In the women’s game, when the ball hits the back of the net there are two typical celebrations. Either the player who just scored will run to the arms of her teammates that are on the field, or run to the arms of her teammates on the bench. Watching this, a spectator might assume that it’s because women see goals as team efforts, and want to celebrate them as such. However, if we look a little deeper, it’s not hard to see this as partially a product of the standards set for women in society. This is a world where women are often told that their successes are not as important or as great as that of men. And, as a corollary, that they shouldn’t celebrate with as much enthusiasm.
So, if the standard celebrations are pretty low energy, is that because women generally just celebrate differently? Or is it because they’ve been encouraged to keep it low? Every league has its rules on celebrating. The National Football League can fine players for celebrating in a different way than what they define as being a “nice celebration.” People will complain no matter what the circumstance is, however, some gender-norms are also played into the women’s league.
Now, National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) fans are accustomed to watching great celebrations from players like Samantha Kerr or Megan Rapinoe.
And there have also been examples of great team celebrations, like the US Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) celebrations in the London 2012 Olympics. But these are generally the exceptions rather than the norm. So the question stands, why do we almost always see the same celebrations?
To understand the conversation surrounding goal celebrations, we need to take a look into the dynamics of women’s sports teams. Back in 2007 Hope Solo was banished from team USA after publicly calling her coach out. It’s not hard to see a double standard at work here. When a man calls a coach or teammate out it is often seen as a bold choice. Contentious and maybe even disruptive, but well within the bounds of normal behavior. However, when a woman does it, she is banished from the team and marked as too outspoken in the women’s soccer community.
It may well be that muted celebrations are a product of this climate. Don’t be aggressive, or loud. Don’t call too much attention to yourself. No one will complain about a group hug with your teammates or a pat on the back and a few high fives, so just stick with that.
As noted above, there are some exceptions to this rule. Sam Kerr is famous for her backflips, and Megan Rapinoe is often seen dancing on the field after a goal and encouraging her teammates to join in on the fun. Even on the national team back in 2011 she picked a field mic up and sang, “Born in the USA!” after her goal against Colombia. And in the 2012 Olympics, the USWNT was famous for their team celebrations. They did the worm, a salute, and even somersaults. And other national teams have occasionally got in on the fun. But generally, this sort of thing remains uncommon.
And that’s unfortunate. Kerr’s backflips are instantly turned into GIFs that get shared all around women’s soccer blogs and Twitters. The women’s soccer community loves to see big, fun celebrations. We can all take the game seriously, while still remembering that it’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun. And there are plenty of girls out there watching, who might see these joyful goal celebrations and get excited to score themselves.