by Saloni Dadwal
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.” - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Although feminism has made great strides in the past few decades, opening up more opportunities for women, people are still reluctant to the idea of women in sports. According to orthodox patriarchal beliefs, sports are associated with masculinity. And a woman participating in inherently ‘masculine’ activities seems to threaten historical male dominance. In spite of the fact that these conservative opinions and remarks are not made openly now, these ideas are internalized within the society. There are rules in sports organizations that are clearly gender-biased, females face gender equity issues as sportswomen and even in the position of sports organization authority. Gender inequality has become institutionalized within sports organizations. There is significantly less representation of women in leadership roles in sports federations, which is directly linked to the minimal coverage, less priority, and limited opportunities given to female players. There are gender wage gap problems, sexualization of women, limited opportunities for Muslim women due to strict dress codes which don’t allow them to wear modest attire. In 2019, the US national soccer team filed a lawsuit against the soccer federation because of the wage gap problem and highlighted the issue of the wage gap in sports. While women's sports teams get paid nothing when they lose, men’s losing wage is more than women’s winning wage. Soccer federation does not provide women with appropriate turf to practice on, whereas men are given appropriate facilities. All of this is blamed upon the revenue that the women’s team brings in but it doesn’t end there.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg, women all over the world are constantly sexualized and maltreated by sports associations, media, general audiences. They are treated as sex objects/eye candy for the male gaze. More attention is given to how these women look, which takes the attention away from their athletic abilities. The media tries to sexualize women, validating and rewarding them on their appearances rather than their athletic expertise. At times, these players are even depicted nude or in suggestive poses on the covers of magazines, promoting their physical aspects, little to no attention is given to the number of medals they won. On one end of the spectrum, women are shamed for wearing revealing attire. Whereas, on the other end, they are fined for wearing something less revealing.
Recently, the Norwegian handball team was fined 1500 euros for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms, during the European handball championship against Spain. The team felt that bikini bottoms were too revealing, saying that they had worn them at the starting of the tournament only because they feared disqualification. European Handball Federation announced that this was a ‘case of improper clothing’. Team players had been protesting against the clothing rules before the start of the tournament. Norwegian handball federation has supported the team saying, “together we will continue to fight to change the rules for clothing so that players can play in the clothes they are comfortable with!” Team players and Norwegian politicians have strongly opposed the inappropriate rule and the fine, saying that the fine is disgraceful and sexist.
These strict rules attached to women’s clothing also limit the opportunities and representation of Muslim women in sports. Until 2012, women were not allowed to wear headscarves in Olympic Games, but after a long fight against this rule, Olympic Committee finally allowed women to wear the headscarf in some sports. Islamic culture already attaches a lot of stereotypes and restrictions on sportswomen and women in general. The last thing these women need is more restrictions from international federations. In 2014, Qatar national team had to withdraw from the Asian games due to the hijab ban by the Asian games federation. This ban was then retrieved in 2017. But hijabs and headscarves are still banned from various sports. Many young women lose their chance at a potential sports career over this ban. These women who already come from orthodox Muslim culture, suffering through various religious hurdles, should not be forced to withdraw from playing unless there are valid reasons attached to these regulations.
Media and federations conveniently cater to the male gaze for numerous reasons. Enhanced rules and representation of women are needed in sports organizations. The policing of women’s clothing, sexualization, and gender-based discrimination are still immensely normalized and it necessitates structural change.
About the Author
Saloni Dadwal is a research intern at Ytharth.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ytharth.