In the court of the shuttler skirt


In the court of the shuttler skirt

New Delhi : The debate following the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) new mandate that female players must wear skirts, not shorts, from the 1st of May followed a predictable route. Star Indian players Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa among others didn’t seem to particularly “mind wearing skirts if they popularised the sport”, but felt that making them compulsory could lead to snatching away choices.

That’s a safe and clear line to follow as far as debates go. No real discord with the core issue while keeping up to the democracy of choice—which implies that anything forced or compulsory is a problem. I must confess, I expected some, if not most, to take a high moral ground but no one did. It alerted me to the realisation that we do not make a moral hullabaloo about clothes anymore in India. And there is sanity in this conviction.

There is of course the possibility that the skirt rule may make female badminton players in some parts of the world weigh their participation in the sport in a new light. Not everyone from every community or country is comfortable wearing revealing garments. It has little to do with morality; it is about conditioning of attitude through clothing, about upbringing, social mores. It is about a very significant inner sanctum of privacy that guides all clothing choices.

As shuttler skirts get added to the increasing list of clothes as tools of socio-politics, let’s at least look at the physiognomy of the skirt vs. that of the shorts. Given BWF’s argument that skirts are being brought in to increase the popularity of the game, let’s ask how a skirt is different from a pair of shorts? The answer is that the former is free, feminine and open. It is an entertaining item of clothing to look at. A skirt allows you to look up a woman’s thighs; while a pair of shorts is closed, it snubs a sexual gaze. It diminishes sexual entertainment. Shorts are as short in length as shuttler skirts are, they reveal legs equally, they can be quite sexy too, depending on how you wear them.

Yet, they can never replace the revelatory nature of a skirt which can slide up and down, revealing a player’s underwear on the badminton court depending on the degrees of dynamism of the game. A skirt is also feminine, a pair of shorts is androgynous. The more the fashion world dwells on the powerful idea of androgyny in style and garments, the more the debate around feminine, sexy clothes seems to intensify. It tells us that glamour is such an old-fashioned word in most dictionaries even today.

It means the obvious: a show skin, or fewer and shorter clothes. That’s what the BWF seems to be saying. It wants to popularise the badminton sport by making players not only look feminine, but sexy—the last word is implied. Sexy, not by any other means but by revealing the upper thighs–if not the underwear of female players. Is it about pandering to the male gaze? And if it is; aren’t skirts a regressive idea to use in the name of injecting contemporary popularity?