What women wear in Olympic competition generating considerable attention
There was a proposal to require certain female athletes, used to competing in shorts, to switch to skirts. After an outcry, that proposal was rejected. But what women wear when competing in the Olympics remains a hot-button topic.
When it comes to the Olympic games, it’s hard not to be captivated by the human body and what it can accomplish.
But looking at uniform changes over the years, it's clear that some people think those bodies — if they belong to women, at least — are best shown half-naked. After all, the average WNBA game is watched by fewer than 300,000 basketball fans, while the Lingerie Bowl is watched by millions.
In recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of Olympic beach volleyball as a recognized sport, along with athletes wearing only bikinis. But other sports have tried to follow suit, sometimes with mixed results. There's increasingly a debate over
The Boston Globe's Shira Springer, who has researched lightly attired female athletes and is covering this current set of Olympic Games, said this issue has come up again because of plans to have female badminton players and female boxers wear skirts.
"The officials for those organizations were going to insist on those athletes wearing skirts because they wanted a more feminine look to their athletes," Springer said. "That raised a lot of eyebrows because it wasn't about competition. It was about appealing to, perhaps, the 18-34-year-old male demographic."
That didn't set well with many athletes, Springer said. They've been wearing shorts and pants as long as they've been in those sports.
"Most female athletes, as were female fans of these sports and female fans in general, were unhappy. They felt it was unfair and sexist and that public outcry led to a change from lead officials," she said.
The groups have tabled plans to force women to wear skirts, at least for this Olympics. And there's no empirical evidence to indicate forcing women to wear skirts will have any real impact on ratings.
"The evidence that we have is that in the cases where women do wear what you might call sexier uniforms, beach volleyball for example, ... that generates a lot of attention," Springer said.
But there's no concrete evidence that will apply to these sports.
Many female Olympic athletes have expressed dismay that such a big deal is being made out of what they choose to wear to games.
"They felt they were being valued for their looks, as opposed to their athletic abilities. Anytime that happens with a top athlete, you know it's going to anger them," Springer said. "It is a problem. No one makes these comments about men. Nobody tries to sexualize the male athletes or say they should look more male while competing."
On the flip side of all of this are countries like Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations, which are pushing for uniforms that are even more modest, at least for athletes from their countries.
In fact, beach volleyball, the sport with among the skimpiest of uniforms, has OK'd uniforms that are less revealing, like T-shirts and shorts.
That was in consideration, Springer said, of the concerns of Muslim nations that are more religiously and culturally conservative.
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH Radio Boston.