Image captured from BBC Sports, url: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/boxing/15452596.stm
The following article details recent developments in the world of women’s boxing. The sport has recently scored a major coup in that Women’s Boxing will be featured for the first time in the 2012 Summer Olympics. This milestone is significantly diminished, however, in that if the Amateur International Boxing Association has it’s way these fearless Olympians will be competing in…skirts. Citing that the skirt uniform will “make the women easier to distinguish from the men” the association is pushing for the sartorial revision over the vocal and numerous objections of many competing in the sport.
Boxing Federation Wants Female Boxers to Wear Skirts
This proposed requirement is problematic in several ways. First of all it it has the distinct effect of sexualizing female athletes. By emphaszing the sex of the competitors this rule effectively legitimizes the conception of the female athlete first as decoration (eye candy) and second as competitor. I know several female athletes who would take particular issue with being objectified in such a manner. This policy would further trivialize the female athlete by casting her as as something other, and thus deviant, from the standard norm of the male athlete. By forcing female boxers to wear skirts the rule places the sport squarely within the purview of the male athlete while giving only token credence to gender equality in sports.
Additionally the sexism inherent in such a policy is difficult to ignore. Male athletes uniforms are designed for function, not form. They are not, nor to my knowledge have they ever been, designed to highlight the masculinity of male competitors. Why should the attire of female athletes be held to a different standard? Moreover, why is it important that the uniforms of female athletes be designed to highlight their femininity in a realm that is supposed to be gender neutral? By emphasizing form over function this rule yet again trivializes the participation of female athletes in the sport, as well as legitimizes a rather troublesome stereotype of of the superficial, appearance obsessed female.
Speaking of stereotypes, what of the idea of the hyper-masculine female athlete? If this proposed amendment is a clumsy attempt to give back the allegedly “lost” femininity of the female athlete, then it is problematic in several regards. First, it assumes that femininity and sportsmanship are mutually exclusive. Is the association asserting that the only way the spectator can tell a female boxer from a male one is by virtue of the boxer’s attire? The ridiculousness of such an assumption is indeed laughable. Also there is no evidence to suggest that such a visual signifier is even necessary. If the competitors name isn’t enough to distinguish her gender then perhaps the televised subtitle reading “Women’s Boxing” will have to suffice. Of course this does nothing for the live spectator but one would assume anyone who went to the trouble and expense of traveling to view the Olympics in person would be pretty deliberate about which events they attended.
Additionally this proposed rule places aesthetics in a realm where it is highly and particularly irrelevant. Athletes the world over have historically been trained to develop their physical skills. Appearance has nothing whatsoever to do with physicality. While the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, they certainly aren’t (and never have been) mutually dependent. However, this rule squarely places a higher value on aesthetics than it does skill. It would be tantamount to advising athletes, both male and female, that their practice sessions would be better spent accessorizing their uniforms, or having their hair done. This rule effectively undoes the very underpinning of athletics, that is the development of skill as inherent to the success of the athlete. Per this rule the successful athlete need only(or primarily) tend to their appearance, as victory will undoubtedly follow the most aesthetically pleasing and gender appropriate.
Female athletes have fought long and tirelessly to achieve some semblance of equality in sports. Of course I don’t mean to suggest that the current “playing field” is completely even. Far from it, in fact. However, significant progress has been made and the proposed amendment to the Women’s Olympic boxer uniform is a resounding slap in the face to generations of female athletes. This is certainly not the first time that attire has been employed as a vehicle of female oppression. It is, however, one of the most egregious. Female boxers are competitors, not decoration. They have ascended to the top of their profession because of their ability to compete, not their ability to titillate. Athletics, by design, is one of the few cultural realms that is truly gender and aesthetic neutral. Gender, and all of it’s social and cultural baggage, has no place in the ring.
What do you think? Is this proposed requirement taking gender representation a bit too far?