What that says to a girl or young woman who’s watching, Dittmar added, is “that her role doesn’t have to be a more traditionally feminine, stereotypical role—that in fact, this is a model of the type of woman [she] could become.” She can be valued by the public, in other words, by being assertive, outspoken, and physically strong.
Dittmar believes that seeing women publicly considered viable candidates for the presidency can have the same effect on young girls, and noted that some research has suggested a similar phenomenon at work. She pointed to a study by the University of Notre Dame researchers Christina Wolbrecht and David E. Campbell, which found that in several European countries, when the percentage of female politicians within government increased, women’s and girls’ political engagement increased as well. “Female politicians in democratic nations do function as true role models, inspiring women and girls to be politically active themselves,” they found in 2007.
Women candidates for the presidency, Dittmar added, seem more likely to produce this effect than other women in government. “These women are now on TV a lot more, getting more coverage,” than most women in Congress, she said.
“What I see [the number of women running for president] is the potential to ‘normalize’ women’s place in presidential politics. If you’re a young person, you saw a woman win the popular vote in 2016. You saw six women running [in 2020]. Still in a pool that’s mostly men,” she added. “But that’s significant representation on the [primary debate] stage. For you, a woman running will not be abnormal.” Some scholars have made similar observations about the effects of the candidacy and presidency of Barack Obama on African Americans.
While Dittmar sees parallels between 2019 and 2015—another historical moment when the USWNT had just brought home a World Cup trophy and was greeted with a hero’s welcome, and the prospects for a female president in the near future looked promising—she sees some meaningful differences, too.
In 2015 and 2016, the USWNT’s victory and Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination for the presidency certainly took on a celebratory tone. But in 2017, the national #MeToo reckoning with sexual misconduct against women began; in 2018, a record number of women were elected to the House of Representatives, which many attribute to the election and presidency of Donald Trump, against whom the allegations of sexual misconduct are numerous. In other words, the past few years have lent the present moment “a heightened awareness and saliency of the inequity and the misogyny that women face,” according to Dittmar. She said the difference in the rhetorical climate may account for the increased emphasis on the USWNT’s fight for equal pay in this Women’s World Cup compared to the last. To many women and girls across the country, seeing women athletes demand pay equity and women politicians make serious bids for the presidency “can start to feel like fighting back, or reclaiming power.”