Cross-posted at Ms.

According to a BBC News story sent in by Leiana S. and Kinesiology professor Mary Louise Adams, the International Boxing Association may soon require female boxers to wear skirts.  The President of the Association, Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu, argues that it will allow viewers to tell the difference between the men and the women who currently wear the same uniforms, including headgear.  Right now the skirt is an optional variation on the official uniform but, Dr. Wu says, “After we hear about its comfort and how easy it is to compete in the uniform, it may be compulsory.”

At the European Championships in Rotterdam last week, female boxers from Poland and Romania adopted the new uniform.  A coach of the Poland team said: “By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression.”

This might be an example of officials assuming that (1) men are the main audience for boxing and that (2) men will watch women’s boxing more if they differentiate/sexualize women.

It might also, however, be an example of an attempt to retrench difference between men and women exactly when those differences start to dissolve.  Discomfort with the lack of actual differences between men and women sometimes leads individuals to encourage or enforce artificial ones.  I would say that this is one of the main functions of clothes today. Yeah, I said it. I think exaggerating what are actually rather weak and strongly overlapping differences between men and women is one of the primary functions of clothes.

In any case, it’s probably a combination of both.

Earlier this year they tried this with Badminton, but it didn’t take.

The idea that female athletes aren’t sufficiently feminine has been around as long as sports have been around.  Today, the feminizing of athletes is ubiquitous.  See our posts on Serena Williams’s ESPN cover, Candace Parker “is pretty, which helps,” press photos of female athletes in dressesgroundbreaking female sailor is also prettysexualizing female Olympic athletesdiets of championsmedia portrayals of female athletes, and valuing dads in the WNBA.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.