Unladylike: the problem of labels reveals deeper issues in women’s sport
You may once have been told “that’s not very ladylike”. My mum certainly said this a few times, and I always responded with something along the lines of “I don’t want to be a lady!”. It’s a comment which I think riles most women, and sits in the league of being told to “smile!” by men on public transport, or a stranger not believing that you could possibly study at Oxford. So when I saw Jenny Myrans’ LinkedIn post a few weeks ago, I was intrigued to learn that this is still a problem, even in professional sport.
I spoke to Jenny, and asked her to explain a bit more about the problem. Jenny joined Tsunami Sport as a Product and Brand Developer, helping to design eco kits for sports teams. When she met the team, she immediately raised the issue of clothing labels being marked as “ladies’”, rather than “women’s”.
“The term ‘ladies’ is oozing with connotations of fragility and daintiness”, Myrans told me, “these are hardly traits desired when playing sports”. Myrans played rugby for many years, but was repeatedly told that she was “butch” and would end up with a “thick neck”, despite her physical strength being an obvious advantage in contact sports.
“The term ‘ladies’ is oozing with connotations of fragility and daintiness”
Whilst the long, cruel arm of puberty is something of a stereotype used to degrade teenage girls (for being too hormonal, or moody, or emotional), it’s also a killer for self-confidence. Changing rooms are living nightmares for many students – boys and girls alike – not to mention those who may be unsure of or exploring their gender identity and/or sexuality. Headlines focusing on trans folk, such as World Athletics’ recent banning of transgender women from competing in global events, certainly don’t help to promote the idea that sport is for everyone.
Some simple changes can be made from the bottom-up, I believe. As Myrans pointed out, “we need to ditch the idea that women should be held to a higher standard when it comes to how they act towards each other, the opposition, their fans, and how they present themselves.” In other words: we need to be unladylike, women.