Shorts vs. skirts: What’s the big deal?

by Clare Tourtelotte, Sports Editor
graphic by Julie Wang

As female athletes, when we receive uniforms for the season, we notice how tight the top is, or how short the bottoms are. However, short, revealing clothing for girls is so baked into everyday society that we might not look twice. Moreover, many female athletes fail to ask themselves: “Do I feel comfortable in this uniform?” 

Society wants to reveal womens’ body shapes, and a key example of this is women’s sports uniforms. In fact, the International Handball Federation (IHF) requires female athletes to wear small tank tops and bikini bottoms, “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg.” The men, on the other hand, wear loose shorts and long tank tops. When the Norwegian women’s handball team wore spandex shorts during a match in the Euro 2021 tournament to protest their sexist uniform, each player was fined approximately $150 for “improper clothing,” according to the IHF. 

The IHF’s insistence that handball players wear bikini bottoms reinforces the constant sexualization that female athletes face. This example with the dress code is one of hundreds that illustrate the traditional beliefs surrounding how female athletes are required to present themselves. 

South’s girls sports teams wear a range of uniforms, most of which include a shorter and tighter alternative to male athletes’ uniforms, and for some sports, female athletes wear skirts. Female sports uniforms are more revealing than those of males because the patriarchy prioritizes showcasing women’s bodies rather than their athletic abilities. 

For example, girls volleyball is a sport at South in which short spandex is the norm. These tight, short shorts contribute to a toxic headspace for female volleyball players not only because the tightness makes girls conscious of their body, but also less focused on the game.

Additionally, the athletes on the girls lacrosse team at South wear skirts, while the boys’ team wears loose shorts. There are technical differences between girls and boys lacrosse, but none warrant girls wearing a completely different uniform. 

Some female athletes prefer wearing skirts and short shorts, and if that is what makes them feel most comfortable and confident, then they have the right to make that choice. However, many female athletes are handed uniforms without a choice. This is unacceptable.

Athleticism and strength are qualities that society has deemed “masculine,” while kindness and weakness are considered “feminine.” These traits are ingrained in society through traditional gender roles, even in sports. 

When female athletes show strength, society claims them as less feminine. As a result, the uniforms forced onto girls perpetuate the idea that they have to show their femininity. Women are strong, fast, muscular and tall, and as a society, it’s time to embrace that.

We must stop following traditional gender roles and start normalizing female athletes wearing what they feel comfortable in, as all athletes should have the right to do what they love without their gender defining it.