Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And in this corner, in the red skirt…

An update to AMA’s post regarding the introduction of women’s boxing as an event in the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games:

This week, the AP reported on the issue of skirts. Skirts, you ask? What about them? In perhaps one of the most ludicrous headlines of the week, the International Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) announced that they would be meeting in January to decide whether female boxers participating in the 2012 London Summer Olympics would be required to wear skirts instead of shorts. The official announcement came as a response to the recent media rumors suggesting that female boxers might face a skirt requirement. It turns out that the rumors were semi-true. The IABA states that the January conference will be an opportunity to discuss the issue and draw up recommendations. In response to the controversy, the IABA has defended itself by claiming that skirts would give the female boxers a chance to “stand out” from the male competitors.

The suggestion that skirts would give female boxers an opportunity to “stand out” from the male boxers is not only ludicrous, but also offensive. The IABA’s announcement has understandably met quite a bit of criticism. A female boxer who is expected to compete in the 2012 Games responded: “I won’t be wearing a miniskirt,” Ireland’s three-time world champion Katie Taylor told the BBC last week. “I don’t even wear miniskirts on a night out, so I definitely won’t be wearing miniskirts in the ring.” The AP noted that the announcement from the IABA was similar to when, in 2004, the FIFA president suggested that female soccer players should wear “tighter shorts” as a way to make the sport more popular. The suggestion was ignored, but the premise is very much the same as the proposal at hand: women should look sexy even when playing sports.

The Huffington Post reported on the IABA’s announcement and explored other sports in which females are traditionally expected to wear skirts (i.e., field hockey, tennis, golf, etc.). Interestingly enough, even female equestrian riders used to wear skirts in competition, requiring a sidesaddle riding style. The Huffington Post ended their article by posing a question: “Are skirts a liberating, more comfortable alternative to other active wear? Or a remnant of unenlightened views on women's relationship to sports?”

For me, whether or not a female wears shorter shorts or tighter skirts isn’t a question of liberation or an opportunity to “stand out.” The IABA’s announcement that they are going to have to decide whether female athletes are going to be required to wear skirts is what truly angers me. Female athletes should be allowed to wear shorts or skirts, whatever they feel they need to compete at their best. These athletes do not need a committee to choose their outfit. And to suggest that female boxers need something to help them "stand out" is simply disrespectful. The point is that the IABA would never have this discussion about male boxers’ uniforms. It’s a double standard that should enrage fans of boxing, and fans of all women’s sports.


Caitlin said...

This makes me sick. It also reminds me of the all-women's baseball league during the 1940s, which was depicted in the movie, A League of Their Own. The women in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League were required to wear dress-like uniforms which seemed to be a combination of a traditional baseball jersey and a dress. This resulted in many a skinned thigh as the women still slid in to bases in order to avoid being tagged out. Clearly, it seems that the skirts were used more to attract spectators' sexual attraction-functionally, they seemed dangerous.

Hopefully this proposition is thrown out quickly. Otherwise, I hope to somehow voice my outrage at the clearly sexist motives voiced by those who proposed it.

Rose Sawyer said...

Portrayal of female athletes as sex symbols first, and athletes second, begins at a young age.

According to the 2004 article [1], "Constructions of Gender in Sport: An Analysis of Media Guide Cover Photographs," by Jo Ann Buysse and Melissa Embser-Herbert, "within the arena of sport . . . traditional definitions of femininity and masculinity have established and maintained gender differentiation." The authors' research -- which considered the portrayal of female intercollegiate athletes in college promotional brochures -- found extensive "gender differentiation in the depiction of women and men [intercollegiate] athletes." In 1997, for example, female intercollegiate athletes were less likely to be depicted on court and in action than their male counterparts.

The authors concluded that men are presented as "true athletes," sweaty and active, while women are presented as pretty sex symbols first, and true athletes second. This marginalization of female athleticism reinforces male dominance and control of sport. Sport is a metaphor for, and often a microcosm of, of human society. The depiction of men's sport as "real" and women's sport as decorative reinforces patriarchal notions in other areas of life.

The fact that well-respected institutions normalize anti-feminist ways of thinking during formative college years explains (though fails to excuse) the persistence of those ways of thinking well into adulthood.


Megan said...

This is obviously wrong in so many ways. It is kind of like the overtly sexist comment made by the Canadian senator. Thereafter, the women heading the charter movement exhaled--it is easier to fight against something when you are absolutely certain that it is prejudicial. More subtle, and perhaps more difficult to confront are everyday "dress codes" that women adhere to without a thought. For instance, what of gender-specific dress codes in law firms, sexy Halloween costumes, and revealing sorority wear? While an unofficial expectation is more subtle that an overt rule against shorts, it arguably accomplishes the goal more effectively. After all, women don't "challenge" the law firm dress code or the sexy Halloween requirement as readily as these women boxers are challenging the skirt ordinance.

S said...

I echo everyone's frustration and disappointment with the way women are treated in sports. Rose Swayer's comment that "Portrayal of female athletes as sex symbols first, and athletes second, begins at a young age" really struck a cord with me. A League of Their Own is a good example of women being treated as sex symbols first, athletes second.

This blog post reminds me of Brandi Chastain and the controversy that surrounded her conduct in the 1999 Women's World Cup in Pasadena, California. Many will recall that after scoring the winning penalty kick against China, Chastain pulled her shirt off and fell to her knees in excitement. [1] The image of Chastain on her knees, fists in the air, shirt in hand, and an expression of extraordinary happiness made its way to cover of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and Time. [2]. I recall the event when it happened, and what struck me as odd at the time were the comments made regarding her pulling off her shirt. A lot of people had a lot to say about how un-lady like it was for her to pull her shirt off at such a widely publicized event. I did not understand why this was a controversy at all. As I understood soccer, people usually played without shirts in the first due to how warm one gets from the high level of activity. Furthermore, I had seen men on national soccer teams take their shirts off when leaving the field after a game.

I often wonder whether Chastain would have stirred up as much controversy if she had been a male.



AMA said...

Really?! This is ridiculous and demeaning sexism at its worst. I can imagine the boardroom full of men deciding just how "lady like" the female boxers will need to be in order to make female boxing acceptable for the world stage. I would love to know if women are involved in making this decision, because I can't imagine any serious female athlete, or any serious female for that matter, thinking that this is at all appropriate.

This brings me back to my usual question: why aren't women allowed to just be women? In this case, women are finally allowed to enter into an Olympic sport, but under the condition that they make themselves adequately feminine - why are they being told how to be? As mentioned above, their attire should be entirely about facilitating their athletic performance, not about maintaining gender expectations. Right now I'm trying to think of any sport where men's performance is compromised in order to make them look more "manly" - I can't think of any, anyone?