New research, showing that gendered school sports uniforms play a “major role” in the rise in teenage girls’ dropout rates in sports, has already broken boundaries to help remove draconian policies. This means that there is no longer a need to wear skirts at domestic English women’s hockey matches.
Posted today in Sports, education and societyThe study, which looked at a group of women across the UK aged 18 and over, found that 70% reported incidents of girls falling for school sports because of clothing and related concerns about body image.
The search was led by England hockey star Tess Howard, whose goal earned the country its first gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, in a 2-1 win over Australia, last summer.
The 24-year-old’s study was conducted while she was studying Human Geography at Durham University. Her early promotion of her thesis paper within hockey circles (known as field hockey in the US) has already led to the launch of new blanket playing regulations (the uniform) at the start of the 2022/23 England Home Hockey League.
Now Howard – striker for the East Grinstead Hockey Club – balances her career with becoming an activist athlete. It’s on a mission to change the face of hockey at the international level, giving its athletes the choice of wearing shorts or shorts. In the long term, it aims to address the issue of gender dress code in all sports.
“It’s all about selection; selection is strictly inclusive,” said Tess, who was also a star for Great Britain but missed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
“My dream is to go to the Olympics, but my dream is also to have an Olympics with the option to wear shorts or shorts. This is a strong statement of inclusion, belonging and development in women’s sport. No one should be put off to participate in any sport just depends on what the dress code requires Unified, we must put the goal of sport first and enable individuals to enjoy the activity for all the obvious benefits.
“If people want to wear shorts or leggings, or play basketball or tennis or gymnastics, it doesn’t matter. The results I found, in terms of the number of girls putting off sports, are really concerning. It’s the most underrated cause of low women’s athletic numbers.” .
Howard, who is now studying for his master’s degree at the London School of Economics, adds, “The legacy of gender and gender uniforms is historical, dating back to the Victorian era when women and girls in sport had to find ways to assert their femininity as acceptable in a masculine world – whether through playing Tennis, cricket and hockey in long skirts or the sexualization of beach volleyball and gymnastics uniforms.The legacy is still there.
“My research shows that it distorts the view of women’s sport from a young age, focusing on what girls’ bodies look like, rather than what they can do on the athletic field or in the gym. Women’s sports are on the rise – we’re very proud of our successful women’s sports teams; but think about All the girls we’ve lost are because of outfit issues. It’s not a girl problem, it’s a systemic problem in society and it’s a simple solution: choice.”
Historical data shows that the gender play gap begins at the age of five. And by the age of 14, only 10% of girls meet the health criteria for physical activity.
The question Howard wanted to investigate—outside the norms of society, social media, and class—was, “What are the main barriers?”
Her hypothesis was that school sports uniforms influence women’s athletic experiences and participation in physical activity. She also wanted to reveal how the uniform policy could be changed to encourage greater participation in women’s sports.
To find out more, she undertook an extensive online analytical questionnaire, promoted through social media, which was completed by 404 women across the UK. This was followed by eight interviews with a selection of recent school leavers.
The results show that participation and enjoyment of sports is strongly influenced by the uniform. In all, three-quarters of respondents answered “often,” “a lot,” and “sometimes” when asked if participants saw girls stop exercising because of activewear or body image concerns.
As the search results showed:
- Many women felt sexualized by what they were forced to wear in sports, which contributed to the internalization of the unattainable “female body model”.
- Gendered uniforms “influence the development of fear of perceptions of ‘masculinity’ and ‘masculinity/lesbianism’ in sports, and point to ways in which uniforms can contribute to harmful female athletic identity tensions in adolescent girls.”
- Gender-divided uniforms create stereotypes of behavioral gender roles, and “rolling back from standard CIS dress practices could promote a more inclusive space for all”, especially gender diverse students.
- Creating Choice is also about supporting physical athletic performance.
Quotations taken from study respondents highlight this issue.
One respondent said, “My friends with big breasts tend to stop exercising because of the style of our tops.”
Another said, “From seventh to ninth grade, girls in my physical education classes felt uncomfortable fitting into certain equipment and had lower self-confidence in the group if they felt they did not have the ‘perfect female body’.”
Furthermore, another respondent explained: “I felt watched while playing sports with boys and felt uncomfortable wearing clothes that showed my body.”
Following the early results of the study, Howard has been able to use her influence within the sport to effect positive change, but she is determined not to stop there.
It is now launching Inclusive Sportswear CIC, a community interest company that specializes in developing rigorously inclusive sportswear policies and guidelines for schools, clubs, sports organizations and brands. Inclusive Sportswear CIC, and its partnerships with Youth Sport Trust and Sporting Equals, will launch on 3 May at the Include Summit in Manchester, the UK’s #1 equality, diversity and inclusion summit for sport.
Explains Howard, “I constantly ask myself: If not now, when? If not, then who? That’s what drives me. Momentum has been building; now we must associate activewear with inclusion and participation in sport. But it’s a lot more than It: This ties into a larger global movement of individual choice about how our bodies dress and treat.”
Practical, professional or patriarchal? An investigation into the gendered social and cultural impacts of school sports uniforms and the role that school uniforms play in shaping female experiences in school sports., Physical education and society (2023). DOI: 10.1080 / 13573322.2023.2189232
the quote: Many Girls Quit Sports Due to Clothing Concerns, New Study Shows (2023, April 6) Retrieved April 6, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-girls-sports-due.html
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