Oct 282011

Figure 1. Miniskirt boxer; 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 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?

  2 Responses to “Yes, Women Can Be Boxers…As Long as They Wear Mini-Skirts”

  1. Yes, I think it’s being taken COMPLETELY far. What is the point in distinguishing the men boxers from the women boxers? Apart from making it more interesting for men to watch by adding the clear representation of gender and making the boxers look more “feminine”, I do not see any purpose on doing this. It’s sexist and ridiculous. It takes away the purpose of the sport. I feel like they just want to make it more entertaining for men to watch and are not concerned about taking it seriously.

    Just like that Dr. Pepper commercial, I feel like this attitude is about putting women “in their place”. Because nothing says equality more than women being tough and strong – a trait that guys thing only them are allowed to have.

    I read a little about this issue and apparently the “skirt-uniform” hasn’t yet been approved. A few feminists are standing up against it, but I’m not very sure if there will be enough pressure to change that idea.

  2. Yes, definitely going too far.

    With that being said, I think we should also explore how women are represented in other sports by their fashion because (sadly) this isn’t the first time this issue has come in. We saw this in the past in women’s baseball and more recently in tennis and even in racing, where women are turned into sexual objects through their uniforms. In the early 2000s, Tennis saw an explosion of female athletes who, in terms of their profession, were not successful. With the introduction of shorter skirts and sleeveless shirts, however they were turned into household names without all that unnecessary winning. The trend has continued with tennis as players continue to wear very sexy uniforms/outfits. I think what we will examine next however is what happens when these fashions are being designed by the players themselves. Venus and Serena Williams both design their own outfits and you could never say the fashions were conservative or tame. Yet, the women themselves are also very strong and athletic. So, are they making a statement — women can be athletes and interested in fashion. Perhaps?

    If we wanted to expand the analysis further, we could even look at how women and their uniforms are expressed across different sports — we all know the stereotypes of the masculine softball player and the feminine cute volleyball player.

    There seem to be a lot of restrictions placed on women’s bodies if they want to also be athletes. You have to be strong, but soft enough so that I don’t “confuse” you for a man.

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