Born out of a commencement speech for Barnard College, Wolfpack is a short book by soccer legend Abby Wambach. Three years have passed since her memoir Forward was published, and a lot has happened. Wambach divorced from her wife Sarah (famously photographed kissing Wambach after her team won the 2015 World Cup) and has figured out who she is if she’s not a soccer player. According to her bio, Wambach is “the co-founder of Wolfpack Endeavor, which is revolutionizing leadership development for women in the workplace and beyond.” She’s now re-married with three step-children.
I loved this book much more than Forward and seriously wanted to get up and kick some ass and support my (per)sisters but couldn’t, as I read it all in one sitting in bed and found myself finishing at 1:00AM. It’s a short read sectioned into eight chapters listing rules to be broken and rewritten. But first, Wambach notes that she is writing from a female point of view even though her thoughts apply to everyone. Why does she mention this?
Recently, on a call with a company hiring me to teach about leadership, a man said, “Excuse me, Abby, I just need to ensure that what you present is applicable to men, too.”
I said, “Good question! But only if you’ve asked every male speaker you’ve hired if his message is applicable to women, too.”
So, right away I was stoked. Wambach then introduces Wolfpack by describing where her idea came from. After watching a TED talk about Yellowstone National Park, she learned that in 1995 wolves were reintroduced the environment after numbers were depleted due to hunting. The taboo decision was made when the rangers realized that deer had no natural predator, so they proliferated, killing the vegetation, which affects the riverbanks. Once the wolves were released in the national park, the deer population dropped, which made the vegetation return, which brought the return of other animals and corrected the river issues. Not only that, but “the presence of the wolves drastically changed the behavior of the remaining deer.” Women, Wambach argues, are wolves.
Think about it: women are left out of many spaces of leadership, and what do we get? Rampant sexism, abuses of power and authority, a decrease in social services, and a middle finger to the environment. Women together, can form a wolf pack. OMG, I love this metaphor! The #MeToo movement isn’t women getting “touchy” and calling out abusive men, it’s wolves entering the environment.
Much like in Forward, Wambach discusses pay inequality. Using the example of being thankful that she won an Icon Award from ESPN, standing on stage next to Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning, Wambach pumps the breaks. As the three award winners leave the stage, all Wambach can think about is how Bryant and Manning are leaving with “enormous bank accounts.” Because of the pay gap between male and female soccer players, Wambach has to continue to work. She describes this as a lack of freedom that men get for the same efforts and injuries women athletes sustained. Although Wambach used to be grateful that she was payed at all for playing soccer, she now realizes that female gratitude is a way to keep women “in line.” Using an assertion, example, and analyzing her example proved to me that Wambach is more organized in her communication that she was three years ago.
I also learned new ways that women are being oppressed. By not giving women the chance to fail, the world doesn’t give them the change to succeed. Gender biases prevent women from even thinking of being leaders:
We’ve been living by the old rules that insist that a woman must be perfect before she’s worthy of showing up. Since no one is perfect, this rule is an effective way to keep women out of leadership preemptively.
Although some of you may be nodding along, it had never occurred to me that men are given the space to fail. We see their failures as funny, endearing, or part of the growing process. But women must already be exactly what is needed, or she won’t be a contender. If women create more spaces for other women to fail, we’d actually be building women up. Wambach’s supporting example of attempting to be a sports commentator after she retired from professional soccer is short, but makes its point, and that’s part of the magic of this book.
Like many women, I’ve heard tales of how women are bitchy, or horrible bosses, or will nag you to death. There is a part of me deep inside that doesn’t know how to feel around other women. I’ve been working on that by purposely making friendships with women, believing them outright, and encouraging them even if I feel some doubt. Wambach points out she, too, has been pitted against other women. She argues:
Maintaining the illusion of scarcity is how power keeps women competing for the singular [token women] seat at the old table, instead of uniting and building a new, bigger table.
Holy shit, friends. A BIGGER TABLE. Even when I was in grad school for creative writing we competed against each other, as if there aren’t infinity magazines and presses out there willing to publish fiction. It may sound odd to hear about the highest professional soccer goal scorer in history; I mean, she’s #1. But she is actually a great person to listen to because no one in soccer does it alone: teammates, coaches, trainers, cheers from the benched girls who participate at practice, the people who drove the bus and made the meals. Only by raising all women up can one woman make a goal. Wambach has added a “new rule” that has changed my thinking about relationships with other women.
All eight of Wambach’s new rules are amazing and easy to understand, and I hope you consider buying this book for the young women in your life who are about to graduate high school or college, grown women considering a career change, heck, even mothers, who are in the most competitive “sport” I can think of: “best mommy.”