The Irony of a Woman’s Professional Uniform in Sport

This blog is about the irony of what is deemed appropriate workplace attire for women in the context of sport.

I have written quite a bit about the Lingerie Football League and my disdain for the league and their claims it promotes women’s sport (to read all my posts on the LFL, click here). Evidently I am not alone in feeling the LFL marginalizes female athletes, and women who  play real professional football. Two players from the KC Tribe team, Katie and Liz Sowers, put together an entertaining and informative video expressing how many women in the Women’s Football Alliance feel about the LFL.  This video is worth watching and sharing! One of their main points is that female athletes seem to only get recognized when they take off, or have very little clothing on (i.e., when they are portrayed is sexy ways…another topic I have written extensively about). If you want to see the most recent example of this, click here to see a calendar made by a Vancouver women’s hockey team.

Relatedly, on the other end of the spectrum….this week the MLB came out with a dress code for media personnel. If you read the new code, it won’t take you long to surmise this code is targeted towards females. For example it reads: Visible undergarments, sheer clothing, one-shouldered and strapless shirts or clothing exposing bare midriffs will be banned. Skirts, dresses or shorts cut more than three or four inches above the knee will be deemed to be in violation. I’m not in many MLB press boxes but I’m guessing there aren’t many, if any men, who are in this attire, so the rule must be aimed at females.

Phyllis Merhige, an MLB senior vice president stated, “There’s no one who expects reporters to wear a suit and tie (My commentary: i.e. suit and tie are typically associated with a white-collar, White male dress code). But with the advent of different media, there are now individuals who are not part of a bigger organization that may have a dress code.”  If you read this statement critically, the “norm” in press boxes refers to traditionally trained, older male sport journalists, and “different” means anyone is who falls outside that norm (i.e., women, and Millennial bloggers both male and female).

Data supports that females are the minority in press boxes and this fact is problematic as I wrote in a previous blog: “According to a 2008 report commissioned by the AP Sport Editors, females comprise less than 10% all sport reporters. Given that female sport journalists are statistical tokens (< 15% of a population) they are under constant scrutiny, have to perform above and beyond their male peers to be deemed competent, and are subjected to overt and covert forms of discrimination.”

The dress code policy for MLB reminds me of the Jets-Sainz incident of 2010 where Ines Sainz was harassed in the Jets locker room, and criticized for not dressing professionally. Despite what one is wearing, attire does not give permission for males to harass or act boorishly. Speaking of boorish, if you doubted that harassment, discrimination and sexism are not part of the reality for female sport journalists, look no further than sports columnist Rick Bacon’s recent DeadSpin post.

In his blog, he wrote: “that the rules are really there to take on the princess female reporters, like ESPN’s Erin Andrews and Suzy Kolber, ladies so caked in makeup that Papa Bacon would have slapped me twice had I brought them home. Notably, the rules mention ripped jeans and midriff-revealing shirts, things you won’t find in my closet or my nieces. And good for Major League Baseball. These gals might be lookers, but they distract the whole team’s attention. It’s awkward enough having them in the clubhouse to begin with. Some of us came here to ask questions, not to flirt. We came here to do the reporter’s job. When reporters talk about “inches,” we’re not talking about the hem of a skirt or the height of a heel. We’re talking professional copy…It’s good that the locker-room peekaboo act will have to cover up. Fans deserve better coverage too..”

Bacon certainly lives up to the origin represented by the animal associated with his last name. Bacon’s generalized, gendered, dichotomous assertions do not make for a collegial work environment. The MLB is trying to head off or prevent workplace harassment, but educating everyone on professional behavior might be a bigger step forward in changing the culture.

In summary, ironically what is considered an appropriate and desired work place “professional” uniform in the LFL, is now ruled an inappropriate uniform for professional sport media spaces.

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