Sexualization of Women’s Sports

 

Like many people, I have grown up watching gymnastics on TV, and I’ve always admired the strength and agility of the girls and young women. My attention was especially triggered by the latest controversy regarding the sexual abuse of the American Women’s Olympic team. Most of them were teenagers, not even through puberty, and I didn’t give any thought to their uniforms. It didn’t cross my mind that their choice of uniforms had anything to do with the abuse, and it still doesn’t.

But about a year ago, I saw a floor performance that made me very uncomfortable. The gymnast was a full-blown, mature-bodied woman, and her routine was sexy and (I thought) provocative. I watched the whole routine with a level of perplexity and discomfort, not understanding my reaction. Ever since then, I have questioned the appropriateness of woman’s gymnastic uniforms, and still don’t feel resolved about it.

A couple of years ago, some women from the German gymnastics team decided to make a change in their uniforms to a full body suit:

Per reports, the German Gymnastics Association (DTB) said the outfit change — which Sarah Voss started, followed by her teammates Kim Bui and Elisabeth Seitz — was done to take a stand against sexualization in the sport.

‘We hope gymnasts uncomfortable in the usual outfits will feel emboldened to follow our example,’ Voss told the BBC.

According to BBC, Bui, 32, initially performed in a leotard on Wednesday for the qualifying round. But after seeing Voss, 21, debut a full-body suit, both Bui and Seitz, 27, swapped outfits for the women’s all-around final on Friday.

Of course, the outfits still show nearly every nook, curve, and cranny, but the women are almost fully covered.

But not everyone is happy with changing women’s uniforms:

It’s 2021, but the policing of female athletes’ bodies is a practice that continues to thrive.

The Norwegian women’s beach handball team is in a battle with the sport’s governing bodies to wear less-revealing uniforms. After the team’s repeated complaints about the required bikini bottoms were reportedly ignored, they wore shorts during a recent game in protest and were fined 150 euros (around $175) per player.

Other women’s sports are having these conversations, too.

I realize that opinions about the exposure of women’s bodies depends on the setting: is she in a full bathing suit on the beach? A bikini thong at the pool? Does it matter how old or young she is? Does it matter if she’s appearing as a performer, or a movie star at a movie premiere?

I was intrigued by a candid and well-written article composed by a teenager for her school newspaper:

In the 20th century, efforts were made towards the feminist movement that highlighted how differently women are viewed and treated in the sporting community compared to men. Some athletes claim they were rejected from certain sporting opportunities because their bodies didn’t look ‘efficient enough.’ Doing so goes against Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which states, ‘No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.’

Sports should be open to and equal for everyone. All genders should be viewed based on their athletic ability, not appearance or a strict dress code like the one females are obligated to follow. These dress codes currently being enforced should be optional; females should be able to compete in what they feel most comfortable in.

A woman should have the opportunity to choose what coverage and modesty that she wants to adhere to. These decisions should be made by the athlete.

Now there’s a word that has most definitely gone out of fashion: modesty. Does anyone care about dressing modestly anymore?

Or am I too old-fashioned and must accept that just about “anything goes”?

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  1. David C. Broussard Coolidge
    David C. Broussard
    @Dbroussa

    I remember in college in the late 80s the women’s volleyball team tried to drum up attendance at their games by claiming they wore the tightest shorts on campus. They wanted fans to attend the games (a problem that many women’s sports teams face, and not a few men’s teams as well). It’s a fine line to showcase the physique of an athlete, wear something that maximizes their ability to perform, but also isn’t immodest at times. When I was between 7th and 8th grades my parents made me join a swim team. They required men to wear a speedo but I wouldn’t. I didn’t like going without a shirt when swimming much less wearing a super tight speedo. I wore my usual trunks and wasn’t very competitive. Dress codes in sports are odd. You have the NFL who will fine a player for the wrong color cleats, or writing something on their cleats, or wearing the wrong color gloves, and then you have swimming where the suits are tight and revealing. Gymnastics where the tight outfits and the movements would rival a strip club at times…ai don’t think you are conflicted at all about this. 

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    David C. Broussard (View Comment):
    Gymnastics where the tight outfits and the movements would rival a strip club at times…ai don’t think you are conflicted at all about this. 

    Thanks, David. I haven’t even addressed the trans questions–what then? And the some of the women’s beach volleyball players barely have anything on. 

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    David C. Broussard (View Comment):
    Dress codes in sports are odd.

    Boy, I’ll say.

    • #3
  4. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I am told that girls want to be on the cheerleading squad in order to wear the cute/sexy outfits, and be admired by everyone.

    There is no small part of the human psyche that craves attention and admiration. The easiest way to get it is to dress and act in a way that works.

    I appreciate modesty in the women I talk to – I am uncomfortable talking to anyone who shows too much skin or is obviously inappropriate in public. And I think less of women who advertise their bodies. But that does not mean I don’t notice. it when they do.

    • #4
  5. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Imagine the chaos if there were no uniforms in sports, and everyone just wore what they wanted! 

    In some way, uniforms can help players focus on what should matter more: performance. Can you imagine the time that would be spent picking your outfit if you were going to be on a broadcasted game, and there were no uniforms?

    • #5
  6. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    The sexualization of young women and girls is one of the more thorny problems of our time, and barring a substantial cultural shift, I see no good solution.

    Many years ago, I taught in a public high school.  Even at that time, school dress codes had fallen out of favor, and pretty much anything went clothing-wise.  There was no shortage of girls who were physically very mature and self-aware enough that they purposefully dressed to turn heads.  Further, culturally, being sexually active among peer groups was tolerated or encouraged, so it was common for these girls to have older boyfriends and to be sexually active.

    It was also common for them to flirt with young male teachers (22-25 year olds), who were often single themselves.  You can quickly see the problem.  If the young male teacher yields to temptation, he’s labeled a sexual predator and will be on a sex offender registry (perhaps for the rest of his life).  Yet if the same set of circumstances took place with an 18 year old, it’s encouraged and considered by many to be healthy and normal sexual activity.

    I’m not trying to defend any young male teachers who took advantage of the girls (thankfully, I am not aware of any serious breaches, although I heard of a few that got close).  But what I am saying is that the cultural messages are really mixed up and contradictory.  On one hand we encourage and tolerate all manner of sexuality among the young, but then put the hammer down hard when the same behavior leaks outside of a somewhat arbitrary boundary (I say “arbitrary” because the age of consent for purposes of statutory rape usually slides based upon the ages of both parties–so a 19 year old with a 15 year old is rape, but as soon as she turns 16 it’s not).  Further, at least in my state, a 16 year old can consent with someone of any age (unless it’s a teacher or someone in authority over her), which seems bizarre.

    The only solution I know of is good and careful parenting, which in my opinion includes good religious instruction.  Change won’t be fast, and as I see it, the “progress” is in the wrong direction at this point.

    • #6
  7. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    I may not be able to define modesty, but I know what it is.

    • #7
  8. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Balancing modesty, performance, and comfort is tricky. Some of the choices I understand – gymnasts don’t have loose clothing so as not to catch it on any equipment or hands, feet, and face. Swimmers wear tight suits for reducing drag and resistance. To be competitive, you are trying to make every necessity count in your favor and minimize encumbrance. We’ve come a long way since Greece and showing off athleticism in the nude.

    There are other places where more is better… but not to the point where efficiency is not an issue – football armor, does it protect without adding more weight than is necessary? Protect those baseball player’s legs for sliding!

    I understood the volleyball player’s issues. There was no reason for those uniforms when it came to efficiency in performing the sport. The long gymnast suits provide modesty without having loose clothing. A skin suit may not add appreciably to a swimmer’s drag opposed to a speedo.

    There are ways to provide performance efficient options and maintain team uniformity.

    • #8
  9. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    I have, over the course of my career in television, made a lot of money because the NCAA and the networks wished to virtue signal by showing women’s sports. But that doesn’t mean that people will watch. So every two-bit genius in the business believes “sex sells” and there’s a good deal of lazy thinking there.

    You could spray paint the uniforms on WNBA players and the overwhelming majority of them would not be seen as sexually attractive outside of the current cohort of fans that already follow the league.

    Olympic sports are driven by nationalism, not sex. (That fact alone drives many up the wall.) 

     

    • #9
  10. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    Not surprisingly, this sexualization problem extends way beyond sports.  Be forewarned–this is a piece from the much- (and often correctly so) maligned David French.  But it does not mention Trump or blame conservatives, etc.  The article is worth reading, if you can stomach it.

    • #10
  11. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    My immediate reaction was “You girls are just now noticing this?”

    Actually what they wear in the gym doesn’t bother me nearly as much as what some of them wear on the street.

    • #11
  12. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    Stina (View Comment):

    Balancing modesty, performance, and comfort is tricky. Some of the choices I understand – gymnasts don’t have loose clothing so as not to catch it on any equipment or hands, feet, and face. Swimmers wear tight suits for reducing drag and resistance. To be competitive, you are trying to make every necessity count in your favor and minimize encumbrance. We’ve come a long way since Greece and showing off athleticism in the nude.

    There are other places where more is better… but not to the point where efficiency is not an issue – football armor, does it protect without adding more weight than is necessary? Protect those baseball player’s legs for sliding!

    I understood the volleyball player’s issues. There was no reason for those uniforms when it came to efficiency in performing the sport. The long gymnast suits provide modesty without having loose clothing. A skin suit may not add appreciably to a swimmer’s drag opposed to a speedo.

    There are ways to provide performance efficient options and maintain team uniformity.

    Interesting that I just yesterday read a review of baggies (shorts) – how they don’t interfere with movement, are comfortable and available. But no explanation of why men’s and women’s  are different.

    • #12
  13. W Bob Member
    W Bob
    @WBob

    JoelB (View Comment):

    My immediate reaction was “You girls are just now noticing this?”

    Actually what they wear in the gym doesn’t bother me nearly as much as what some of them wear on the street.

    Most women I see in public are wearing gym tights. Not working out, just walking around town, in the supermarket etc.

    • #13
  14. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    W Bob (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    My immediate reaction was “You girls are just now noticing this?”

    Actually what they wear in the gym doesn’t bother me nearly as much as what some of them wear on the street.

    Most women I see in public are wearing gym tights. Not working out, just walking around town, in the supermarket etc.

    I really like leggings – I actually prefer them to jeans. The problem isn’t the leggings – it’s the complete lack of top clothing that goes down to the hips. Everything is crop tops. I don’t think there would be so much criticism of leggings outside the gym if tunic length blouses made a comeback and covered up the rear end.

     

    • #14
  15. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Nothing new  – this is from a National Lampoon bit in 1977   [language warning]

    • #15
  16. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Nothing new  – this is from a National Lampoon bit in 1977…

    Even at the high school level in the ’70s, the judges would watch how you left the floor.  If you walked off and just had to adjust your leotard or undergarments, you lost a fraction of a point.  After a while, the leotards had everything built in, so you wouldn’t have to tug.

    W Bob (View Comment):
    Most women I see in public are wearing gym tights. Not working out, just walking around town, in the supermarket etc.

     

     

    • #16
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    iWe (View Comment):
    Imagine the chaos if there were no uniforms in sports, and everyone just wore what they wanted! 

    That would definitely not work! In the heat of play, people need to be easily aligned; uniforms do that!

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    W Bob (View Comment):
    Most women I see in public are wearing gym tights. Not working out, just walking around town, in the supermarket etc.

    And they definitely should not be wearing them!

    Over time I’ve heard women at the gym complaining that men stare at them–no kidding! I’ve wanted to say, well, what do you expect? But then they try to say that they are just dressing for themselves. Right.

    Edit: Needless to say they weren’t dressed modestly . . .

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I’m surprised  that no one has commented that “that ship has sailed.” I would like to think that the young women in Germany and others who are starting to protest are feeling empowered to take back their bodies.

    • #19
  20. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Weren’t many of the Olympics events originally done nude?  Or was that just for men?

    • #20
  21. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    W Bob (View Comment):
    Most women I see in public are wearing gym tights. Not working out, just walking around town, in the supermarket etc.

    And it’s clear 90% of them have never visited a gym.

    • #21
  22. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    I should probably recuse myself here, given that I have a conflict of interest and a particular appreciation for female pole vaulters.

    But the problem of excessive sexualization of young women is and always has been real. Women as objects of sexual desire is baked in to the human equation, something that (as @douglasmyers noted above) parents should try to address. Our solution was to raise the kids in what was essentially a Mennonite community where modest dress was the norm, and for them to to have no television or internet. That isn’t practical for everyone; I’m not absolutely convinced that it’s even a good idea, though I think it worked out well for us.

    Without minimizing the harm done to young athletes by predatory men who work with them (and I know there have been awful instances of that), I think the new and terrible challenge today is social media and ubiquitous pornography: in a word, smart phones. We’re seeing an aspect of it in the social contagion of the trans movement that is seducing so many young women down a very dark path. I think we’ll be facing something new and unhealthy in the next few years, thanks to unchecked childhood access to the internet. And I don’t think there is much chance of changing it, of changing the parenting behavior to somehow control this new technology. For better or worse, we will have to adapt as a culture.

    • #22
  23. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    I should probably recuse myself here, given that I have a conflict of interest and a particular appreciation for female pole vaulters.

    But the problem of excessive sexualization of young women is and always has been real. Women as objects of sexual desire is baked in to the human equation, something that (as @ douglasmyers noted above) parents should try to address. Our solution was to raise the kids in what was essentially a Mennonite community where modest dress was the norm, and for them to to have no television or internet. That isn’t practical for everyone; I’m not absolutely convinced that it’s even a good idea, though I think it worked out well for us.

    Without minimizing the harm done to young athletes by predatory men who work with them (and I know there have been awful instances of that), I think the new and terrible challenge today is social media and ubiquitous pornography: in a word, smart phones. We’re seeing an aspect of it in the social contagion of the trans movement that is seducing so many young women down a very dark path. I think we’ll be facing something new and unhealthy in the next few years, thanks to unchecked childhood access to the internet. And I don’t think there is much chance of changing it, of changing the parenting behavior to somehow control this new technology. For better or worse, we will have to adapt as a culture.

    I think this is largely correct.  We too tried to encourage (read: require, but nicely) our daughters to wear modest clothing.  But my wife also exhibits modesty, which also helps, and we tried to train our sons to respect women/girls and not objectify them.  Obviously, I know we didn’t succeed completely, but most of our children have reached adulthood and continue to, for the most part, demonstrate the modesty and respect we (attempted) to train.

    • #23
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    And I don’t think there is much chance of changing it, of changing the parenting behavior to somehow control this new technology. For better or worse, we will have to adapt as a culture.

    I so much would like to know the steps we can take as a culture. I know that the sexualization has existed forever, but when we feed that tendency, we get more of it. I was impressed that there were young women who were willing to take a stand against it, and it will be fascinating to see if that grows.

    • #24
  25. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    iWe (View Comment):
    Imagine the chaos if there were no uniforms in sports, and everyone just wore what they wanted! 

    I’m looking forward to nude beach volleyball . . .

    • #25
  26. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Stad (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    Imagine the chaos if there were no uniforms in sports, and everyone just wore what they wanted!

    I’m looking forward to nude beach volleyball . . .

    Good luck finding a team that will let you try out.

    • #26
  27. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    Imagine the chaos if there were no uniforms in sports, and everyone just wore what they wanted!

    I’m looking forward to nude beach volleyball . . .

    Good luck finding a team that will let you try out.

    Now I don’t care who you are–that’s funny.

    • #27
  28. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    The young woman who wrote the article featured in the OP listed this website 

    • #28
  29. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    David C. Broussard (View Comment):
    Gymnastics where the tight outfits and the movements would rival a strip club at times…ai don’t think you are conflicted at all about this.

    Thanks, David. I haven’t even addressed the trans questions–what then? And the some of the women’s beach volleyball players barely have anything on.

    I watch women’s beach volley ball for the superior athleticism. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Swimmer’s outfits are a whole other thing. You may recall there was a trend for a time of wearing special textured body suits, men and women, that supposedly shaved fractions of seconds off laps.

    • #29
  30. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    I watch women’s beach volley ball for the superior athleticism. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Ha! Thanks for making me giggle . . . although I will admit they are amazing!

    • #30
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