Tennis stars Serena Williams and Alizé Cornet are not the only female athletes who’ve had to conform to seemingly sexist sports dress codes.
Sports needs to level the playing field when it comes to female athletes’ uniforms.
U.S. Open officials gave a code violation to French tennis player Alizé Cornet on Tuesday after she briefly took her shirt off on the court after realizing it was on backwards, revealing her sports bra — and many people are furious at the seemingly sexist nature of it.
— Tracy Austin (@thetracyaustin) August 29, 2018
Although the U.S. Tennis Association apologized on Wednesday, saying that it had “clarified the policy to ensure this will not happen moving forward,” many people have pointed out that male tennis players are often seen taking off their shirts on the court without any warnings or penalization during games — including on Tuesday, when the temperature hit almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Queens, N.Y.
“Alize Cornet came back to court after 10 minute heat break. Had her fresh shirt on back to front. Changed at back of court. Got a code violation. Unsportsmanlike conduct…..But the men can change shirts on court,” Judy Murray, mother of the former top male tennis player, Andy Murray, wrote in a Twitter post.
Alize Cornet came back to court after 10 minute heat break. Had her fresh shirt on back to front. Changed at back of court. Got a code violation. Unsportsmanlike conduct….. 😳
But the men can change shirts on court. https://t.co/sCN4KDXYTb
— judy murray (@JudyMurray) August 28, 2018
Casey Dellacqua, the former Australian tennis player responded to Murray’s tweet, writing, “Ridiculous.” And Olympic gold medalist Bethanie Mattek-Sands also reacted to the incident tweeting, “that’s weak!”
Cornet responded to the incident during a press conference on Wednesday by saying, “Well, I think it’s very fair from them to apologize to me. I really appreciate it. I think that the proportion that it took [on] is huge.”
This comes after the French Tennis Federation (FFT) president Bernard Giudicelli banned Serena Williams from wearing a catsuit, which was a compression garment specifically designed to help prevent the blood clots that nearly killed her during childbirth, during the French Open last week. Giudicelli said in Tennis magazine interview last week that her uniform “went too far” and “would no longer be accepted,” adding that players “have to respect the game and the place.”
This led to former tennis champion and women’s rights activist Billie Jean King slamming her sport for telling women how to present themselves. “The policing of women’s bodies must end,” King tweeted on Saturday. “The ‘respect’ that’s needed is for the exceptional talent @serenawilliams brings to the game. Criticizing what she wears to work is where the true disrespect lies.”
The policing of women’s bodies must end. The “respect” that’s needed is for the exceptional talent @serenawilliams brings to the game. Criticizing what she wears to work is where the true disrespect lies. https://t.co/ioyP9VTCxM
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) August 25, 2018
And this is a part of a longer history of a dress code double standard within the world of professional sports. For example, the International Volleyball Federation only just stopped requiring that female volleyball players wear bikinis in 2012. And up until 2004, the International Skating Union (ISU) required that female figure skaters wear skirts; the ISU’s current handbook still states that female competitors have to wear something “modest, dignified, and appropriate for athletic competition.”
Meanwhile, last year, the The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LGPA) came under fire for its new dress code rules, which required that the length of players’ skirts, skorts and shorts be “long enough to not see your bottom area (even if covered by under shorts) at any time, standing or bent over,” and which banned racerback collars and plunging necklines. “The dress code requires players to present themselves in a professional manner to reflect a positive image for the game,” Heather Daly-Donofrio, LPGA tour’s communications and tour operations officer, told Golf Digest.
“As a society we focus on what women wear across on the board; women news anchors, red carpet actresses, so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing this in a co-ed sport like tennis as well,” Carreen Winters, chairman of reputation and chief strategy officer for MWWPR, a global PR, marketing and reputation management firm, told Moneyish. “We know that discrimination of all kinds is deeply ingrained in our society… and the fixation on what women are wearing, and not of what men are wearing in sports, reeks of such unconscious bias.”
And the fact that the majority of officials in sports like tennis are men makes biases about what women are wearing worse, Winters added. In 2013, only 22% of the almost 300 chair umpires at the bronze level or higher in tennis were women.
But promoting more female officials and changing how rules are enforced in the sport can help to begin to fix the problem, Winters said. “I think what we need to see is a gender-neutral application of judgment in how we apply rules, because all rules are subject to interpretation,” she said.
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