Monday, November 14, 2011

Female Boxers may be Required to Wear Skirts at 2012 Olympics

John Gichigi Getty Images

The 2012 Olympics in London will feature female fighters for the first time ever.  This historic preceeding is an exciting development in the world of female fighting and in the lives of the young women who hope to compete this summer (see my interview with Olympic hopeful Poula Estrada).  The joy of competition has been marred by the International Amateur Boxing Association's (IABA) consideration of requiring female fighters to wear skirts in the ring.

Helen Callaghan

During WWII, women took to the field to replace the male baseball players who had been sent overseas to fight.  As was popularized by the 1992 film, A League of Their Own, the female athletes were forced to wear skirts in an effort to eroticize the players and promote the sport to the American public who supposedly had little interest in watchign women play.  Have we reverted to those times?

Dior's 1947 New Look

Beyond the practice of sexualizing female athletes, notably practiced in nearly all forms of marketing (ie standard cheesecake photo ops of female fighters), there is also perhaps the assertion of sexual difference in the IABA's idea of making skirts part of the boxing uniform for women.  Yes, the IABA will allow women to fight, but the fighters can never forget that they are just women, subjugated by their bodies and marginalized by gender stereotypes.  Clothing has often been used to regulate the female body; post World War II era clothing for women restricted movement, signifying the return of women to the home and out of the workplace, where clothing had been loose to allow for work.  Christian Dior's New Look, while incredibly beautiful, is remembered as the return of the constricting corset and hobble skirts. 

Whether the intention is to increase the visibility of female fighters by sexualizing them or to mark the difference between men and women using fashion, if the IABA decides to insistute skirts in the Olympic uniform, there is going to be a reaction but perhaps not the type of reaction they desired.

Although this topic has been discussed many times over the past couple of months, I was inspired to write this after reading TUFF's Katrina Belcher's very smart article yesterday.

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