever”.

When we think about Stonewall, and the lesbians that brought us to where we are today, we must remain aware of the present. These tales of lesbian revolts do not exist in a vacuum or solely in the past. As lesbians, we have to resist every single day, even walking down the street in a non-feminine outfit or holding hands with our partners. Megan’s protest wasn’t implicit or subtle, it was designed to start a wildfire – and it has.

Megan’s protest wasn’t implicit or subtle, it was designed to start a wildfire – and it has.

What does protest mean in the internet age? There is no Stonewall, because police are no longer raiding gay bars, but homophobia and sexism are alive and well. The way to tackle them, Megan suggests, is to make people uncomfortable. That sensation of discomfort and unease is what causes viewers to process and maybe even alter their beliefs by comparing them to a wider paradigm. 

Megan is far from alone in her struggle towards equality. Her girlfriend Sue Bird published an editorial defending her other half, and has some admiring words for her: “you cannot shake that girl.” We noticed the fearless aspect of Megan’s personality, as well as her strength and emotional stability in dealing with all of this criticism.

Bird continues to praise Megan, stating that she’s “at the peak of her powers” and empathizes that she’s “killing it.” Her editorial is essentially a love letter to her girlfriend, which makes us all swoon as well as rally behind both of them. It takes courage to stand up for a loved one who’s being demolished in a public arena, and Bird definitely has a lot of chutzpah (she’s also Jewish, fun fact). 

Resistance is not simply individual acts of defiance, but rather cultivating an identity that directly shakes up the status quo. Resistance also means sacrifice. When a celebrity or sports star uses their public image to promote potentially subversive messages, they’re shunned and potentially can even lose their position. Megan took these risks when she followed her moral compass, and we are so grateful that she did. One individual act of resistance can cause a chain reaction.

When your heroes begin to resist, you begin to rethink your sense of right and wrong. I know so many lesbians that thankfully altered their opinions on protest after watching the fallout from resistant acts on television. Megan is contributing to the resistance in a strategic and unapologetic manner, inspiring us to do the same.