Sunday, July 09, 2023

Let's talk about periods--or not

In the lead up to Wimbledon, I read several pieces and saw even more headlines about the change in the all-white clothing rule to allow players in the women's draw to wear darker shorts/tennis underwear. (Does anyone wear those anymore? Wishing I had kept some of mine now.)

There were no bones made about the fact that this change was to ease players' anxiety about playing while on their periods. 

Point1: This change was subject to a vote because it is considered a rule change to the dress code. A vote. In 2023 that helps ease the anxiety of menstruating players. 

Point 1a: This is not a new issue. Most of the stories mention that some soccer teams are eliminating white shorts from their kits as well this summer. This discussion has also emerged in regard to long-distance athletes (cyclists, runners, triathletes) who are not as bound by dress codes/team uniforms but affected by the nature of their sports which often do not allow for a bathroom break to change a tampon or pad or empty a menstrual cup. So in those sports we have seen bloodied outfits. A few years ago (it was probably longer because everything seems to be a few years ago to me) a menstruating woman ran a marathon while on her period and was not at all ashamed by it and wanted to use the moment to bring attention to athletes who menstruate. (Google it for more details.) 

Point 1b: The fact there seems to be some concerted attention to athletes who have their periods while competing in this the year 2023 is a little demoralizing (even as the changes I have mentioned are loudly applauded). It demonstrates how little input women have in sports as athletes and administrators. 

Point 2: The print media was all over this story. I assume some radio outlets were as well. No one has said anything about the rule change on air. I have only been watching ESPN's coverage but I cannot imagine Tennis Channel is much different (and my only understanding of how the BBC operates is based on controversies over the monarchy and Great British Baking Show). The silence kind of surprised me given how commentators usually do not hold back when commenting on women's outfits. It is not as if the black and dark green shorts are not obvious. EDITED TO ADD: Martina Navratilova covered Sabalenka's 4th round match and said that the players are now allowed to wear "colored undershorts" and that it was nice to add a little color to the courts "legally." She DID NOT say WHY the change was made. The implication of her awkward phrasing is that the All-England Club wanted more color on the courts. 

But of course television/streaming media is far more conservative than print media, as I often reminded my sport management students when I taught in those departments. They basically are still not talking about periods. Chrissy Evert generally cannot hold herself back from talking about what things were like in her day and how she responded to X and Y. But Chrissy has been radio silent (or ESPN silent) about periods and dress codes. Not very surprising; she does seem to stay quiet when it comes to women's issues. (Go back and look at how she responded when asked to join Billie Jean King's women's tour in the 70s. She will now, of course, talk a lot about equity in women's tennis when the issue has been rendered nearly uncontroversial.) 

This is not about Chris Evert though. It is about when and where and how people in sports (media people, athletes, managers, coaches, etc.) can and do--do not--talk about women's bodies. We seem fine talking about women losing their periods but not about them getting them. 

The athletes at Wimbledon have been open with the media (the ones who ask) about the role their periods play when the are playing. But I really would have loved to see all of them playing in red shorts this year. 

P.S. I just read that the shorts are not allowed to "show" beneath the skirt/dress. I assume this means be longer than. But Nike's eyelet-ish dress has a scalloped (of sorts) hem that rises a couple of inches on the side seams. Aryna Sabalenka is wearing this dress and has dark shorts that are visible. No one has said anything. To be clear--this is good. I am just curious about which aspects of the dress code get enforced...and against whom...