Not until 1920 did the Olympics allow women to compete in swimming.
With the addition of women’s boxing, the London Games will mark the first Olympics in which women are allowed to compete in every sport contested by men.
To Warner, the notion that modern-day boxers and badminton players would be forced to wear skirts hearkens back to a century’s old era, in which women’s Olympic participation was largely dictated by dress.
But if women’s boxing and badminton averted a potential step backward on the eve of the 2012 Games, beach volleyball took a bold step forward in giving women the right to compete in less revealing outfits, in the view of U.S. Olympian Jennifer Kessy.
“We want women of all different religions and everyone from around the world to be able to play our sport,” Kessy said this week. “To not be able to because of the attire is not okay for us. So the fact that women can wear more modest garb is something great.”
Said Kath Woodward, a British sociology professor and author of “Sex, Power and the Games”: “Really, I think there are more weighing things to worry about. But in a way, it is quite important. Women should be able to wear shorts and vests rather than wearing bikinis. It trivializes women; they get called girls and sexualized.”
That said, the U.S. women plan to stick with their bikinis for London, although they’ve packed leggings and long-sleeved fitted shirts in case temperatures plunge for their matches, which will be held late at night to attract the biggest possible TV audience in the United States.
April Ross, Kessy’s teammate, laments the fixation on bikinis, which she considers market-driven hype.
“As an athlete that has played beach volleyball a long time, I appreciate the hard work we put in and how grueling the sport actually is, so I couldn’t care less what we wear while we play,” Ross said. “I understand that other women have other concerns than we do. So wear shorts, wear pants. I don’t care. And I don’t think anyone else should care, either.”