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How Sports Leagues And Associations Regulate Women's Bodies And Clothing


We're in the first week of the U.S. Open. And beyond the conversation about the game, this year people are talking about a double standard in dress codes. On Tuesday, French player Alize Cornet was given a code violation for briefly taking her shirt off after she realized it was on backward. One day before that, Serena Williams wore a black tutu in response to criticism about a skintight black suit she wore at the French Open back in May. That outfit was, in part, to prevent life-threatening blood clots. Anya Alvarez has faced similar criticism as a former professional golfer, and she's been writing about how sports regulates women's bodies and clothing. Welcome.

ANYA ALVAREZ: Hi, thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: What was your reaction to Alize Cornet receiving that citation?

ALVAREZ: Initially, I just thought it was ridiculous having watched tennis matches earlier and had - seeing the men (laughter) taking their shirts off without any repercussions whatsoever.

SHAPIRO: And Cornet, we should say, was wearing a sports bra underneath the shirt, which was off for maybe 10 seconds at most.


SHAPIRO: You wrote that it reminded you of your own experience as a golfer.

ALVAREZ: Yes. When I was younger and I was practicing at a club that I had been too many times, I went to the golf course in shorts that were actually longer than the club's requirements. And they still sent me home because they said that they were inappropriate and didn't meet the guidelines. And for me at that age, it felt like I was being targeted against because I had a curvier and more muscular body than most of the girls at the club and that they just thought it didn't look appropriate for me on my body type.

SHAPIRO: These are examples of women being policed for exposing too much skin. In your piece for The Guardian, you point out that women have also been policed for trying to play sports in hijabs, that until recently they were banned from wearing concealing clothing as well as revealing clothing.

ALVAREZ: Yes. It seems like women can't win in particular when we're just talking about sports. In my piece, I also talk about, too, how the Boxing Federation wanted to require women to wear skirts. And thankfully they received enough backlash that they never followed through on that. And when you're talking about hijab where women are trying to be more modest and also, you know, follow religious decorum, they're getting backlash for it. And I think we also see this happening in society where women are told to be feminine but don't be too provocative because you don't want to sexualize yourself too much. But then they're also being put in positions where they feel like they do have to sexualize themselves. So they're constantly walking this tightrope and being criticized from all different directions no matter what they do.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like this is a conversation about much more than just sports.

ALVAREZ: Absolutely. I think, you know, you can even just look at breastfeeding as an example of where women are using their bodies to feed their children, and they are held at a high scrutiny for that and being shamed for doing that in public. And I don't understand why women's bodies continue to be held up to a much higher level of scrutiny than men.

SHAPIRO: Eliminating gender disparities and sexism in society is obviously a worthy and very ambitious goal. Is there a slightly less ambitious goal that could solve this problem in pro sports?

ALVAREZ: I think one of the things that would help eliminate some of these issues that we see in regard to female athletes - to have these different dress code requirements placed on them is to, one, look at who's in charge of these different sports organizations. And is there gender equality there? I think most organizations are ran by men. And if there's no gender equality on the people who are actually administering rules or creating those rules, then we're going to see more issues rise up - because I can almost guarantee that if there were more women in charge of helping make these decisions, that we would see less of these issues rising up in terms of if a girl or woman's skirt is too short or too tight or if Serena's bodysuit is deemed inappropriate or not respectful to the game of tennis.

SHAPIRO: Anya Alvarez is a former professional golfer and founder of the website Major League Girls about girls and women in sports. Thanks for talking with us today.

ALVAREZ: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.