Megan Rapinoe Means Business, and She's Got Gloria Steinem on Her Side

Summer Wilson | Battle Cry Media
Summer Wilson | Battle Cry Media

If anyone deserves a standing ovation in 2019, it's Megan Rapinoe. The 34-year-old soccer superstar brought the crowd to their feet as she walked on stage for a conversation about gender equality with the one and only writer, activist, and organizer Gloria Steinem. The duo was met with enthusiasm by an audience of Luna Bar employees who gathered in the company's Emeryville, CA, office auditorium for the latest in their Luna Voices speaker series. Steinem had the pleasure of kicking off the program with a discussion here back in February and joked at the Nov. 14 event that she "just couldn't stay away." And even though Megan wonders what she "did to deserve" sharing such a big moment with the 85-year-old feminist icon, she's steadily becoming an icon herself. Several employees brought their daughters to the event, and the crowd was dotted with young girls in soccer jerseys, eyes agog at their lavender-haired hero.

"So often we are trying to convince people what we're worth and then trying to figure out how to actually get it — it's this constant double earning system that we have to go through." — Megan Rapinoe

Luna, which sponsors Rapinoe, took a huge step in helping to close the gender pay gap this year with its Someday Is Now campaign. They led by example, paying Rapinoe and her USWNT teammates the exact difference in the roster bonus that the US Men's National Team would have made: $31,250. And since bringing the USWNT to victory in the Women's World Cup this Summer, Rapinoe is taking her own major steps to fight pay inequality. She is currently involved in a gender discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer, citing consistent unequal pay and working conditions. Just a week before the Luna Voices event, a judge overseeing the lawsuit granted the plaintiffs class status, or the right to sue the federation as a group rather than as individuals — an announcement that earned Rapinoe even more applause as she sat on stage. "We still have a long way to go," she said of the suit. "There is a trial date set, but these things oftentimes end in a settlement, so we'll see if it's a good enough settlement. I don't think anyone prefers to go to court. But [we're] certainly willing to."

It was Rapinoe and Steinem's second time together. Earlier this year, Rapinoe and a few teammates met with Steinem at her office in NYC to soak up her advice on how best to smash the patriarchy. They aren't as unlikely a duo as one might think. Both are inherently fearless and unapologetically vocal when confronting harsh truths, and both have been met with hostility over their outspoken activism. Steinem has been called pretty much every name you can think of since the '60s (she touts the importance of learning to take "b*tch" as a compliment), and Rapinoe's critics have called her "arrogant," "obnoxious," and perhaps most baffling, "unpatriotic." And yet, neither woman has backed down. Neither of them have stopped resisting. Neither of them are likely "going to the f*cking White House," as Rapinoe famously said after her World Cup win.

POPSUGAR got the opportunity to speak to Rapinoe and Steinem after their Luna Voices conversation. Rapinoe opened up about her better-late-than-never introduction to feminism and the "golden nugget" of wisdom she's gotten from Steinem. Likewise, the Ms. magazine founder is encouraged by Rapinoe's tenacity and is adamant that her continued work in the equal pay movement will push the sports industry to level the playing field.

POPSUGAR: Megan, what would you say was your introduction to feminism and gender equality, and when did it click for you?

Megan Rapinoe: Oh man. I feel like it wasn't that long ago. Probably in my mid 20s. . . maybe even a little later than that. I knew about it but didn't have the language for it. My parents are actually conservative, but when I was raised, my mom worked nights and my dad worked in the morning. All the household stuff was split — all of the chores, all of the cooking, all of everything. So I didn't really have the language for it until I was much older and actually learned the words: feminism, and gender roles, and all of these sort of "liberal" views. But it was much later in a sense, and certainly growing up on the team and going through the fights that we have has all been a process of maturity.

PS: After Luna announced that they were paying you and your USWNT teammates that $31K bonus difference, I was able to speak to Kit [Crawford, Luna Bar co-CEO] about the moment that she gave you all the news and what it meant for her. So, I'd love to hear about it from you; what was it like to find out that Luna was doing something so incredible?

MR: It's just nice to be respected and valued appropriately. It was their action behind it: "You don't have to do anything, you actually already did it, and we just think that you're worth it, no strings attached. Bottom line, we just want to support you and get behind you." I think that was the life-changing part for so many of us. I don't know if I've ever had that. So often we are trying to convince people what we're worth and then trying to figure out how to actually get it — it's this constant double earning system that we have to go through. And if you want it to change, you have to get into the nitty-gritty, and that's frustrating at times.

PS: I remember Kit saying you were all shocked that there was nothing attached to it, which makes total sense to me. Nobody just gives you $31,250 for nothing, right?

MR: Exactly, yeah. In that sense it was such a breath of fresh air and such a validation for everything that we do and who we are in the world, that there are people that see it for what it is.

Summer Wilson | Battle Cry Media

PS: It can definitely be frustrating when change seems slow and there seems to be an increasing amount of animosity toward women and women's rights. Gloria, what advice do you have for women who may feel disheartened by the negativity and setbacks? How can we keep pushing and persevering?

Gloria Steinem: First of all, you need each other, because we can't function all by ourselves, and that's what movements are for. But when somebody is calling you bad names . . . I mean, it took me years to understand that when somebody called me a b*tch, I should just say thank you. It can mean you're doing the right thing. I worry more because of all the online hostility. You just have to turn it off. What's online is not real life. We cannot empathize with each other on the page or the screen, only when we're together with all five senses.

PS: What have you learned from each other?

GS: I think we are operating on intuition. But when you [Megan] were in my office in New York, I was just so knocked out to see a woman who knows physically what she can do, that she's good at it, that she can prove it, that she's not apologizing. You're not saying, "It's probably only me, but. . . " and I just value that so much. I think sports is definitely the place where change is most likely to happen, because it's just so clear, and it's physical, mental, emotional, everything. I was totally exhilarated for days after [our first meeting].

MR: Same. We were all buzzing. I mean, it's Gloria Steinem, total legend, and [you've] been so persistent and ever-present in the world — not just this particular space but the world. So we're like, "We need to get this golden nugget of life. What is the secret sauce? How do we go about that?" And she was basically like, "Just do the thing that's in front of you." It doesn't have to be a grand gesture all the time. People get paralyzed feeling like they're not doing enough, or they're not doing a big enough thing. So for [a male employee who earlier asked the pair what men can do to help fight gender inequality] asking, "What can guys do?" You can tell your stupid ass friend to quit saying dumb sh*t about women. That's so impactful. And when you cultivate that intuition in yourself, and educate yourself, and just keep yourself ready to speak up, you get to be free and say what you know to be true. You're there in those moments.