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Sexualization of female athlete uniforms causes unwanted attention

Art by Rachel Lee

Across the numerous sports at Paly, boys’ uniforms tend to include looser and longer shorts, while girls’ uniforms include form-fitting short skirts or spandex. To many student athletes, one idea is clear: female athletes continue to be defined by their sexual appeal, not their athleticism.

Many female athletes say limited autonomy over their uniform makes them vulnerable to objectifying remarks and catcalls.

Senior Jess Watanabe, co-captain of the girls volleyball team, said her uniform, typically tight spandex, is unnecessary and uncomfortable to some players.

“It’s really unfortunate to see that girls are getting really short and tight bottoms for no reason,” Watanabe said. “Volleyball in general has to be a little more open about what you’re allowed to wear because it doesn’t really affect how you and other people play. What you wear is a personal opinion.”

While officials may be reluctant to change the skirt tradition found in lacrosse and field hockey that has existed since 1926, many sports writers have noted that the tradition is also rooted in early 20th-century misogynist sentiment where women’s appearance in the Olympics was validated because of their allure rather than their performance.

Now, as girls uniforms have shrunk, female athletes leave the Peery Center facing the risk of being catcalled or harassed. Junior Grace Gormley, an athlete on the girls water polo team, said her team has experienced this.

“There definitely have been examples that I know,” Gormley said. “(Players) have been looked at in uncomfortable ways and have been told uncomfortable things about the fact that their uniforms are (tight).”

Gormley said this unwanted attention negatively affects the water polo team.

“(Catcalling) puts us in a very difficult position because obviously we’re just wearing our uniform, and we’re just trying to play our sport, but if we’re being sexualized by our audience, that makes it a lot more uncomfortable to play in,” Gormley said.

Junior Aspen Stitt on the varsity field hockey team agreed.

“Every female student athlete could probably relate to being sexualized here at Paly,” Stitt said.

Gormley also said she wishes there were more administrative support for female athletes in this position.

“We don’t deserve to feel threatened in our space,” Gormley said. “Instead, we deserve to be supported. It’s not our problem for wearing something that is uncomfortable. It’s the problem of those who are sexualizing us.”

Athletic Director Jennifer Crane denied to comment on the uniforms.

Although Gormley said she appreciates the practicality of her uniform, she said she is uncomfortable in her uniform at times and feels the school should offer more options to ensure the players feel safer.

“If you’re worried about being sexualized, that will divert your focus and can put your mind somewhere else other than the game, which has a negative impact on your playing,” Gormley said. “To play any game where you’re wearing a swimsuit, you need to be able to feel like you’re in a safe environment, and if you aren’t, that definitely can be stressful.”

Water polo suits are designed to be as functional as possible, according to Gormley. They are skin-tight and tiny, ensuring opponents can not drag the players under water. Field hockey skirts, on the other hand, lack practicality and only serve the function of upholding tradition, according to Stitt.

“I’d rather we have shorts, honestly, and I feel uncomfortable walking in the hallways with this short skirt and spandex that rides up and that I’m constantly pulling down,” Stitt said. “I’m not sure who designed the uniforms, but whoever did clearly is not a woman and did not play field hockey, because they never would have decided that.”

Stitt also said while she has not confronted anyone about her discomfort with her uniform, a majority of the field hockey team would want to make the switch to wearing shorts. 

“I think most of the team would prefer shorts or something underneath that goes with (the skirt),” Stitt said. “But purchasing new uniforms would be so expensive, and (Paly) might not have the funding for that. If we did, that would be one of the top priorities, getting new uniforms with shorts.”

Watanabe, though comfortable in her outfit, resonates with that statement and said she’d like to see a new design for girls volleyball shorts.

“It should be up to the player to decide what they want to wear on the bottom because boys always have shorts that go down to their thighs, and they don’t really have to expose anything that they don’t want other people to see,” Watanabe said. “But then with volleyball, when you’re playing, you could have your spandex all the way up your butt and you just don’t want that. I don’t really understand why it has to be super tight.”

Stitt said officials and school administrators should do more to reduce sexualization and improve players’ potential and well-being.

“(Sexualization in) sports is present in high schools and we all have some sort of uncomfortable situation with the skirts or shorts or wearing anything,” Stitt said. “So the uniforms are definitely something to (fix) because obviously, you don’t see this on (boys) teams.

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Nidhi Thummalapalli
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