May 03, 2010

Sports, Uniforms, and Gender

new janis By Janis Prince Inniss

Even before I married into the sport, I loved track and field! (My husband ran track in high school, as did both of my step-children. And I’m quite sure that my two-year-old grandson can beat any child in an ”Under 4” race, based on his performances around the house and yard!). The one question that I haven’t been able to get answered in all my years of watching the sport is this though: Why are the women’s uniforms so much more revealing than the men’s?

Today, in many competitions, male track athletes wear what looks like a one-piece body suit –some with sleeves, some sleeveless with pants that are a few inches above their knees. The men are fully-covered, although in form revealing garments. The women? Their uniforms consist of midriff-bearing tops and panty-sized shorts! Every time I think of making my own debut on the track stage it is this outfit that gives me pause. (It is not the fact that I don’t run.) Why do the women show so much more skin than the men do? Who decides what athletes will wear at these events?

This distinction in dress is not only true in the big leagues. One of the powerhouse track and field high schools in my city is less than two miles from my home. Sometimes, the cross country team trains by running through my neighborhood, and believe me the young women turn heads as they run around in sports bras and tiny shorts. The young men? They wear mid-thigh shorts and t-shirts or tanks—although they do occasionally finish their runs shirtless. I have noticed, however that at high school meets—from local to state—the uniforms for males and females are quite similar; most students wear mid-thigh shorts and tank tops or t-shirts.

It is noteworthy that cultural and religious factors affect what some athletes wear. For example, I have seen female Muslim track athletes wearing a lot of clothing: head scarves, long sleeves, and tights under uniforms. And there is news that female Muslim boxers at the 2012 Olympics—the first year women will box at the Olympics—will wear the traditional hijab beneath their clothing and headguards. These women are in stark contrast to many other female athletes who show so much skin.

How well can they compete in so much clothing? I don’t know of any systematic studies about that, but one high school basketball player is breaking records in her hijab. Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, was the first player in Massachusetts—male or female—to score more than 3,000 points in a career – all while covering her head, arms and legs. Basketball, at all levels, is one sport in which the uniforms consist of mid-thigh or longer shorts and tank tops—for both male and female teams. What are your thoughts about why these athletes are so covered up—relatively speaking—and why the men’s and women’s uniforms are so similar?


I don’t know anything about beach volleyball, but during the 2008 Summer Olympics I heard a lot about Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. The pair was the first beach volleyball team to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals…which means that I should have remembered their names from the 2004 Olympics. Who could forget this duo in Beijing as they won seven consecutive straight sets?

And who could miss their—and those of the other women’s volley ball teams—skimpy uniforms? They wear swimsuits! Now given that the name of the sport is beach volleyball, swimsuits don’t seem too incongruous with the sport. But when I watch the bending over and sliding around in the sand that these athletes do, the men’s uniforms make far more sense. What do the men wear? Tank tops and shorts. (It appears that the men often take their shirts off after their games and it’s possible that their attire differs based on the tournament they are in.) How would wearing shorts and tank tops hamper the women’s games, given that this doesn’t seem to be a problem for the men?

An earlier post on this blog looked at sex and gender in media portrayals of athletes. But even in competition, there seem to be some real differences between how men and women dress for their events. Male athletes appear athletic in their pursuits, appropriately so. Women, on the other hand, are sexualized even in their uniforms. Can you think of sports in which the uniforms support or refute this observation?

In cases such as track and field, can Allyson Felix, for example, choose to wear a more covered uniform than the rest of the U.S. Olympic team, or would the entire women’s track and field team have to agree to such a change? In fact, do the athletes themselves—male or female—have any say in what their attire is? What major factors do you think dictate the way men and women dress as they engage in athletic pursuits?


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I have noticed that also, and while I know that when I am running it's nice to not have on lots of clothes, I get uncomfortable when I am not wearing enough, and what many runners wear on TV is not enough for me. I think the uniform is a team decision because the team wants to look uniform. Sexuality in the women's uniform may be to attract more viewers.

I had not realized the difference in uniforms until i read this blog; although now I do see it. I agree with Gwen when she says that Sexuality in womens uniforms has more than likely increased the viewers of sports events (especially men) like the olympics.

I really never took a notice to men and womens uniforms before until i read this article as well. Now that i have, i can see how womens uniforms are made out to be more sexual and show a lot more skin. Personally when i play a sport the less clothing that i have on makes it easier to play better. When i am playing soccer our jerseys are made out of very heavy material and are very big for a girl's jersey and it makes playing a lot more uncomfortable because i get hot quicker. In the sport volleyball the uniforms that girls wear are very showy. Volleyball players are given the choice between 2 and 4 inch spandex and most girls pick the 2 inch. Most of the girls pick the 2 inch because its shorter and less material but its because 2 inch spandex is more comfortable than 4 inch. Women's uniforms have always been more reviling that mens because women have more of a sexiness about them and it draws people to watch that sport more than if they were clothed like a man is.

this is an interesting concept you bring up about male and female uniforms. some reasons this might occur are that there are different gender specific clothing that men and women choose to wear, i dont believe this is a sexist issue i believe its simply a choice women make to wear those outfits, maybe they feel faster, or more athletic, or maybe even sexier for that matter. the point is, its a choice that each gender makes, if men wanted to wear bikinis they could, it just wouldnt be very socially accepted.

I think that women are showing to much skin in some sports. I hate on the Olympics when they show a close up for a volleyball players butt. I know that it's probably just for ratings, but they should wear more clothes. Even in tennis it bugs me when they wear very short skirts that come up every time they hit the ball. (They also show up close views of their butts). Women seem to be considered sex symbols in sports and that shouldn't be what is going on. They should be considered great athletes just like men, and I think they should wear more clothes to show more athleticism than skin, even if this makes the ratings go down.

I am also an athlete. My sport is rugby and luckily we can't change the type of uniforms and it's the same for boys and girls. However at my school we have a lacrosse team. We were thinking of making a girl's team as well even though the boys had allowed girl's on the team. However if we were to join the team it would have to be no contact but what I found weird was the fact that we would have to wear skirts. Why? To this day I still don't understand.

I am a male lacrosse player and I notice that the girls mostly just wear whatever they want. If they feel like wearing booty shorts and a sports bra, then that is what they wear. I have noticed that some of the girls choose to wear shirts or tank tops over their sports bras. These girls aren't ridiculed or anything. Nobody treats them any differently. Their comfort zone is just a little bit different than the girls that wear skimpier clothing. I can definitely see where this article is coming from, seeing how in volleyball and tennis the women always wear small amounts of clothing. If they didn't, they would lose some viewership, which I find completely demoralizing to the women. They have to wear outfits that show off their breasts and glamourize their rear ends. Although, I think that if a woman truly felt uncomfortable in the mandatory dress code, then I am sure she could speak up and wear whatever she likes.

I had never really thought about how they are different till i read this blog. I think its what everyone is used to and has always seen so people do not really notice. I do agree that the woman outfits do increase how many people watch.

I had never actually considered the fact that women’s uniforms are much more revealing than men’s uniforms. It is not necessary for female athletes to wear less clothing, especially when it is not going to improve their game. As a lacrosse player, I hadn’t considered the fact that we wear spandex skirts, while men lacrosse players wear long shorts. Clearly pop culture has had a significant influence on society, causing women to dress more provocatively than men. Hopefully we can find more answers to this issue because it is a disgrace that revealing uniforms represent talented female athletes.

The difference today in the uniforms is insane. I have never noticed this until I read this blog. The way our culture has been affected by the so called "performing better" or is it really to draw more attention to women athletics? I play volleyball at high school and supposedly spandex are better to wear because of less air resistance. However, i have played in shorts and i havce seen no difference it has not affected my ability to jump, dive, or run. I agree that the more revealing the clothes are the more viewers you are going to get and money is what people care about.

I notice that in certain sports such as volleyball and track the women are always more exposed than men, this may be because of certain restrictions clothes have or because most of the time men run these things and choose the uniforms. One thing that is different is that in sports such as softball, baseball, and football the uniforms tend to be similar where males and females are concerned. I dont know why in certain sports women are exposed more or put in sexualized situations but I do know that it can be changed if people wanted it to change.

In this era of increasing equality, it is interesting to see how women are still being placed in a different arena than men. Men in the Olympics wear functional outfits, that, although not particularly sexy, serve the purpose. Women could perform just as well in these outfits, but long has it been that women athletes are not taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Instead of focusing on their athletic skill, the audience watches female athletes run around in tiny pieces of fabric they call uniforms. These uniforms are sensual and show off their feminine figures, so they are very appealing to the male audience, in particular. The Olympics should not be a skin show for men to be entertained by. Women should wear more modest, but still functional, outfits that would take the eyes off their breasts and buttocks and move it to how well they hit the ball or run the event.

Reading this blog really got me thinking about the uniforms that men and women are required to wear while participating in sports.One argument in favor of women's uniforms is that they have less air resistance, therefore improving performance. But, the problem is that these uniforms can make some women uncomfortable, and hinder their performance as a result. Some people don't think about the consequences of subjecting women to this kind of exposure, but the truth is that these uniforms may be more of a distraction than anything else.

Have you ever gone out and talked to female athletes? I play volleyball and don't love wearing "skimpy" spandex, but they really do make a difference when playing. I tried wearing shorts once and everytime I dove for the ball they were nearly pulled off. And as for runners, have you seen a pair of men's running shorts today? They are extremely short and guys also tend to run shirtless. I agree with you on sports like lacrosse; I can't believe they have to wear skirts.

Reading this blog really got me thinking about the uniforms that men and women are required to wear while participating in sports.One argument in favor of women's uniforms is that they have less air resistance, therefore improving performance. But, the problem is that these uniforms can make some women uncomfortable, and hinder their performance as a result. Some people don't think about the consequences of subjecting women to this kind of exposure, but the truth is that these uniforms may be more of a distraction than anything else

Professionalism became prevalent, further adding to the increase in sport's popularity, as sports fans began following the exploits of professional athletes through radio, television, and the internet—all while enjoying the exercise and competition associated with amateur participation in sports.

Obviously these days womens' attire in sports is getting skimpier and more revealing. Clearly most female athletes don't have a problem with it though. For most sports, women do not have to wear skimpy outfits. As the article mentions, female basketball players do not have to wear short shorts. Also, with soccer, the players do not have to wear short shorts they choose to. Now, as for Misty May and Kerri Walsh, I don't understand why they wear the bikinis, but I'm sure if they wanted to, they could wear shorts and tank tops.

As a figure skater, I've had to wear skin tight, revealing outfits my whole life. I don't have a problem with the differences in men and women's uniforms being different in that nature, but, I can see why some people would. It would be interesting to find out if professional female athletes are made to wear the outfits they wear or could choose to wear something less revealing and decide not to. If it is shown that they are being forced to wear the skimpy outfits, then it would be cause for alarm. Otherwise, more power to those women for showing off the amazing bodies they have in more revealing outfits.

In addition to the article I would like to say two things, “its all about the money” and “sex sells”. Sports are a business. Like any company, sporting events are trying to attract a specific target market. Lets be honest, men watch more sports than women. To ensure that women’s professional sports remain alive, marketers need to attract an audience so they can sign TV contracts and make money. If a man is flipping through the channels and sees a women in skimpy clothing, running around a basketball court, he is more likely to take a second and watch. Using this sex appeal is way of getting men, who traditionally watch male sports, to watch female sports.

I was surprised by the differences that exist between male and female sports uniforms. I had never considered the differences that exist between the uniforms, and I think that it is unfortunate that women are expected to dress more provocatively. I agree that the sports industry is a business, and provocative clothing attracts more spectators. Women’s sports has struggled for years to be considered at the same level as men’s, and sexualizing women in an athletic setting is reducing women’s sports to a mere form of entertainment. Women athletes train hard to excel in their sports, and revealing clothing is taking away from their accomplishments.

I never noticed how girl's uniforms show more skin than guys. After I read this article, I starting realizing it. I agree with the author who wrote it. It's not right for men to have bigger clothes for women. A lot of women are conservative and don't want to show their skin. I think that they are trying to attract more attention to the sport because guys' sport are fun to watch and girls aren't so interesting.

I was surprised by the differences that exist between male and female sports uniforms. I had never considered the differences that exist between the uniforms, and I think that it is unfortunate that women are expected to dress more provocatively. I agree that the sports industry is a business, and provocative clothing attracts more spectators.

I believe uniforms are one of the most important things to have. Having that difference between uniforms is not a big deal. Uniforms attracts audiences specially uniforms of women.

In the three years I participated in rowing in high school, it was easy to see that the uniforms were fairly gender neutral. Both the boys and girls wear unisuits (or "unis" as they're so nicknamed). Unisuits are essentially one piece swimsuits with leg pieces that go down to almost the knee.

Outside of rowing, though, there does seem to be a huge contrast in uniform design.

I too have wondered why female athletes have such shorter and revealing uniforms then males. Pretty much everywhere, except for basketball, female athletes walk around in sports bars and shorts. It doesn’t really bother me because I don’t dress like that. I guess it affects the way people look at women and maybe me.
We watched videos in my sociology class about how the media misrepresents women as sex symbols and men as strong and muscular. This video talked about women’s’ bodies being turned into objects. The media kind of makes men seem invulnerable and look like Greek Gods.

I just love watching women wearing sexy uniform. It creates more attraction this way.

This is a good idea of bringing up the man and woman uniforms in the front of people. It is good choice offer woman to wear those outfits in which they feel comfortable and athletic.

I never truly looked at the uniforms as being a problem. But now after reading this article, I see that it can definitely be a problem and that the athletic perspective needs to be stressed more than the sexual content.

I run track in high school, and even at this level there are definite differences between the boys and girls uniforms. our shorts are much shorter than the boys and our tank tops are tighter, making many girls very uncomfortable. It's disturbing to think that girls in certain sports are being portrayed as mere sexual objects instead of true athletes. That just shows the inequalities between men and women.

Although there has always been an obvious difference in male/female athletic attire, like everyone else I had never truly considered the implications of this issue. When playing a sport or working out in the gym, I had always considered it a woman’s right to wear revealing clothing; that meant she had worked hard enough to reach the proper body image expected of her in society. On the other hand, I avoided such clothing because I never felt I had the right body for it. In order words, the ability to ‘wear skimpy clothing well’ became a goal I was always striving to achieve. This blog was a bit of a reality check; what message will I be sending if I continue on this path? Or even better, what discriminations will I be endorsing by conforming to society’s expectations?

I have noticed this also. There's so many sports that females were revealing uniforms. In my opinion, there's no point in it. It won't make the athletes better athletes just because they wear skimpy outfits. It changes the way that people view the athletes and maybe even women in general.

I have played women's sports all my life and have never really paid attention to the uniforms because it is so traditional I think they go unnoticed. I think this is a great point being brought up about why women's uniforms are much more revealing than mens. This article taught me that not only are women being sexualized, but somewhat demoralized for doing something that is not seen as "domestic." It gets me thinking, who is choosing what women end up wearing? Is it men choosing or women? Watching the video of Misty May and Kerri Walsh two of the worlds most amazing athletes, looking at the uniforms I feel like it would be so uncomfortable wearing those bikini bottoms which do not even cover the whole bottom. I mean I am sure they are completely use to it, but I wonder what they thought when they first put those bathing suits on. Great Article!

I believe uniforms are one of the most important things to have. Having that difference between uniforms is not a big deal. Uniforms attracts audiences specially uniforms of women.

I completely agree with you. I have wondered for years why women's sports are required to wear such skimpy uniforms when men are able to just wear shorts and tank tops. I feel like not only does it sexualize female athletes but it also pushes women who are not confident enough in themselves out of the sport because they do not want to wear the uniform. Some uniforms I can see why there are some uniform requirements, but many of them take it too far. Volleyball players wear spandex shorts because when they dive on the floor if they were wearing regular short the shorts would move around and hinder their movement, but the shorts do not need to be as short as they are. It is crazy that even when women are killing themselves playing sports they are still being looked at like a sex symbol.

This is something I've been noticing for years. Sports like volleyball (indoors) have women wearing small, tight spandex whereas men wear normal athletic shorts. I can't imagine it's very comfortable for a girl to be half-naked while playing a sport, but I have to say it's probably helpful in some cases. Sports like track & field and swimming (which, actually, men tend to be wearing less than women in this sport) depend on speed, even down to the last millisecond. The less clothes you're wearing the better chances you have of shaving off just a few milliseconds. So while I do think in some cases it originates from gender socializations and norms, I think some of the female attire branches off from practicality in the sport.

one thing started rolling in my mind- oh! it is why this type of dress should men and women put-on when participating in sports. when we think abt women's dress, as they have low air resistance which thereby helps improving their performance at the same time, to some women it might cause inconvenience and drop their performance. I think all should think about the consequences of subjecting women to this kind of exposure, but the actual point is that these dress code may be more of a distraction than anything else

Hi. Wearing bikinis is in the rules for beach volleyball. Sad but true. Dirty old men run the game.

It is easy to understand why soldiers and people on sports teams need to wear uniforms: to make it clear which side or team each person is on

Some people don't think about the consequences of subjecting women to this kind of exposure, but the truth is that these uniforms may be more of a distraction than anything else

I dove for the ball they were nearly pulled off. And as for runners, have you seen a pair of men's running shorts today? They are extremely short and guys also tend to run shirtless.

I love the observations that you make in your piece. It is very interesting to me that female and male dress for athletic events differs so greatly, but I do believe that this is most impacted by the mood toward gender at a given time period. In the first Olympics, all male athletes, all athletes participated in the nude. And as time when on this has obviously changed. In the early days of woman's sport, woman often wore long skirts and full length shirts. These changes are high influenced by culture, and I believe the lack of clothing that female athletes wear is actually a sign of female liberation.

Hello, although I do see where your point is coming from, I am going to have to disagee. Why ridicule women or men on what uniforms they would like to wear? I am an athlete, I play basketball and softball. For softball, I prefer to wear long pants and short sleeves, or even on occasion long sleeves (depending on the weather). But when I play basketball, I prefer to wear short shorts, and a tank top or even a sports bra if possible. It all depends on the sport you play. For softball, I need to wear long pants for when I slide. When I play summer ball, it is uncomfortable sliding in the dirt in short shorts because it cuts my legs. But for basketball, I prefer to wear clothing that allows more mobility to shoot the ball, defend, and to be able to move quickly on the court. Runners need to wear short shorts and tank tops because running for long distances is exhausting and their bodies can overheat quickly. Although I understand what your opinions are, would you still say the same thing if you saw guys running around with no shirts on?

What major factors do you think influence the way men and women dress when they engage in athletic pursuits? I would say the factors that can influence the way men and women dress is the weather, location, and the sport itself. I would say it dictates the performance, less restriction and being able to move effectively. What sociological explanations might there be for why women’s athletic uniforms tend to be so much more revealing than men’s are? Based on chapter 9 and other chapters there are different theories that explains how social theories explain gender inequality. To answer this particular question I’d focus on one, radical feminism and it’s because the belief is that men are responsible for and benefits from the exploitation of women. Radical feminists differ in their interpretations of the basis of patriarchy, but most agree that it involves the appropriation of women’s bodies and sexuality in some form. I would add the tighter the clothes could be a ploy to sexualize the female body.
Why do you think basketball players, at all levels, are so covered up—relatively speaking—compared with athletes in other sports? If the individuals are playing indoors to help absorb sweat and protect themselves from injures from falling. Outside playing would be to wear garments that protect from the outside elements. What reasons might there be for why men’s and women’s basketball uniforms are so similar? The reasons for both men and women uniforms being similar could be they play for the same team as it relates to franchise, team, or club. Funding or resources could be limited in regards to sales and purchasing. Can you think of other sports that have modest uniforms? Other sport that come to mind that have skimpy uniforms would be volleyball, swimming, and gymnastics

I don't think that most atheletes(ofc there are exception I'd guess) have much say in what uniform are they going to wear, especially if they are sponsored by companies.

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