Archive for November, 2011

Skirting The Issue

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Much has been made about the debut of women’s boxing at the London Olympics next summer. But the latest story on the subject has nothing to do with the women who will be making that historic step – it’s all about what they’ll be stepping into the ring in.

The news out of Switzerland this week is that the Amateur International Boxing Association will, at their technical and rules committee meeting in January, debate the idea of female competitors wearing skirts while boxing. Yes, you read that right: the women’s boxing competition might go girly so spectators can, in the AIBA’s opinion, tell the female fighters from their male counterparts.

At last year’s World Championships the AIBA brought skirts to the ring as an option for competitors, and at last week’s European championships boxers from Romania and Poland donned the new “uniforms.” The Polish team actually made it compulsory for its boxers to wear the skirts, and ones they apparently “designed themselves” because they’re more “elegant.”

“By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression,” Poland’s coach Leszek Piotrowski told BBC Sport. “Wearing shorts is not a good way for women boxers to dress.”

Alright then.

I guess by the same logic, shorts aren’t a good way for female track and field athletes, golfers or tennis players to dress, either.  It’s just absurd. It’s like telling female hockey players that they need to have long, pretty hair flowing from the back of their helmets to distinguish them from men on the ice. That women’s soccer teams must wear pink jerseys so you can tell at at distance you’re watching players of the female gender on the field. Or Danica Patrick’s new NASCAR ride having pink bumpers and flowers painted on the hood of the car.

The AIBA isnt’t the first sporting federation to try and make its athletes looks saucier for the spectators – back in the spring the Badminton World Federation floated the idea of having its participants wear skirts while playing. The new dress code was supposed to have taken effect in May, but was pushed back to June to allow more consultation with players, who said that the new outfits  forced them to move differently and change their style of play.

I can sort of understand wearing bathing suits to play beach volleyball; but that doesn’t excuse the fact that men and women have decidedly different uniforms – guys get tank tops and board shorts while the women have barely-there bikinis - to wear on the court. I would never be comfortable playing a sport in any bathing suit I’d wear at a beach; not because of the skin I’d show, but for the very real possibility of a major wardrobe malfunction while I’m running around.

Personally, I’m not one for strict dress codes in any situation – school, work, sports – but I understand that they have a time and place and usually, hopefully, a reasonable explanation behind them. But making a sport “more appealing” to a certain demographic isn’t a good enough reason. And let’s face it – in almost every circumstance that a decision like this is made, it’s to change women’s outfits to appeal to men. The fact that organizations still believe that spectators, specifically male spectators, will only watch women play sports if they’re in the smallest outfits possible is outdated and sexist. If women said male soccer players, for example, should wear smaller, tighter uniforms to make them look better, they’d be laughed out of the room. Dictating how women should dress in their athletic pursuits, beyond what’s needed as equipment, in any way different than the men’s clothing is also sexist and demeaning.

Yes, showing more skin will get eyes on your sport – as it will in almost any other situation for women. But almost all of the time, it’s not the eyes you want, and they’ll look away once they’re bored. People will watch women’s sports if they want to, and will stick around if it’s a quality game being contested between two athletes at the top of their sport. Having a double standard when it comes to what women wear in the ring, on the field or anywhere else is a throwback concept that should be left in the past.

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