Sexism 101: Sports Edition

I have to admit that I am really into sports. I like doing sports, exercising, and I also pay attention to a lot of sports arrangements. One thing that has struck me after a while is that the standards for sports clothing varies a lot inbetween the different sports. In some sports it's preferred that you compete in tights and a singlet, or shorts and a looser shirt, while the martial arts have their own loose-fitting white suits, and so on. Frankly, I could go on forever.

Reasonably enough, the standards are determined based on different factors, and mostly aim at making the athletes' job easier. It's obvious that people have to dress differently in winter and summer sports. And there's usually some sort of protection thrown on when the point is beating up your opponent. Which is why boxers have to fight in skirts. Wait, what?

No, I'm kidding, boxers don't have to compete in skirts. Unless they have two X-chromosomes. I guess I haven't yet mentioned sports with one standard for men and one for women, but there are quite a lot of those. Well, this particular piece of comedy is still only a suggestion, put forward by the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA). AIBA figured that it was time to do some changes to women's boxing, since they'll be allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time this year. I mean, you can't have one step forward without taking two steps back, right? It doesn't really make things better that AIBA's reasoning went along the lines of "Well, we need a way to separate the women from the men, so they don't look so similar hurr durr".

This is sadly not the only recent setback for women in sports. Just last year, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) decided that they would force women to wear skirts in higher competions to make the sport more "attractive". Players were told that they could wear shorts underneath the skirt – provided that the skirt was longer than the shorts. Muslim players were told that they could have long, tight pants underneath their skirts. There were no changes made to the rules regarding men's attire, and the proposal was met with so much opposition that it was eventually pulled.

What these suggestions have in common is that they do nothing to improve the conditions for the athletes. It would be hard to argue that a skirt makes it easier to move, or make you more aerodynamic than shorts. Badminton is also such a fast sport that wearing a skirt and pants would probably be very disadvantageous for the player. The BWF tried to argue that they were merely going in the same direction as tennis, were many women wear skirts. The key difference that they've missed is that female tennis players can choose what to wear in most championships.

And that's not even mentioning how degrading this is for women who are trying to compete professionally, and want to be taken seriously. The message that has been sent out to them is that people don't pay attention to female athletes unless they are more feminine, or attractive. As if running around red-faced and sweating buckets is more sexy if you put on a skirt. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against women who feel comfortable competing in a skirt. But forcing it through as a standard – without good arguments – is just ridiculous. It seems as if the governing bodies aren't trying to shine a light on their own sports – just their athletes' butts.

I don't think it's a coincidence that these to suggestions have come up at almost the same time, either. In a few months the London Olympics kick off and everyone is looking for a way to draw more audience. Some sports are not growing very fast, and the governing bodies feel that they have to apply changes to get sponsors. Representatives from the BWF have even stated earlier that they have encouraged a "more attractive presentation" of badminton – from the female players, of course. And when mere encouragement isn't enough to pressure women into skirts, it's so much easier to just make it the law. The officials have also tried defendeding themselves by claiming that there's nothing sexist or misogynistic about the new rules, even though they haven't tried to make men's badminton more comfortable to look at. But you can hardly expect mankinis and speedos from a panel with 23 men and only 2 – two – women.

Of course, everything in the world is not falling apart at the same time. The suggestions from AIBA and BWF have met a lot of criticism and ridicule, and will hopefully never take effect. There are even some improvements in other sports, like female beach volleyball players not being restricted to bikinis anymore. Of course, there's still the idea that you can force women into one strict standard without any complaints, and let men wear whatever they feel is right. Because women can't decide on their own, and won't be popular unless they reach some indeterminable level of femininity. It's hard to imagine that we'll stop having these setbacks until that attitude is completely gone.

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Ine is a second-year university student who spends most of her time far north and in really, really bad weather. She has been interested in science for most of her life, and the enthusiasm for critical thinking has tagged along almost inevitably, which means that she often grumbles about creationism and other kinds of woo. When she has some spare time, Ine does taekwondo, draws and reads.

1 Comment

  1. April 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm —

    This sort of nonsense seems to pop up constantly in various fringe sports.  It's always struck me as both unbelievably sexist and counterproductive.  Ignoring the sexist aspect of the whole thing for a second, is there even any evidence that it works?  In a world where anyone with a computer (or phone) can see good looking women (or men) at any time, are people who don't care about Badminton really going to tune in just to see attractive girls?
    Requiring participants in your sport to wear anything beyond what is necessary for saftety or indentification calls into question the legitimacy of the whole sport…  The athletes should wear whatever they can compete at the highest possible level in.  And the double standard where no one seems to much care what male athletes are wearing (unless it's good old boys complaining about baggy uniforms) is so absurd that I don't know how the governing body of any sport can pretend it's even remotely an acceptable practice.

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