Boys wearing skirts for field hockey

Up until one week ago, I paid little attention to the High School sport of Girl’s Field Hockey. But browsing around the web I came across a discussion regarding a boy who had recently moved from the UK where he played field hockey in school to the US. He wanted to continue playing but discovered that as far as HS sports are concerned in the US, field hockey is exclusively for the girls. Under Title IX he could make a case for playing on the girl’s team since there was no equivalent option available to him, the same argument that girl’s have used in the past to play sports not available to them on boys teams. Fair enough perhaps, but his coach then told him there was one requirement he would need to fulfil – he had to wear the same uniform as the rest of the team to play. Unlike most sports where women now more commonly wear shorts, field hockey at the High School level at least is still a game played by girls wearing kilts or skirts. The uniform regulations for High School field hockey are very clear in that all the team have to be dressed in the same manner.

When I first read this, my immediate reaction was that this surely must either be an obvious deterrent to put up to put the boy off from joining or a joke. Surely no school would actually make a boy wear a skirt I thought to myself, and surely no boy would wear one either to play. But I was wrong on both accounts.


In fact, after doing some research on the internet, finding youtube videos, reading press articles, looking at team photos and action shots which showed boys wearing the same uniform as their female teammates, it became very clear that this was indeed not a myth but a fact and something that boys who wanted to play field hockey were willing to accept to become part of the team. Talking with people in the field hockey community revealed that this was almost a non-negotiable issue. If the boy wants to join a girl’s field hockey team then he wears the same uniform as the rest of the girls, it’s only fair was the common unified message.

Part of me wondered why the girls continued to wear skirts in this sport, let alone expecting the boys to do the same, and although I did not get a clear answer to this question, it appears to be a tradition.

But seeing the boys wearing skirts, accepting this and unifying with their female teammates had me wondering a bigger question. Rather than women and girls fighting to get out of skirts and into pants in certain situations, what if boys were required to wear skirts too. Within one generation of both girls and boys wearing skirts for school (say Grades 1-5) the gender association of skirts being symbolic of a female only garment could be swept aside and replaced by a more realistic attitude about what a skirt really is, an alternative lower body garment to pants.

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32 Comments

  1. Gexx
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    As an old field hockey player, the uniform is a kilt, not a skirt. Even back in the 90s (not that long ago), guys who played wore kilts. Unfortunately, not all schools allowed the boys to play (my brother wanted to).
    If you look at the history of fieldhockey, it’s originally a men’s sport from Scotland. That’s where the kilts and the tradition behind them come from. The Olympics have both men and women’s divisions, and they all wear the kilt.

  2. Kimberly
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Sorry, but can you explain to me the difference between a skirt and a kilt?

  3. kandela
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Which Olympics were you watching? The men wear shorts. Historically you are probably correct, but shorts have been worn by men playing field hockey for quite some time.

  4. kandela
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    In a sporting context it is the morphology that is important. Below is the most applicable definition I found.
    Traditional Scottish garment, usually worn by men, having roughly the same morphology as a wrap-around skirt, with overlapping front aprons and pleated around the sides and back, and usually made of twill woven worsted wool with a tartan pattern.

  5. SociologicalMe
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that anyone should be forced to wear a garment that fucks with their gender presentation. A similar issue came up a few months ago with the young woman who didn’t want to wear a dress to graduation, because she simply didn’t wear dresses. She wanted to dress formally, but in slacks.
    Similarly, I think uniforms can be uniform and still allow for a range of gender presentation. I’m a cis woman who doesn’t like to wear skirts, both as a comfort issue and as a part of my feelings about my own gender. Some men and boys may want to wear skirts- they should be allowed to. Some women and girls may not want to wear skirts- they shouldn’t be forced.
    If we’re going to regulate clothing (and I agree that there can be legit reasons for doing so), then we should do it according to level of formality, with a wide range of gender presentations available at each level. For graduation, you dress nicely: a formal skirt or dress, or formal pants and a button down shirt. For a sports team, you wear patterened bottoms and a solid color shirt, or whatever the team’s style is- it will still look like a uniform if some of the bottoms are skirts and some are shorts.

  6. Kimberly
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    There was a problem posting, so this (minus the explanation) may appear twice (with some embellishments).
    So, if were to develop a taxonomy system for garments a kilt is a subset of skirts.
    I generally find the efforts to distinguish between kilts and skirts, and shoulder bags and purses etc, just an effort to distance oneself from the “feminine,” as though that’s an inherently bad thing to be, and I wanted to point that out.

  7. Kimberly
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    *sigh* This was supposed to be a response to kandela’s post above, which was a response to mine.

  8. SociologicalMe
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I think that all the talk of the difference between skirts and kilts is interesting in a crafty-nerdy, maybe also sports history kind of way, but moot as far as the overall point of the original post. Unless you happen to have a strong Scotch cultural heritage in your family, you probably live and move in a culture that considers anything without legs to be a skirt. Your family and friends will still read a kilt as a feminine piece of clothing, and use it to come to conclusions about your gender presentation. Which takes me back to my point, above, about being allowed to choose one’s own gender presentation.

  9. kandela
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    If there is no real difference between one and the other apart from whether men or women are wearing/using it then I agree with you.
    Though I also have a preference for not homogonising words. I like being able to distinguish between the functionality of two things just by using the correct label.
    Thus, the difference between a wallet and a purse is not whether it belongs to a man or a woman but rahter the way it opens: a wallet unfolds, a purse has a hinge. Purse can also be used as a synonym for a change carrying pouch or sack.
    The difference between a shoulder bag and hand bag is how it is carried. A shoulder bad has a sufficiently long strap for it to be worn on the opposite shoulder, wheras a hand bag typically requires you to use you hand to keep it in place on the same shoulder. (Note: The fact that handbags are marketed to women and shoulder bags to men I find sexist, since it is another example of something reducing a woman’s functionality (she loses the use of a hand) by carrying it around.)
    A non-gendered examples of what I’m talking about would be Carousels turn counter-clockwise, while Merry-Go-Rounds turn clockwise.
    So, yeah I’m fine with kilts being described as a sub-set of skirts but if we are talking about kilts I’d rather see the discussion being about kilts rather than skirts, in the same way that if the discussion was about mini-skirts I’d want to see mini-skirt used in the discussion rather than the more general skirt.

  10. kandela
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    There’s a slight difference between this and the example you sited though. Here boys and girls are being asked to wear the same types of garments. Whereas at the graduation the officials were trying to specify different dress codes for men and women. That graduation example is different because the system was invested in trying to maintain a separation of genders. You could argue that having boys and girls both wearing kilts does the opposite.

  11. kandela
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I used to catch a bus as a High School Student that was also caught by students from a primary school.
    The primary school had one uniform for boys and girls. They all wore t-shirts and either shorts or trousers.
    What I noticed about those children was that there was a much greater interaction between the boys and girls than there had been at my primary school, which allowed the girls to wear dresses and skirts as well.
    Children, particularly youg children take cues from appearance. Generally kids tend to gravitate toward others, as friends, that they feel they have the most in common with. If they see someone dressed in a different way to them then they are less likely to interact with them. And of couse if boys and girls don’t interact then that’s just going to reinforce the gendering they are getting in society.
    So, I’m all for the boys and girls having to wear the same uniform. I do question whether the kilt is the most practical garment for playing field hockey in but that is another question.

  12. SociologicalMe
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Ok, that’s a fair critique of my example. But I still don’t think it’s ok to force boys to wear skirts for the same of uniformity, or to use humiliation as a teaching tactic (which I think would be the result of the OP’s last paragraph, however well-meaning the implementation may be).

  13. rebekah
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m sick of hearing that skirts and kilts restrict your movement. They do not. I do not wear pants or shorts or capris or anything even commonly related to those things. I only wear skirts as a personal preference because I absolutely HATE pants. You can do anything in a skirt that you can do in pants. I assume since the construction of the kilt is quite similar then it would be the same. I run, jump, bike, and hike in skirts, without any problem. The idea that skirts are restrictive is absolutely absurd. They are only restrictive if you do not like wearing them. And to that effect people who do not like wearing pants are just as restricted in them as people who do not like wearing skirts. I think its an excellent idea to dress kids of both genders in skirts and dresses, afterall they used to when kids were in diapers until five or six (1800′s), when the gender norms were even more rigid than they are now, so why can’t we drop this crap and let men wear skirts?

  14. Krismet
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I think this is fabulous! Yes, it’s ridiculous that he is forced to wear a skirt, but the fact that he’s elected to wear it and play in a sport dominated (in his school/school district) by girls is fantastic. It’s a true dissolution of gender roles: everyone plays in skirts/kilts. I like it.

  15. kandela
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Well, I didn’t say skirts restricted movement, that wasn’t what the discussion was about. Since you want to talk about it though, I’m willing to oblige.
    Firstly, there are two ways that a garment could restrict movement. The first way would be mechanically. This type of restriction is certainly true of a certain type of skirt, i.e. the pencil skirt. The pencil type skirt forces your legs together when you sit and restricts the length of your stride when you walk. Any garment specifically marketed at women that promotes itself as fashionable, trendy or beautiful and limits your range of motion in this way is symptomatic of the expectations on women in our society. We could have a long discussion about space allocation and how skirts that train women to keep their legs together are part of the problem but I have a feeling your more interested in my next paragraph.
    Kilts, and loose fitting skirts don’t mechanically restrict movement; they do it in another way. The morphology of the garment when combined with social etiquette results in certain activities being inappropriate when so attired. What I mean is you are unlikely to want to climb a ladder if it means that the person holding that ladder is going to see your underwear. Having people see your underwear is embarrassing. Loose fitting skirts and kilts make this much more likely when engaged in certain activities. Games, like hockey, where there is a fair chance you are going to end up on the ground or in an awkward position are some such activities*. There are also situations because of the flowy nature of the garment (and this most often applies to long skirts) where it is more likely to get dirty or damaged doing some activity – cycling comes to mind. This also causes the wearer to rethink getting involved in that activity if they haven’t planned ahead for it. While you may not find this awkward, a lot of people do. I’ve been privvy to plenty of conversations that have involved a “I can’t dressed like this,” where the this involved a skirt.
    The simple truth is that male clothing tends to be more functional. I don’t know a single woman that would put on a skirt before going for a jog – shorts are the thing for that; if it’s too long it will act like a sail slowing you down. While, most of the time this type of thing won’t prevent someone doing something they want to do, occasionally it well. But that’s not the worst thing. Rather it is because we see that only women wear skirts, and we know that skirts seem to prevent some activities, a perception is created. The perception being that to women it is more important to have a fashionable garment than one that is practical in a wider variety of situations. So, the image of men being more practical and mobile, and valuing those qualities more than women is reinforced.

  16. kandela
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I agree you don’t want to use humiliation as a tactic, that is something you’d have to be very careful about.
    If you let the boys in the team wear shorts though, then you’d have to give the same option to the girls (which I guess is what you would advocate). Otherwise we would have boys and girls playing the same sport by the same rules in the same team and yet still segregated.

  17. Liz B.
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    I loved playing field hockey in my kilt. It didn’t bunch up between my legs when I ran and it was totally restriction free. The restriction your talking about is the sense of modesty that typically accompanies skirt wearing. That was essentially missing from field hockey. The skirts were about mid thigh and we wore bloomers, so none of us really cared or thought about our kilts during the game. And sex appeal wasn’t really an issue, because most of the guys at my school thought field hockey was stupid and didn’t come to the games anyway.
    That was a bit of a ramble…

  18. Pittstick
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Just to make a clarification. In some cases you are correct that the teams wear kilts, but if you look at some of the uniforms teams are wearing today in HS field hockey these are not kilts or kilt-like, but skirts. I understood the distinction to be that a kilt is a wrap around garment and that a skirt is more of a continuous garment that is pulled up.

  19. Pittstick
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    I get what you are saying about my last paragraph in the context of a humiliation tactic but actually I see it as only humiliating right now for a boy in the sense that skirts are so totally associated with being a feminine garment that a boy wants nothing to do with it which can be attributed to various social conditioning stigma. This is the issue right now in field hockey, that it is seen as somehow humiliating for the boy to wear the same kilt or skirt as his teammates and not shorts. What I was trying to suggest in the last paragraph was a social engineering way in which that kind of association and thinking could be eradicated to remove the gender bias and association of skirts as being something exclusively feminine in a relatively short space of time.

  20. Pittstick
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Thats’s an interesting observation but doesn’t surprise me. The more I reflected on my proposal by the way I did reconsider pants/shorts as an option too for a common uniform which would allow girls to select skirts in their future (rather than be required to wear them),but this would still not remove the basic gender bias of skirts being associated exclusively with females. An alternative to my original idea is for both boys and girls to wear pants in the colder weather and skirts/kilts in the warmer weather, much like some schools adopt winter and summer uniforms now.

  21. Pantheon
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Its sort of silly, but I’m not sure its a bad thing in the long run. And if its an issue of comfort, surely a boy could wear some supportive shorts underneath the skirt (and would a cup be necessary for field hockey? no idea).
    Field hockey seems like a contact sport, anyway, so why are girls still wearing skirts? Do they wear shorts underneath? In a contact sport you get knocked over over and a skirt seems impractical. At least tennis is not a contact sport so the skirt doesn’t really cause a problem in that same way.

  22. Pittstick
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    From what I read and have been told, both genders where shorts underneath.

  23. Pantheon
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    If a girl always wears skirts because she just likes to, should she be allowed to wear a skirt to play basketball while everyone else wears the uniform shorts? I don’t know, maybe you’d say she should, but its certainly not something that’s normally done in high schools. Similarly, someone who isn’t comfortable with their legs usually isn’t allowed to wear pants for organized sports with a uniform (eg in Bend it Like Beckham).
    I think there are some exceptions in very religious private schools where the girls might wear long skirts for sports, but in that case they all wear them so it is the uniform.

  24. Pantheon
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    I actually like playing tennis in a skirt, but tennis isn’t a contact sport and you don’t usually fall over. Plus I like the stretchy tight skirts for tennis (they are marketed for tennis), I’ve never tried playing in one of the more traditional pleated ones.

  25. glasseyegirl
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    i just thought the idea that the boy or boys who wanted to play just decided to go ahead and wear the skirts or kilts or whatever showed some kind of progress. i’m sure at least someone at the school must have found this unbelievable that ‘he’s gonna wear a SKIRT?’ just found it encouraging in some way. like maybe there are some boys who would NOT worry about being ‘shamed’ by wearing a skirt. when i was young, i remember teachers being freaked out by boys who wore pink and stuff. it’s funny, i think they were thinking they were ‘protecting’ the boys against stigmas that were already going out of existence.
    odd note – i have seem some women at the gym and about wearing ‘running skirts’ but they seem more like shorts with an external skirt if that makes sense – the idea i read in an article was that it provided extra coverage that short shorts might not. i’m not sure how widespread or popular they are at present. i just read some post about how skirts are uncommon in sports and running was mentioned.

  26. A male
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    Considering what is said elsewhere on Feministing about men vs. women in sports, I’m curious what people think about boys breaking into female dominated sports or onto women’s teams. I’m glad this boy broke gender boundaries and is finding support, but it fair for him to be there? Regardless of ability, his presence means a girl not on the field or the team. It would be a different story if the sport were truly coed, or if there were teams and leagues for males.

  27. kandela
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I think the differences show up most in the upper echelons of sport. In children’s sport I think it’s good to have boys and girls play with and against each other (especially in team games) when they have similar ability levels. I’ve played in the same soccer team as girls a couple of times and there were no problems.
    The concerns with team sports are the same no matter whether they are mixed or not. If the players are of vastly different abilities then it becomes less fun: the worse players don’t get much of a go, and the better players get frustrated by not winning because certian players are letting them down. If you have a large enough pool of players to grade your teams then this issue can be addressed and it doesn’t matter whether one tema is mostly male/mostlyfemale/an even mix or whatever.
    In contact sports there’d be additional concerns about the relative strengths of players at a certain age, but once again if you put players of similar abilites together then there should be few problems.

  28. Pantheon
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    You could just as easily say that a girl being on the team means some other girl can’t be there. That’s the nature of team sports (or its not– at my school the policy was that everyone gets to play at least a certain amount, although no guarantee they’ll be on the top level team). If there’s no other team for him to play on I don’t see why he shouldn’t play on this one. Its the same argument girls have used to play football when there weren’t enough girls to form a team.

  29. Pittstick
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    What I really found inspirational about this situation was how the emphasis was on the fact that these boys join girl’s teams with no compromise or watering down in order for them to do so. The sport is typically listed as girl’s field hockey in most of the schools and remains so. The uniform rules are that all team players wear exactly the same uniform, even to the point where if one player wears leggings they all do; this hasn’t been relaxed. Most of the teams wear uniforms that include a kilt or a skirt and the boys wear them too. We so often see girl’s moving in the opposite direction, such as playing on boys teams where there is no compromise either. But if boys do something more associated with a female dominated activity it is more often performed in a co-ed setting where the emphasis on the feminine has been removed; cheerleading comes to mind. That boys are willing to join a team that has the word girl’s in front of it and compete on the same basis is encouraging and refreshing and it’s great that schools allow this too. I think this sends a very positive message about gender equality.

  30. Pittstick
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I think the reverse discrimination argument is one that is debated a lot in the field hockey circles. Interestingly someone commented that it only happens though when the boy is a “good” player and seems to make a difference in terms of match winning performances. There are teams out there which have a number of boys on the team and yet seem to be performing relatively poorly and some people commented that since the game is about skill a good female hockey player should normally be able to handle herself. Additionally the physical differences are probably not so pronounced. It is unlikely that these are the strongest, tallest boys playing since they would be more likely to be playing in other sports (unless they just really wanted to be playing field hockey) and similarly most of these are not the most fragile of girls. Some people get bothered as to whether these boys coming into the game are just coming on to the girl’s teams because they can’t make a boy’s team in another sport. I suspect this is unlikely myself mostly because of the ridicule these boys still face by playing on the girl’s teams and the abuse they get too. Also, there probably should be a distinction made between boys who come into the sport at a young age and progress through the ranks playing on teams year after year as opposed to a boy who just comes into the game in Snr HS where the physical differences are most pronounced.
    Arguments tend to be made based on hypotheticals. Such as what if a 6 ft boy joined a girl’s volley ball team, wouldn’t he make a huge difference to the team. The counterpoint being should a 6 ft girl also be prevented from playing. There seems to be a fear that boys could over run the sport but this fails to recognize three things: i) boys have been allowed to play girl’s field hockey for many years now and have not over run the sport yet, ii) if the number of boys did increase, then the arguments for a co-ed or even a boy’s team would grow and more likely be supported removing the argument that a boy can play on a girl’s team based on Title IX, and iii) that girl’s need somehow to be protected from boys based on the premiss that they can’t compete. Personally I think it’s great that girl’s can compete with these small number of boys and show to themselves that they can compete on an equal basis too.

  31. glasseyegirl
    Posted October 3, 2009 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    kind of a good comment – it might be that if a lot of boys start playing a typically ‘girls’ sport’ like field hockey they might decide to start teams for boys. good post there Pittstick.

  32. Posted July 19, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been playing Hockey and Netball for sometime, and our team rules are very strict on dress code, it states ” all players must conform to the following dress code regardless of gender; Black polo shirt, black pleated skirt, black briefs, black socks with red trim and approved footwear. Players must also conserve the rules regarding protection and are therefore advised to wear gum shield and shin guards when participating on the pitch”. When playing Netball, uniformity changes to ankle socks, less shin guards and no gum shield. Trainers or “sneakers” are suet there’re for hockey footwear. The team I play for does actually have male counterparts and they are welcomed with open arms as our team does not tolerate discrimination because of the uniformity that is set down by the league. I think now that we are in the 21st century, we need to adopt a civil attitude with regards to the wearing of skirts when playing either sports of Hockey,Netball, Tennis, Lacrosse and Badminton, Female or Male.

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