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There’s an easy way to end the Olympics’ never-ending dress code debate

July 27, 2021, 12:58 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! U.K. MPs take on menopause discrimination, Simone Biles exits gymnastics’ team final, and female Olympians deserve to wear what they want. Have a great Tuesday.

– Dress code debate. You want the Olympics to just be about the athletes and their athleticism; the incredible feats of strength and endurance and agility, the come-from-behind wins, the honest-to-goodness heartwarming stories like Austrian cyclist Anna Kiesenhofer, a mathematician with no pro team who won gold—in stunning fashion—in the women’s road race. But because sports are a microcosm of society—part of their enduring appeal—they’re also served with a side of commentary on women’s bodies and what female competitors should and shouldn’t wear.

One of the debates underway at the Olympics actually started away from Tokyo, at the European Beach Handball Championships earlier this month when the Norwegian team wore shorts instead of bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg,” as International Handball Federation rules require. Men can play in shorts as long as four inches above the knee so long as they’re not “too baggy.” The Norwegian women planned the act of disobedience in advance to call out the double standard they say they’ve been complaining about since 2006. Each player was fined $177 for the violation, a penalty pop star Pink offered to pay on Tuesday. “Good on ya, ladies. I’ll be happy to pay your fines for you. Keep it up,” she tweeted.

Norway’s protest got fresh oxygen during the ongoing Games, where female athletes challenged another revealing uniform. Germany’s women’s gymnastics team wore unitards that went down to their ankles during the qualifying round, instead of the trademark leotard that cuts high on the hips.

“We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear,” Germany’s Elisabeth Seitz said on Friday, after she and teammates wore unitards during a warm-up session.

In this debate too, there is the “rules are rules” crowd that argues uniforms are just another standard that evens the playing field. That’s true except when the rules are repeatedly used as shorthand for policing women’s bodies; except when—in the case of handball—there’s no readily available explanation for why a governing body prefers bikini bottoms over shorts. “We’re looking into it internally,” a spokesperson for the International Handball Federation told the New York Times when asked for a reason.

It’s no wonder some women feel exposed. The head of Olympic broadcasting on Monday vowed to avoid sexualized images of female athletes at the Games, a pledge you’d think would be implied at this point. Apparently not: “You will not see in our coverage some things that we have been seeing in the past, with details and close-up on parts of the body,” Olympic Broadcasting Services chief executive Yiannis Exarchos said Monday.

There are, of course, athletes who prefer competing in high-cut briefs and sports bras. The problem is when athletes have no choice in the matter: bare your body or else.

GM CEO Mary Barra is famous for delivering the ultimate dress code mic-drop. As the head of human resources, she whittled the automaker’s ten-page dress code down to two words: “dress appropriately.” In the world of sports, there are technical advantages to consider—remember those full-body swimsuits that made swimmers too fast?—but within reason, the same responsibility Barra entrusted to her employees should be given to elite athletes who are skilled enough to have made it this far: dress comfortably.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Olympic heroes. Simone Biles pulled out of today's team competition citing a medical issue; the gymnast will reevaluate daily whether she will participate in future gymnastics events. Tennis star Naomi Osaka, who lit the Olympic caldron days ago, suffered an upset loss to Marketa Vondrousova, meaning Osaka will leave the Games without a medal. Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won the first-ever gold medal for the Philippines. Lydia Jacoby, a 17-year-old American, beat teammate and world-record holder Lilly King to clinch the gold in the women's 100-meter breaststroke. (King took bronze.) Jacoby is the first Olympic swimmer from Alaska, a state with a single Olympic-size pool.  

- MPs on menopause. MPs in the U.K. are launching an inquiry into the treatment of menopause in the workplace. The lawmakers are aiming to discover whether women need discrimination protections or other governmental support to prevent women from dropping out of the workforce in their 40s and 50s, often at the peak of their careers. Guardian

- Fashion forward. It's not just athletes making a statement at the Olympics. First Lady Jill Biden's wardrobe during her trip to Tokyo highlighted both American designers, as is par for the course for a first lady, and a main theme of the Games: sustainability. Besides her new Team USA apparel, she wore garments she's worn before. New York Times

- Vaccination nation? More GOP politicians are starting to encourage COVID-19 vaccination, including Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She wrote an op-ed about why she chose to get vaccinated—saying she in part followed the example of her former boss, President Trump. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Denise Young Smith, former Apple VP of inclusion and diversity, joins the board of Enjoy Technology. Nada Llewellyn of St. John's University joins law firm Kramer Levin as chief diversity and inclusion officer. Hootsuite hired former Cision global CMO Maggie Lower as CMO. Kara Medoff Barnett will step down as executive director of the American Ballet Theater. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Bye, Chloe. The vegan restaurant chain By Chloe has been locked in a legal battle with its cofounder and ex-chef Chloe Coscarelli since 2017. The restaurant, now led by Catey Mark Meyers, announced a rebrand, renaming itself Beatnic. Fortune

- Law review. I. Stephanie Boyce is the first person of color, and first Black woman, to lead the Law Society of England and Wales in its 200-year history. In this interview, she shares her goals to leave the law profession more diverse and inclusive than the one she entered. Financial Times

- Game on. It's been seven years since Gamergate, but the treatment of women in video gaming is still a cultural flashpoint. California regulators filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard last week, alleging that Activision perpetuated gender pay inequities and ignored complaints of harassment brought forward by female employees. Activision says "the lawsuit includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of its past." Wall Street Journal

ON MY RADAR

Here's what researchers have discovered so far about COVID vaccines and donated breast milk BuzzFeed

All Raise launches virtual bootcamp for women and nonbinary founders TechCrunch

They were laughed at for their #FreeBritney activism. Not anymore NPR

PARTING WORDS

“I heard my name getting called so I thought I must have done something good, but it wasn’t until I turned around and saw the results that I realized I won,”

- Swimmer Maggie MacNeil who won Canada's first goal medal of the games in women's 100-meter butterfly

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