It all started with a pair of ill-fitting, droopy sweatpants. Saggy in the wrong places, tight in even worse places — they were unwearable. I gave them to a male friend. They fit him perfectly. My teammates and fellow athletes on other women’s varsity teams encountered similar grievances with these sweatpants, because they were not made for women. They were men’s pants. They simply wouldn’t stay on, and even if they did, they looked awful.
These notorious sweatpants were mass-issued by Cornell Athletics to their athletes earlier this school year. For background, the Cornell Athletics Department issues a multitude of assorted clothing items to their athletes prior to and throughout their seasons.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to complain about free merch. As a student-athlete, getting to strut around campus in official gear is a serious perk of being on a sports team. During my first season on the women’s crew team, I excitedly waddled to the Teagle gear pick-up and was… a bit disappointed. For a D1, Ivy League sports team, it was an underwhelming selection. A lot of it was just men’s clothes that weren’t very flattering. I was issued the most hideous shorts I’ve ever worn in my life (men’s-style baggy basketball shorts), part of our mandatory lifting uniform that we’ve only discontinued this academic year. We looked like a poorly-funded middle-school gym class. Although the shorts situation has improved, we still wear men’s-cut shirts to lift in.
Normally I’d say, “So what? Who cares? There’s hardly a difference in shirts at that point.”
But in this situation, I care because it’s not fair. Why do we look like a bunch of middle schoolers while our men’s teams are outfitted in flattering clothing and actually look like D1 athletes?
Earlier this semester, we got an email requesting us to fill in our sizes for next year’s athletic gear. The email said, word for word, “We are ordering in men’s sizes for everything.” That’s just how it is. Additionally, our Ivy League “8 Against Hate” shirts, the iconic outfit athletes across campus are seen in, although they are a fantastic message and symbol of unity, are all men’s sizes. It’s very common for men to be seen wearing them on campus, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman wearing one. They’re just not that flattering for women to wear.
An additional point is that even if Cornell does order items in women’s sizes, they understock for women and overstock for men. I’m not sure why, but I’m familiar with the realities of the result. We are coached and taught to pick up our clothing promptly, before the women’s sizes run out and there are only men’s sizes left. Why are the men not cautioned to hurry and get their merch, otherwise they’ll get stuck with women’s clothing? What if you saw the men’s football team warming up, and half of them were wearing bootie shorts for women because they ordered a surplus of women’s sizes and could only outfit half the team in men’s sizes? This would be considered unacceptable.
I think it would be fair to say that Cornell would never mass-distribute women’s pants or any other women’s clothing item to the male athletes here, nor rely on women’s size surpluses to outfit them. Nor would the men’s team tolerate it. So why is it the default that women conform to this standard? It isn’t just about clothes, it’s about belonging and inclusivity. Cornell is supposedly a progressive institution with a $9.8 billion endowment. Why should any members of our D1 women’s varsity sports teams have to train and live in school athletic apparel made for men?
I’m confused. I know women’s athletic clothing exists. I know Cornell has the money to pay for it. This rings similar to an incident earlier this semester, where Martha Pollack personally rejected a student assembly proposal for hiring a gynecologist at Cornell Health, a tragedy to not just the women athletes here but all women attending Cornell. It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of prioritizing. Why isn’t Cornell prioritizing equality in athletics, and do they ever plan on prioritizing it? What’s happening in the administration to make positive change? Cornell frequently has showy and highly publicized women empowerment events for their athletes, but I believe their resources would be better used for direct action, not glittery hogwash.
Cornell needs to do better. Women athletes put in the work for Cornell, and Cornell needs to put in the work for them. Or at least give us pants that stay on.
Aurora Weirens is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].The Northern Light runs alternate Sundays this semester.