Is Sportswear sexist?

August 7, 2017
Is Sportswear sexist? style etc

Sportswear is comfortable, practical and, surprisingly, it is also seen as increasingly stylish. The athleisure trend is undoubtedly on the rise, but is this a good or bad thing for women?

Does it mean greater comfort, or simply objectification in a different form? More and more women are wearing athletic wear outside of playing sports but two main criticisms have been levelled at the industry: female sportswear is unnecessarily provocative, and it is disproportionately more expensive than men’s.

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Increase in Athleisure consumption

Wearing sportswear as a fashion statement is increasingly in popular amongst women, with the industry projected to hit £145 billion by 2020. That’s all the way up from £117 billion in 2015, so what is driving this newfound interest in sportswear?, a golf apparel site, have been exploring the athleisure trend, to tell us what women’s motivations are and why sports gear is increasingly seen as so stylish.

They surveyed over 1,700 women, with the following discoveries for us:  89% of women wear sportswear outside the gym, and the majority of women wear activewear when lounging at home- I know I certainly do. More surprisingly, 5% of women have worn athleisure to work, and 2% on a night out; although the rise in popularity of sports nights out may account for the latter.

Women's Voices

A massive 75% of women felt sportswear was comfortable, and said that this was the main reason for wearing it. Women wear athleisure because it is comfortable, rather than because it is fashionable. In fact, only 3% of women stated that fashion was what drove them to sport the trend. However, 18% of women have also felt objectified when wearing sportswear and 76% of women felt female activewear can be sexist at times.

In response to the idea of sportswear being sexist, one woman said: “I find that some of the pants are cut too low, they often don’t cover enough of my hips/waist area. They are also often very tight, some of the necklines are too low, I can’t run in them without feeling like I will fall out because they expose too much. I have received many “cat calls” or sexual comments from men in these outfits, playing sports or not.”

This sexism can be found at all levels, from the day to day experiences of this woman, and many others, to professional athletes at the top of their game. Wimbledon 2017 was filled with masterstrokes, skilful forehands and courageous performances from female players. Yet, instead of promoting this talent, the Women’s Tennis Association chose to focus on the best-dressed player in her ‘Wimbledon Whites’.

With this in mind, another woman said: “I do believe that current trends are sexualising sportswear for women, such as sheer fabrics and panels. It’s unnecessary and completely unrelated to what it’s designed for – exercise!

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Sportswear Industry Standards

Looking at popular athleisure brands, like Lululemon or Sweaty Betty, it’s easy to see why women would feel this way. Sweaty Betty have leggings labelled as ‘bum sculpting’, said to “give you an extra lift.” This shifts the focus of sportswear from performance, to how you look. A focus not found in male activewear. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look sexy, whether in sportswear of otherwise; but it’s all about choice. Provocative sportswear should be an option, but not an industry standard.

It is not just the objectification found in women’s sportswear that is problematic, however, it is also the discrepancy in price.  Golf Support discovered that women’s sportswear carries a higher price tag than its male equivalent; news that will be no surprise to many. Searching in the sub category “gym” of activewear on ASOS, it was found that the cost of an item averaged out at £18.52 for women, and only £12.13 for men. Worryingly, this seems to be getting better and not worse, as research revealed a 53% increase in the average price of gym wear for women compared to men.

So, is the athleisure trend good or bad- what’s your verdict? There’s no denying that sportswear is comfortable and can be great to lounge around the house in, but perhaps there is still a sexist tinge to the industry. One way or another, it looks as if the trend is here to stay a while, so pull on those leggings and enjoy lounging around in them as much as going to the gym.

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