What A Woman Wears On The Tennis Court Is Her Choice
What a sportswoman wears – whose decision is that?
What is more important in sports – the attire or the sport itself?
Let me explain the context of these questions before you answer.
As a child, I remember watching a lot of sports be it football, tennis, cricket or even athletics. But it is only today that some facets of those memories stand out in a way I would never have guessed.
I remember watching Davor Suker standing in the middle of the football field during the FIFA’98 semi-final match bare-chested as the commentator enunciated how the sight of his rippling muscles must be enticing to women. I’m not even rephrasing. These were the exact words spoken. Yes, I kind of have a strange memory. Anyway. I also remember Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and many more male tennis players sitting bare-chested wiping sweat while taking a break in between sets. Again, at that point, it didn’t register to me as something abnormal because it really wasn’t. Well, not until a couple of weeks ago when it was pointed out that a woman tennis player, Alize Cornet, quickly changing her top in the court can be penalised. Apparently, it’s wrong? Well, if that’s the case, I think a lot of penalties are due from the male players. You must have seen Novak Djokovic do that recently so why hasn’t he been penalised too? Also, look at our cricketers itching their crotches on the field, surely that is ‘improper’ too! Why no hue and cry there?
What is the problem then?
Let me tell you. It is the sexualisation of women that has been happening for centuries. Yes, sexualisation by men who now occupy most of the powerful positions around the world. How many women do you think are there in the decision making bodies around the world? Some figures for you:
Twenty per cent (20%) of organisations have achieved gender parity on their boards.
Twenty-five per cent (25%) of organisations have achieved gender parity at the level of senior management.
Take for example the health sector,
Sixty-nine per cent (69%) of organisations are headed by men.
Eighty per cent (80%) of board chairs are men.
That doesn’t prove the point then let me tell you some statistics from 2016 when it comes to sports leadership. Trust me, nothing monumental would have changed in 2018.
Quoting from an article (link embedded) “…research, based on the Sydney Scoreboard Global Index for Women in Sports Leadership, shows that women chaired only 7% (5 of 70) of international sports federations in 2016 (see table below). This is the same as in 2012, so no positive change has been achieved in the past four years. Women occupied 19% (12 of 64) of chief executive positions in 2016, up from 8% in 2012.
So men hold a staggering 93% of chair or president roles and 81% of chief executive positions. This means the key leadership positions in global sports governance and management remain largely elusive for women.”
Is it then a surprise really that women are penalised on what they should or shouldn’t wear? Is it a surprise that a non-issue like what a female player is wearing becomes an issue? Well if you ask me, this is just a ploy for female obedience.
“As women demanded access to power, the power structure used the beauty myth materially to undermine women’s advancement.”
― Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
This is just a by-product of the beauty myth that has been propagated for aeons now. It is the set of dos and dont’s that women have to adhere to when it comes to an appropriate attire whether at the workplace or elsewhere. At workplaces around the world, women need to dress a certain way to be taken seriously. Have you seen a man fret over what he’s wearing? A man can be taken seriously no matter what he wears. For a woman, she can be underdressed, overdressed or provocatively dressed. Who decides that really? And why should somebody else decide that? I have heard male colleagues dissect a woman’s attire and decide if she is good at her work or worth being taken seriously based on that.
If men are visually aroused by women's bodies then whose problem is that? #Women Click To Tweet
In fact, leave that aside for a while, let’s talk about how what a woman wears is directly linked to respect all around the world. I don’t see a man’s attire being a cause for concern then why this burden on females?
Think about it, why was Serena Williams’ black catsuit banned when it was a medical necessity? Why the ruckus? She is a tennis player who has proven her mettle over the years. When she is on the tennis court all that should matter is how she is playing not what she is playing in. Or, is that wrong to expect?
What a sportswoman wears - whose decision is that? #WomenInSports #Women Click To Tweet
As a woman, I say we must not put our heads down and accept everything without a fight. And I love that Serena Williams has been fighting against this in a tutu. Because let’s face it, these dos and don’ts are never about women, are they? These are about men.
“The beauty myth is not about women at all. It is about men’s institutions and institutional power.”
― Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women
What women wear or look like is something that must be left to the women themselves. Our work, our calibre doesn’t seem to matter as much as our looks or our attire. So much so that a false demarcation has been created pitting us against each other so that we remain forever entangled in this false beauty web.
Our clothes have never been just something we wear. It has been linked to everything around us, everything that is us. What women wear has been linked to the family’s honour. What women wear has been linked to averting rapes. And I don’t need to tell you how wrong that is. But we are taught to believe that what women wear and present themselves in has a lot of consequences. It starts quite early when girls are suddenly made to wear salwar suits with dupattas as uniform as opposed to skirts because obviously the sight of their adolescent bodies cannot be handled by adolescent boys. Nobody thinks of educating boys in that regard or is that too tough a proposition? When a woman visits her in-laws or her in-laws come visiting she is expected to wear decent clothes which obviously doesn’t include shorts. But have you see any man stop wear shorts at home when in the presence of in-laws. Don’t bother, I’ll give you the answer. It’s a no, a resounding no.
So, why should women adhere to any rules? Our body, our choice. Or, is that too much to stomach? Stop trying to shift focus by talking about what we are wearing. We are more than our clothes, always have been.
Tell me, what did you think of the incidents that happened recently on Tennis court? Also, do you have any such incident of your own to share?
This post is part of the #FeministMondays series (previously called #IAmAFeminist series) on the blog. Inspired by a TEDx talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists, I intend to talk about the need for feminism through my posts, posts on my experience and observation as a female. I intend to talk about issues concerning women.
Join me and let’s work towards a world of gender parity. Remember, each voice counts. Tell me your story.