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bad sports: how sporting venue dress codes control women

It seems it doesn’t matter if you’re a competitor or a spectator: where there is sport, there is a dress code bringing women down. Two women have been refused access to sport and fitness for their attire in the space of a week in what has been a display of just how Australian institutions still exercise control over women’s bodies.

In the Northern Territory, physiotherapist Maja Lukic was told her gym shorts were fit solely for a strip club by Snap Fitness Yarrawonga staff. Despite other patrons wearing shorts of a similar length – albeit baggier – Maja was asked to leave after management told her they had received a string of complaints.

‘If [Ms Lukic] wants to dress in that length of shorts and show her private parts, that’s her business, she can take it down to Sinsations and Honeypot,’ business owner, Griff Davies told NT News.

Maja feels the owner’s comments were offensive and the policy ridiculous given her ability to wear the shorts in Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin gyms.

‘I was just wearing what I was comfortable in,’ she said. ‘I go to work out, not to get attention, but to feel good about myself.’

The second case is of Lynda Reid, a cricket fan, solicitor and member of the Sydney Cricket Club for 25 years. She was denied access to the Sydney Cricket Ground Members Stand for wearing a dress deemed not a ‘respectable length’ by the venue’s dress standards. Lynda had looked up the dress code the night before, deeming her choice appropriate but the stewards on duty thought otherwise.

‘I was standing there with a group, we all laughed about it and it seemed quite ridiculous,’ Lynda told Fairfax Media.

These are not isolated incidents, of course. Less than a month ago a woman left Moonee Valley Racing Club’s member’s area in tears, being thrown out for wearing a playsuit. This highlights how frequently women are ejected from premises for their choice of clothing.

This is not to say that men aren’t subjected to dress codes of their own. Snap Fitness does not allow men to show their torso, or things that show off their package. The SCG requires men to always wear a collar – ALWAYS – as well as enclosed shoes and neat trousers. But ultimately, these codes are more framed around men’s class as opposed to those ideas routinely afforded to women.

The whole stir about appropriate dress for women is, of course, nothing new. Sometimes this stir can even apply to garments that aren’t yet on the body, depending on the culture. A cousin of mine was chastised by her Sicilian relatives for airing her clean, coloured lingerie on their balcony. Why? My cousin was unmarried.

Consider the impact Jean Shrimpton’s Melbourne Derby Day outfit (a dress above the knee, no stockings, hat or gloves) had on Australian society in 1965: Scandal! Ideas of ladylike hemlines and the cut of tops have been passed down and codified into a demarcation of a woman’s morality. If you were to venture to the SCG today, Shrimpton’s dress is still too short by their outdated standards.

Women’s dress codes seem to hark back to the same old thing: victim blaming, slut shaming – the ‘don’t wear this and I won’t want to do that’ bullshit. Dress codes are implemented as a means of establishment negating the blame of men’s violating behaviour. But, as highlighted in the case of Lynda Reid v SCG, dress codes are also a way of excluding women from sport.

Women’s enjoyment of sport and participation in it experiences nowhere near the level of exposure as men’s. With clothing also a barrier to the cultural dominance of men in sport, women may become more intimidated than ever to join a gym, play a sport or even support their favourite teams.

As a means of maintaining this masculine sporting culture, it can be seen that the powers that be (read: the men on the board) deny women their right to good fun and fitness. It goes to show how misogynistic attitudes are expressed in even the most fleeting of meetings to maintain a wider social order.


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