Sexist Clothing: Athletic Uniforms

Clothes are a basic statement of who we are. They are a way to express ourselves, to show who we are. However, all over the world women are required to wear certain clothes, or else face either social or even legal punishment. Their clothes are made into an excuse to harass, assault, or even rape them. Sometimes women are told they are wearing something that doesn’t cover enough skin, sometimes it covers too much skin. Teenage and even middle school girls are told that their clothes might “distract the boys”. For centuries women have been told that their clothes are wrong, inappropriate, or simply unflattering. Women’s clothes have to be modest, but not overly modest, sensible, but still flattering and pretty, comfortable, but not lazy when the only restriction on men’s clothing is their own personal preference. These restrictions apply to all areas of a woman’s life from school dress codes to athletic uniforms.


Athletic uniforms seem like something where men and women would have the same or at least very similar outfits, but no. Women’s uniforms are unusually revealing, uncomfortable, and completely impractical compared to men in the same sport. When you think of American football you probably imagine something along the lines of a man in a bulky heavily padded jersey, padded pants, and a helmet. You might find it harder to picture women’s football, but you might be thinking of something about the same but with a woman. Well, you got the helmet right. Women’s American football uniforms feature a bikini, a hockey helmet, and not much else. This does not seem in any way practical for the sport which involves tackling and diving. The reason behind these uniforms? Ticket sales. The League has said upfront that these uniforms sell tickets. Without these revealing uniforms, the league wouldn’t be able to continue, it wouldn’t bring in enough ticket sales to continue even though none of the women are paid or even receive medical insurance for playing. The uniforms themselves present almost no padding and due to the minimal skin coverage and protection, they are highly prone to injury. These uniforms create a safety risk and while most of the women are very comfortable in their bodies even when a wardrobe malfunction occurs as they often do. These wardrobe malfunctions include shorts and tops being ripped off during play. The uniform makes many women in the league feel uncomfortable but they accept it as the only way they are able to play. Many are hopeful that one day they won’t need to wear a revealing outfit to get publicity. The uniforms are controversial, some say it brings attention to women’s sports and others say it’s the wrong thing for the right reasons, objectifying these women is not the right way to bring attention to the sport.


Women’s beach handball uniforms consist of a sports bra and bikini bottom, not at all practical for a sport where you dive across the burning sand. Norway’s women’s beach handball team asked the Handball federation if they could all wear shorts instead of the bikini that is traditionally worn because they felt overly sexualized in the uniform bikini bottoms and especially uncomfortable when on their periods. The shorts they asked to wear were just a few inches shorter than the men’s uniforms. The Handball Federation threatened to disqualify them if they wore anything longer than ten centimeters in length on either side. This is a little less than four inches, about the same length as the average playing card. They called the shorts the players wanted to wear “inappropriate”. This sparked public outrage so the Handball Federation finally said the team would have to pay a 1,500 euro fine instead of being disqualified.


That very same week Track and Field paralympic athlete Olivia Breen was fined for wearing shorts that were again, “inappropriate”, this time for being too short. These shorts had been specifically designed for her and allowed her the best mobility when running. She had been competing in the same style of shorts for nine years prior to this and had never been told they were “inappropriate” before. Her shorts also followed all regulations in the competition rule book, yet she was singled out among so many athletes who wear similar clothing.


Similarly, the women’s gymnastic team in Germany wore leotards that covered their legs this year in the Olympics to protest the swimsuit style uniform typically worn. This comes after years of sexual abuse surfaced in many Olympic women’s gymnastics teams including the US trainer Larry Nassar who was convicted of sexually abusing over one hundred fifty gymnasts over many years. He was sentenced to one hundred seventy-five years in prison. All of these cases beg the question, why are the uniforms for female athletes so much different than men’s uniforms?


Women have fought just to be included in sports, and now that they are, they face another challenge, clothing. Women’s athletic uniforms are oversexualized and impractical for their sports altogether. Women should be able to play a sport without having to fight to be able to wear what they feel comfortable in. In 2022 women should not still be protesting a basic necessity such as clothing.



Bo Miller, Managing Editor