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ATLANTA, 31 OCTOBER 2004
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We Are All 'Soccer Moms'
Shaunti Feldhahn, leaning rightDiane Glass, leaning left
Two days before the much-trumpeted "Day of Decision," "soccer moms" do not seem to carry the influence that they did in the previous two U.S. presidential elections. At least that is the pundits' wisdom—perhaps an oxymoronic turn of phrase. Consider the "she said"–"she said" opinionators Diane Glass and Shaunti Feldhahn, pictured above, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Glass portrays her "formerly party-happy sister now turned soccer mom" as having followed a seemingly inevitable path "with every child, every carpool ride" to Republican life. She is a soccer mom showing signs of having become a "security mom." To the right-leaning Feldhahn, who clearly is leaning right in the picture above, Bill Clinton was soft on terrorism while "Bush chose to get tough, and you know what? I'll take the tough version. So will most soccer moms" (see "Why Are Female Voters Ambivalent about John Kerry?").

We are most interested in the phrase "soccer mom" and its use as a class and lifestyle indicator. For perspective we turned to an article from the previous election cycle in American Demographics (John Fetto, "One Size Doesn't Fit All," May 2000, pp. 44–45). Fetto explains that "the term was coined by political pundits during the 1996 presidential election to identity white suburban mothers with Republican leanings," although the demographic, Georgia State political science professor Henry Carey reminds us, was credited for contributing to successive Clinton victories. It appears that, given Glass's commentary mentioned above and other sources, that the meaning of "soccer mom" has morphed somewhat, or these "soccer moms" themselves have transformed.

And just who are these women? That is tricky to define. One ad executive interviewed in the American Demographics article says "the term 'soccer mom' has become little more than a cliché." Working women with children, for one thing, also live in urban counties—not the suburbs. We think of our recent visit with Soccer in the Streets, a grassroots Atlanta organization bringing soccer to primarily Hispanic and African American communities. Director Jill Robbins says that mothers in Hispanic areas try to attend games when possible, but they do not have cars. In the more-traditional family structures, husbands often control women's movements and lifestyle choices. These are "soccer moms," but seemingly not those swaying elections. They are not white, and they do not drive minivans.

One thread through press coverage of the presidential race has been the seemingly lost concern for women's issues, as even Kerry pledges to "hunt and kill the terrorists wherever they are" (as if he personally could achieve this aim, by rounding up the ol' swift-boat crew). Women's issues are not esoteric and marginal, but relate to health, fairness and day-to-day survival. We get a different picture of women from Democratic pollster Ethel Klein, for example (see "Gender Politics," PBS Online NewsHour, 12 October):

Women are the canary in the coal mine; they have a real sense of what's going on in the economy because they have the low-wage work and low-benefit jobs. And they see what's happening to the price of milk and they watch the credit cards and see how much in debt they are.


The Library Journal (1 May) cites Jennifer Apodaca's Ninja Soccer Moms for its "flighty but feisty heroine" and "frothy, non-stop action."

It seems, as these musings continue, that terminology such as "soccer mom" might obscure more than it illuminates. The phrase's emergence probably says more about the popularity of football in the United States—17.6 million participants in 2002—than it does about political reality. The phrase has given blessed license to satirists such as Jennifer Apodaca, who writes in Ninja Soccer Moms of a widowed, single business owner, Samantha Shaw, who takes on embezzlers from a local soccer club. Intrigue ensues. And we like the humorous take of Barney Saltzberg's Soccer Mom from Outer Space, about the mom who dresses for football matches as a "giant cheerleading pickle." That the joke resonates means that soccer is a cultural phenomenon in the USA—as former National Basketball Association player Bob Bigelow recently told the New York Times, "Soon we'll have prenatal soccer in this country." But the women cheering us on are proving anything but one-dimensional.

Other sources: See the Soccer Moms for Peace (www.soccermomsforpeace.org) website, global in outlook. If we must stereotype this soccer-mom demographic, this is the stereotype we would choose. See also the 15 February 2004 gleanings entry on Paul Muldoon's soccer-mom poetry.