Women athletes have faced shameless gender discrimination at every turn in their careers and have had to stride long lengths to prove themselves as equals. At times they were paid less than their male counterparts in the same sport; as in the case of Billie Jean King– the inexorable Tennis star who, just to prove her point, floored the self-declared ‘male chauvinist pig’ Bobby Riggs in the 1973 tennis match popularly known as the ‘The Battle Of the Sexes’ at Astrodome in Houston.
Other times they could find little space for the expression of their faiths in international tournaments and defied dress codes to make declarations for their choice and beliefs.
Back in 2016, at the Rio Summer Olympics; An Egyptian Volleyball Team composed of Doaa Elghobashy and her partner Nada Meawad fashioned history by being Egypt’s first-ever Olympics team to compete in a Beach Volleyball Tournament.
However, this was not the only historical event that took place; Doaa Elgobashy took social media by storm after appearing and competing in the tournament in a hijab, as a statement for her adherence to her faith, empowering other Muslim women in sports to unabashedly commit to the faith even on an international scale.
While more and more female athletes have resorted to challenging traditional dress codes at sports events for spiritual reasons, German Gymnasts Sarah Voss, Pauline Schaefer-Betz, Elizabeth Seitz, and Kim Bui once again chronicled their name in history by discarding bikini cut Leotards (which is the standard costume for gymnasts) and showing up and performing in full-body Unitards at the Tokyo Olympics, 2021 condemning the over-sexualization and objectification of women in sports in lieu of any cultural or religious reasons.
In an interview with Reuters Voss said:
“Gymnasts don’t always feel comfortable training in leotards, also in gymnastics competitions, one has the feeling that they slip out of place or could slip out of place. And perhaps the cameras and photographs can catch this poor moment… This bodysuit originated, for this reason, simply to show that there is a possibility and since 2012, wearing matching trousers is also allowed. With the bodysuit we wanted to show the campaign ‘it’s my choice’. We can always freely decide if we want to wear a leotard or a full body suit.”
Although these gymnasts did not break any rules, they did put their performance review at risk because it is evidently noted throughout past gymnastics tournaments that gymnasts who donned unitards generally ended up having their points deducted post-performance.
This, dear readers, is a seamless instance of just how beguilingly sexism and gender norms work their dark magic- from declaring certain types of sports that flaunt the ‘feminine characteristics in a woman’s figure- like Ice-skating and Gymnastics as ‘women appropriate and shelving others like boxing for being ‘too aggressive’ for them to disfavouring non-conforming sportspeople.
It is fairly common for male gymnasts to get ridiculed as athletes by society and other sportspeople; henceforth instigating gender-normative mockery and taboo around the concept of choice even in sports. It is to be lauded that some athletes such as Voss and her team are challenging these traditions and normalizing choice even without religious reasons.
They were commanded by their country’s Gymnastics Federation for taking a stand and also encouraging other female athletes to wear what makes them feel comfortable. In the course of which, many female gymnasts have ditched the old bikini-cut leotards and opted for Full-body suits or ‘unitards’ to flaunt athleticism over the so-called femininity.