"Girlfriends of the Court"

Lawyers’ Lingerie League: Clothing as Control?

In Career, fashion, media, shoes, women on June 13, 2012 at 8:59 am
Cassie McRichie - page 8.jpeg

Single-sculler Cassie McRichie, founder of the Albert Park Lake women’s rowing club, wasn’t troubled by an overly sexualised costume in 1900.

The last couple of weeks has seen the Lingerie Football League (‘LFL’) in the news.  If you’re uncertain about what this entails, it is ‘Hot babes in lingerie playing footy!’ according to the Triple M website promoting it. (See also a spectator’s view here.)

Some commentators have decried the so-called sport as sexist, while others claim that this is snobbery.

So is it sexist?  If so, why?  Are there implications for women more broadly?


Clothes in the ‘sporting’ arena

It seems to me that while the LFL is referred to as a ‘sport’, its purpose is clearly sexual titillation of heterosexual men.  As ‘true fantasy football’ the team names (Philadelphia Passion; Las Vegas Sin; Orlando Fantasy…) as well as ‘lingerie’ in the sport’s title give away the overtly sexualised nature of the league and the role of clothing (or lack thereof) in representation of womanhood.

It might be argued that other women’s sports represent women in skimpy outfits, and this is correct.  Tennis players’ short skirts, netballers’ lycra outfits and rowers’ tight-fitting ‘zooties’ are all revealing in their own way. In contrast to LFL however, these sports present themselves as sports first.  While some may derive sexual gratification from watching, this is incidental.  For LFL, the outfit is everything and useless suspenders and a garter highlight the sexual overtones of the uniform.  They are sexually suggestive costumes alone.

Helen Razer pointed out that roller derby isn’t singled out as sexist, concluding that there are classist overtones to criticisms of LFL.   She points out that ‘middle class’ roller derby players ‘wear their hotpants ironically’ and therefore seem immune from criticism.

While costumes appear to be an important component of roller derby, Helen Razer’s point is perceptive.  I wonder however if this suggests a self-awareness and raised consciousness in this context that is difficult to see in the LFL. Additionally, while some roller derby player names do have sexual overtones (eg Bullet La Vulva) the game does not purport to exist for heterosexual male titillation in the way that LFL does.

Secondly, it is almost impossible to imagine LFL being played by men because of the central role of lingerie (and heterosexual male titillation).  Any other sport, including roller derby, can be played by men or women alike.  To my way of thinking, this in particular earmarks LFL as a sexist endeavour.

The LFL seems to objectify women’s bodies in a so-called sporting context, over and above the game itself.  It does this through the clothing, an integral part of the LFL indicated in its name, and by the particular ‘look’ of women selected to play.  This is another key difference from roller derby, that is played by women of all sizes and shapes.  For women’s ‘sport’ to gain acceptance, LFL implies is that we need to look a particular (sexualised) way for a particular audience.

As our culture absorbs this well-funded norm over and above women’s sport generally, women’s sport will further struggle for funding and standing.  But does the message go further afield?

Clothes at work

If women are told that their sporting prowess is secondary to their appearance, what is happening in the workplace?  The responses to previous posts on this blog about women’s working garb indicate that women, particularly in law, continue to feel controlled by (legal) corporate culture in terms of what they wear.

Some tell us not to look titillating in the office by displaying cleavage or too much leg.   Others tell us to wear skirts not trousers, to ensure we are ‘feminine’ at work.

It seems that what women wear – on the ‘sporting’ field, or in the office, is expected to suit the needs of men: either by displaying our sexuality, or by masking it.

If I could say that LFL was about empowering women to wear what they want as they demonstrate their athletic prowess, then whether or not they were sexually appealing to an audience would be neither here nor there.  But I don’t think that this is the intention of the game.  As I despair at the control exercised over women by the unwritten rules of work-wear, so too do I wonder about the extent to which sporting women are to be controlled by the expectations of clothing.

Is it an issue bigger than the LFL?  Or am I just seeking to impose my own clothing norms on women?

Guest author Kate Galloway teaches law at James Cook University. You can follow her blog at Curl, and on twitter at @KatGallow.

  1. Where does beach volleyball sit in your analysis? The rules stipulate the MAXIMUM width for the bikini bottoms worn by competitors. What role can this possibly play other than sexual tittilation of spectators? At least zooties can be seen as having some relevance to the sport (ie stopping the oar getting caught in your clothes).

    For sport, I think it’s pretty easy – if women are not allowed to wear what the men wear, then there’s an element of sexism. Even if the women “choose” to wear the skimpier uniform – it’s a choice made in the context of lower sports funding and viewer numbers for women’s versions of the sport. The message is clear to women in all sport – men (and money) will watch only if you flash flesh. LFL is just a more honest (and cynical) version of it.

    It’s harder in the workplace because the rules are not as black and white and, ironically, women have more choice than men. Men have a clear dress code that’s difficult to deviate from. Women have a range of options and, as with any area in which women have choice (parenting, work, etc), it’s easy to criticize women for whatever choice they make.

    Perhaps we need to start calling people on their sexist preoccupations with women’s clothing. Unless they can show that the clothes are so far outside the boundaries of reasonableness (eg tracky

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree that beach volleyball costumes surely must exist for titillation… And also your assessment that if women can’t wear what men wear, then it must be sexist. The difference between beach volleyball and LFL is that volleyballers are not (to my knowledge) selected on the basis of their conformity to a particular ‘look’. I know that some sports may select based on height or whatever, but LFL apparently selects on how ‘hot’ the women look. So LFL in purporting to be a sport crosses more than one boundary. This does not mean that there is not a problem with the beach volleyball costumes.

      I agree too that we should start calling people on criticisms of women’s clothing. This is my conundrum with the LFL – I recognise that this is effectively what I am doing… Hence my attempt to get to the bottom of why I think it’s a problem.

  2. …dacks at work), then they should just keep quiet!

  3. Funnily enough the only workplace that I have found that I have not (yet) been criticised for what I wear is the yoga studio. That said, I stick to black clothing.

    You know my views on this well ladies because I have crapped on about long enough over at my blog again and again and AGAIN.

    My view is this – allow people to express themselves in a manner with which they feel comfortable and happy provided that it does not create a health hazard. Most people given free rein to be themselves don’t go to extremes in the way that they dress. If they do and it causes a furore – eg a transparent net blouse with no bra and nipples on display – by all means go to the person and ask them if they wouldn’t mind considering wearing something different.

    I tend to agree with you that the way to get attention these days is to flash as much toned flesh as possible. One of these days that too will get to be a bit old hat. Maybe then would be the time to get athletes to compete nude as they did once upon a time back in the Greek vase days 😉

  4. It is worth noting that there is a sexual element to just about all male sport, especially the competitive variety (and many other aspects of competitive human life, too). Demonstrating that you are bigger, faster, stronger, brighter, more helpful, or better looking etc than your “competition” isn’t something limited to humans, of course. It is one of the fundamentals of “sexual selection” throughout the animal world, especially (though far from exclusively) amongst males. Is a top flight sportsman strutting his stuff doing anything very different from a Satin Bower Bird or a frog proclaiming to the world that it has a deeper and groovier croak than any of his neighbours? Not surprisingly, there is quite a body of literature that looks at sport in the context of sexual display and selection. See http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP06113124.pdf for example.

    Anyone who doubts that there is a “sexual selection” component to men’s sport should just watch a tennis match starring Rafa Nadal with the female members of my own household!

    Perhaps it is simply the overtness of LFL in a world in which female display of this kind is less “taken for granted” than male display that makes us cringe?

    But its more complex (and more pervasive) than this of course. For an interesting (though male focused) perspective on the role of sexual selection on the genesis of culture more generally (with passing comments on clothing and other forms of bodily adornment, like sports cars) http://www.unm.edu/~psych/faculty/cultural_displays.htm is worth a look.

  5. Kudos for creating a blog post on this topic. There is not eougnh information written about it (not particularly helpful anyway). It is encouraging to see it getting a little bit more coverage. Thanks again!

    • I could spend days absorbing the ioftrmaoinn spread out in your blog Kimberly. I thirst for your wisdom, Our Father’s Grand Wisdom. I am so excited that you are blessed & willing to share so many of your tricks, secrets, prayerful life with us or me; homeschooling, manager of my home with 3 children. My family began unexpectedly at 15 and I am so grateful to be learning much from you. Thank you! Thank you JESUS![]

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