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You don’t have to be sexist to hate on Megan Rapinoe but it probably helps

What is it with us Brits and Megans and Meghans?

Last summer an actress married a prince and as a nation we were positively smitten with the bride. Magazines were full of gushing articles detailing her style and highlighting her beauty. She was a 21st century Grace Kelly. But soon after, the backlash began and now you would be hard pushed to find any love at all in the media for Meghan Markle. She is pushy and demanding, so they say. She is a nightmare.

One year on another American female grabbed our attention. Prior to the Women’s World Cup in France, many of us were already aware of Megan Rapinoe when, in 2016, she became the first white athlete to take the knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. Then shortly into the tournament, a video emerged where the 34-year-old US winger insisted she had no intention of “going to the f***ing White House if we win”. This extended on a long-running stance taken by the player against an administration that she felt had an opposing view concerning equality and inclusivity to her own.

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Anyone taking on Donald Trump is always going to gain a large tract of support in the UK yet with Rapinoe our reflections of her felt more akin to intrigue rather than admiration.

That’s because, running concurrently with this narrative, was another that suggested the American squad was ‘arrogant’.  In their opening fixture against Thailand, their celebration of all thirteen goals was deemed to lack class or humility and then later, of course, came Alex Morgan’s storm in an imaginary tea cup and because human nature decrees it preferable to focus our ire on individuals rather than a collective Morgan and Rapinoe were singled out for criticism. With Morgan the explanation for this is self-evident and – for the most part – the same can be said of Rapinoe due to her activism placing her firmly in the spotlight. Fairly or otherwise each came to represent the perception that the USWNT were somewhat full of themselves.

At this juncture, our interest and loud reproval of Rapinoe can be made sense of, whether you agree with it or not. With World Cup mania taking hold in this country the Reign FC star had become the public face of American sporting imperiousness and if running down the president is guaranteed to unite pretty much all of us that ethos is true ten times over in our disdain for the win-at-all-cost mentality that is so ingrained in US culture. Many of us recall the 1999 Ryder Cup in Brookline, with the bellicose whoops and chest-thumping patriotism. They even call their national sport’s championship the ‘World Series’ for goodness sake.

We Brits shy from such hyperbole and pumped-up belief. Indeed it goes directly against sensibilities that we still hold dear. It is an array of self-deprecating sensibilities that run through us like the word ‘underdog’ in a stick of rock.

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So the American team rubbed us up the wrong way with their brash confidence and Megan Rapinoe – pink hair and all – came to symbolise their perceived traits, which is why people like Piers Morgan felt the need to get all faux-angry at her for celebrating a goal, later alleging that she has a ‘stupendous ego’. That seems to be the nub of it. That should be the end of it.

Except that’s not the end of it. In fact, it only feels like the start.

Because since the World Cup ended Rapinoe has received condemnation online for stating ‘I deserve this’ on a parade float while swigging champagne and holding aloft a trophy. She was widely rebuked last week when a video emerged of her signing a ball for a fan without acknowledging him in the process. Since the World Cup ended negative attention on her has escalated to the point of it becoming almost an industry in itself and now it no longer feels like she is unfairly taking the rap for a conceited team ethic; it’s become personal. She is being made into a hate figure.

Subsequently, a majority have sprung to her defence and a battleground has formed on social media which, frankly, is the worst possible place for any battleground devoid as it is of nuance.

So it is that discourse surrounding Megan Rapinoe now centres exclusively on her gender. Not her footballing achievements. Not her rare and brave activism. Her gender. And as understandable as that is concerning those who stand alongside her that still feels counter-productive in the great scheme of things, even regressive.

Regardless, while those who seek to dismiss Rapinoe are seemingly entirely men – and ‘lads’ at that in the main – the charge of misogyny stands, which has led to a comeback summed up in a tweet from @FreddieWhite23.

It reads: “People jumping on the ‘men hate all women’ because they can’t stand the arrogant Megan Rapinoe need to get a grip. Stop using someone’s sex as an excuse to stir up trouble. I think many male sports stars are d****, we are allowed to say women are, if they act it.”

There may well be substance here. After all, the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristian Ronaldo – renowned poseurs and arrogant to boot – do not solely receive acclaim but a good deal of criticism too. Yet it is the tone that differs; the tone is everything.

When either of the above display their clear self-affection the response is usually ‘what a div’: ‘what a k**b’. With Rapinoe there is hatred, either lurking or apparent. There is a hostility that unnerves.

Trawling through the castigation of Rapinoe is a dispiriting experience and leaves only one conclusion: that you don’t necessarily have to be sexist to find her off-putting, but it probably does help.

What is it with us Brits and Megans and Meghans? Well, for starters they are both names of women who in their own ways are rocking their worlds. Sadly that might be the most pertinent explanation of all.

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Article title: You don’t have to be sexist to hate on Megan Rapinoe but it probably helps

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