Beach volleyball: Does it make a difference if the women choose the skimpy uniforms?

My short answer: Yes.

My slightly longer answer: I might still think there are interesting, critical things to be said about a person’s choices in a society with such thick and strongly enforced gender norms, but ultimately–whatever I may think about another person’s choices–I respect what other women want, especially what they want to wear. I’m a feminist who thinks we need to critically engage with gender norms and socialization but I’m also the kind of feminist who thinks you get to choose what’s right for you.

Sidenote: While I think we all ought to critically and thoughtfully engage with society’s gender norms, I don’t think you have to do that. Even if you just thoughtlessly absorb them, we still have to respect your choices. Also, lots of women make strategic choices. For example, there are some norms of feminine gender presentation I might recognize as personally oppressive but choose to abide by anyway because the costs of not doing so are too high. 

Whatever your reasons–thoughtless endorsement of gender norms, reflective engagement and acceptance of the norms, or strategic cost/benefit analysisI think your choices have to be respected.

This comes up because I posted on Monday about the women’s beach volleyball skimpy uniforms (as compared to the men’s loose tanks and long baggy shorts.) Several of you chimed in our Facebook page about choice. The women chose the bikini style uniforms. It’s not like boxing where they were forced to wear skirts.

Here’s some snippets from the debate on our Facebook page:

  • the women who choose to wear them say they prefer them. They simply don’t want to be sexualized based on their choice of uniform. Let’s not shame them for their decision to wear a uniform that allows them to perform at their best.
  • Nah, there is no way that playing at that level with a wedgie is preferable. And if less really is more comfortable, why are the men in shorts and a loose fitting tank top? Shouldn’t they be topless in a speedo?
  • Why not take the women at their word and assume they are telling the truth? *shrug*
  • Dissecting how socialization and internalized misogyny might contribute to their choice of outfit is not shaming them at all
  • I have heard/read a few interviews where the women say they love showing the powerful bodies they’ve worked hard for and that the crops/low-hi-cut bottoms are best in the heat. That’s good enough for me!
  • I think the important thing to remember is WHY they might be choosing less?? If it’s because it’s empowering to them to have their strong body at the focus then cool. If it’s because we constantly sexualize women and that’s the only way for female athletes to get sponsors then I don’t blame them as individuals at all, but it’s more evidence that how we value women still sucks
  • I have been so bugged by this forever. And yes I was surprised to learn they have a choice. And they choose to wear the bikinis. Apparently not bothered by wedgies or sand in their crotches, they say bikinis enhance their performance because they don’t ‘get in the way’
  • As a feminist, I support the right of these powerful Olympians to wear the uniform they prefer to wear. Second-guessing choices made by other women (choices that don’t affect you in any way) is not a feminist position.
  • Of course they choose to wear less… Who gets more sponsors? A “sexy” Olympian woman or one that is properly dressed

Love the diversity of opinion and the respectful discussion. Feminists are not a monolithic group. You should go like our page if you don’t already!

Some of you sent me this image, showing the contrast between the usual women’s beach volleyball uniform and what the Egyptian players were wearing:

I shared it. Thanks friends! Again, an interesting discussion ensued. Pretty much every comment thread after this image mentioned the difference in melanoma risk. There was also more lively debate about choice. And one commentator thought that neither outfit looked like what’s comfortable for playing beach volleyball and that both “represent opposite outcomes of the male gaze dictating how women dress, though.” Pretty much everyone seemed to think the mens’ uniform, somewhere in the middle in terms of exposed skin, gets it right–baggy shorts and loose fitting tank tops.

What’s true is that the rules governing beach volleyball uniforms for women have evolved to accommodate women who for religious or cultural reasons want to show less skin. What seems to be the case though–and correct me if I’m wrong–is that it’s a team choice. What if you’re a dissenting team member if a team who chose the standard women’s beach volleyball uniform? What if your grounds for not wanting to play in the bikini aren’t religious at all? What if you’d simply rather play in a tank and baggy shorts?

At a sports question exchange site someone asks, Are the gender differences in Olympic uniforms simply a style choice? Whose choice?. Here’s the answer:

In Beach Volleyball, the default clothing is indeed strikingly different and far more revealing for women. Women may wear more modest clothing citing religious or cultural reasons, but have to request permission for these. Men are not allowed not wear more revealing (or more modest) clothing.

In Gymnastics, the laws are really complicated, because there is a multitude of disciplines. Generally, women seem to have more options.

In Swimming, men must wear more revealing clothing.

See this post to see just how revealing, Accidental Censorship Of Olympic Divers Makes Them All Look Like Porn Stars.


athletes · team sports · Uncategorized

On Winning for Gold and “Losing” for Silver

canadian women's hockey team When Patrick Chan got the silver medal for men’s figure skating in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, he apologized to Canadians for not getting the gold. And when Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated to silver, Canadians cried foul!  How is it possible that their free skate was that much “worse” than the American team’s?

When the Canadian women’s and men’s hockey teams won gold, Canadians celebrated and cheered in a way that they would not have had “we” lost that gold medal game.

But the thing about a gold medal game is this: the worst you can do is get the silver medal!  Silver is pretty darn good.  I’m always struck by the reaction of athletes and spectators, especially when it comes to the gold medal game.

I get that in the gold medal game, you win for gold and lose for silver.  And in the scheme of a hockey game, for example, there’s no getting around the fact that if you end up with the silver, you’ve lost that game.  But you’ve still come out pretty well, and don’t we all forget that?

There is such tremendous pressure on the athletes to get gold. Suddenly, during the Olympics, so many people lose sight of the sheer joy of watching elite athletes compete at their chosen sports.  The pressure is so great that I actually feel bad for athletes who don’t win (which is a lot of athletes!).

I’d read somewhere that the Sochi Games would be considered a failure (by Russians?) if the Russian men’s hockey team didn’t win the gold medal.  If that’s true, it’s sad.  I felt a real pang of disappointment on their behalf when they got eliminated (they didn’t even make it to the bronze medal game).  I recalled the time in World Cup soccer when the Columbian player who scored on his own net was murdered for his mistake.  Is winning the big prize really so important?

And yet, I sat on the edge of my seat during both hockey games, cheering for the Canadian teams, knowing full well that the worst they could do was get a silver medal. And though I didn’t think Patrick Chan owed us an apology, I felt disappointed that he didn’t manage to nail a couple of parts of his beautiful program that would have earned him the gold medal.

Besides the thrill of Canadian victory in the hockey games (we’re kind of serious about our hockey!), I have two Olympics moments that will be forever etched in my memory. The first is the overflowing joy of the Swiss women’s hockey team as they received their bronze medals.  They beamed with pride. I felt more moved watching their reactions than the Canadians, equally beaming.  In contrast, the US team stood in shock. Few smiled when they received their silver medals. They were still feeling the sting of having just lost a game (that it looked as if they had in the bag).

I don’t blame the US women for their reaction.  I’m sure “our” team would have been similarly devastated to lose the gold medal game.

The second image came right at the end, when in the closing ceremony they awarded the medals for the men’s 50K cross country ski event.  Three Russian athletes stood on the podium while the three Russian flags ascended to their rousing national anthem (what is it about their national anthem? I love it!).  I could feel the pride of the athletes at that moment. Pleased that we Canadians didn’t have to sacrifice hockey, it seemed fitting to me that the final medal ceremony should be a Russian sweep.

I can get as caught up as anyone in medal counts and pining for gold, but the fact is, all of the athletes are amazing to watch.  All of them, medalists and non-medalists, the athletes who get the gold, the athletes who surprise themselves with bronze, the athletes who come in seventh but are thrilled at their personal record, they’re all world class at their chosen sport.  What an amazing thing to get to watch them every day for a couple of weeks every four years!

I’m one of those people who likes races where everyone gets a medal.  See my post Why It’s a Good Thing That Everyone Gets a Medal. I don’t actually think that this should extend to the Olympics. It wouldn’t be nearly as exciting. So I’m not saying that everyone who competes at the Olympics is a winner.  Of course not. But for sure everyone who gets a medal at the Olympics, whether it be gold, silver, or bronze, is a winner.

Just ask the Swiss women’s hockey team.