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Athletic dress codes exacerbate gender inequality

By Tammy Newman Dec. 8, 2021


A long-awaited discussion between the International Handball Federation (IHF) and Norwegian women’s beach handball team players was held on Oct. 3, delving into the sexualization of women in sports due to their attire. In response to the team’s request for a uniform change, the IHF officially revised its dress code: female handball athletes are now allowed to wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms. The new regulation will take effect starting next year on Jan. 1.


Dana Lim Art

In 2018, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was fined $175 per team member for wearing shorts to a game, as it was deemed “improper” by the European Handball Association’s Disciplinary Commission. Although the team members expressed they wore shorts to feel more comfortable—many referring to the bikini bottoms as too revealing and even degrading—the IHF argued that the ideal, feminine presentation of the sport was more important than athletes’ preferences. Marine Welfer, a member of Norway’s beach handball team, stated that players already deal with enough body shaming and deserve the freedom to wear less exposing athletic attire.


Players already deal with enough body shaming and deserve the freedom to wear less revealing athletic clothing.

While uniform standards are primarily set for enhanced performance and eased movement, some have deemed such norms to exacerbate the sexualization of the female body. According to Indy Star, male volleyball players are allowed to wear baggy shorts and tank tops, while females’ uniforms are tight and more revealing. Ann Savage, a gender studies professor at Butler University, asserted that uniforms should strictly be a choice. Luisa Rizzitelli, the president of Assist—an Italian association that promotes female athlete rights—claimed the IHF had reached “an embarrassing point of no return” in regards to their approach to dress codes.


In the past, there have been several occurrences of organizations and individuals attempting to make athletic dress codes less sexist. For instance, Australian activist Talitha Stone led Collective Shout’s 2012 campaign to collect 61,000 signatures in an effort to raise awareness about sexism in sports. In 2006, the sports ministers from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland wrote a letter to the IHF demanding female dress regulations be modified, but their request was denied. These petitions were brushed aside by the IHF until the predicament of the Norwegian women’s beach handball team.


“The fact that the IHF clearly values the physical presentation of beach handball over the players’ actual comfort really shows how sexist the federation is. Dress codes for females should be exactly the same as males’ and if a woman feels uncomfortable with her uniform, she should be allowed to adjust it,” Alaina Dieron ‘23 said.


The Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) conducted a 2008 study, finding that by age 14, girls were dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys ... one of the primary causes for girls disengaging from sports was the dress code

Female athletic uniforms have been a point of controversy in other sports as well. In May 2011, the Badminton World Federation implemented a new dress code where all female badminton players must wear skirts or dresses throughout grand international tournaments to ensure a feminine physical appeal. Players like Saina Nehwal, the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medalist, were displeased by the idea of having to wear a skirt against their will. Sexist dress codes could have implications on female participation in sports. The Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) conducted a 2008 study, finding that by age 14, girls were dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. The WSF found that one of the primary causes for girls disengaging from sports was the dress code. Unlike boys’ uniforms, girls often have to wear tight, revealing clothing, such as leotards, bikini bottoms and skirts, that they might feel uncomfortable wearing. According to a research study conducted by Victoria University about athletic uniforms in Australia, 88% of girls prefer to wear shorts and 90% prefer to wear t-shirts.


“The gender-specific expectations for wearing particular sports attire are so ingrained in society that we tend to brush them aside. Allowing athletes to wear whatever makes them comfortable without judgment can help eliminate this disparity,” Michelle Qiao ‘23 said.


In June 2021, the German Olympic gymnastics team came forward to protest “sexualization in gymnastics” by wearing unitards—instead of traditional leotards—that covered their legs.

Despite the long history of grievances, there have been recent changes to the athletic dress code within the last decade. In June 2021, the German Olympic gymnastics team came forward to protest “sexualization in gymnastics” by wearing unitards—instead of traditional leotards—that covered their legs. The International Volleyball Federation also altered its regulations in 2012 to permit players to wear hijabs and long sleeves.


The difference in athletic dress codes by gender aggravates inequality, but with past refinements and protests, athletic federations are taking steps to combat sexism in sports.


 

About the Contributors

Tammy Newman

Staff Writer


Tammy Newman is a junior at Leland High School and a Staff Writer for Journalism. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family as well as reading and writing.








Dana Lim

Artist


Dana Lim is currently a freshman at Leland High School and is serving as an artist for The Charger Account. Some of her interests are listening to music, watching thriller shows/movies and of course sleeping.

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