Women’s boxing is now an Olympic sport, ready to debut next summer at the London Games. As a sign of the times, there’s nothing that screams out “equality” quite like pummeling each other in the ring, just like the guys.

But the men who run boxing’s international federation have revealed themselves to be a collection of extremely reluctant feminists.

These guys want the female boxers to compete in short skirts.

They have their reasons. “I have heard many times people say, ‘We can’t tell the difference between the men and the women,’ especially on TV, since they’re in the same uniforms and are wearing headgear,” Amateur International Boxing Association President Ching-Kuo Wu told the Albany, N.Y., Times Union back in September 2010.

As of the recent European Championships, only Poland and Romania had embraced Wu’s idea. The Polish federation forced its female boxers to wear skirts because they are more “elegant.”

As coach Leszek Piotrowski told BBC Sport: “By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression.”

Now there’s a full-service boxing coach, helpful in both the ring and at the cotillion. Can you imagine all the “womanly” uppercuts at the 2012 Games?

The fellows who run international boxing weren’t the only ones to picture putting their powerful, incredibly fit, 21st-century female athletes in skirts. The boys from badminton liked the idea too, and promoted it, only to face instant ridicule from much of the rest of the world, then shelve the idea.

Scotland’s Imogen Bankier, a highly ranked international badminton player, rightly called the plan “sexist,” telling BBC Sport, “I understand what they are trying to do — make it more appealing to spectators and the media. I don’t think women wearing skirts is going to make it more aesthetically pleasing. If people want to see women in skirts, they will go elsewhere — they won’t go to watch badminton.”

Bankier has these sports leaders all figured out: They are trying to attract male viewers by putting women in their place, 1950s style. For all the gains made by women and girls in sports over the past four decades in the USA due to Title IX, as well as around the world, there still are some maddening steps backward. One wonders if the former doesn’t have something to do with the latter.

It would be easy to blame this development on international sports leaders who don’t live in America, where Title IX dads populate the landscape. But if you’ve been watching U.S. sports lately, perhaps you’ve noticed it’s happening here, too, just in other ways.

There’s Dr Pepper’s macho “It’s Not for Women” diet drink campaign, as well as DirecTV’s idea to have Deion Sanders’ fairy character refer to three sad-sack men who can’t get the Packers game on TV as “ladies.”

These commercials are meant to be funny. Millions laugh when they see them. But that doesn’t mean they are right. Words matter, even in ridiculous TV commercials.

“It is almost as if some ‘creative director’ for Dr Pepper’s ad agencies is lost in a time warp,” said Richard Lapchick, chairman of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida. “We wouldn’t tolerate ‘It’s Not for African Americans’ or ‘It’s Not for Jews.’ We can’t tolerate ‘It’s Not for Women.’ We have women running for president, dying heroically in Iraq and Afghanistan, doing amazing things in sports and everywhere else. We can’t allow Neanderthal ad agency figures to try to push back the clock.”

If you think this is much ado about nothing, watch the Dr Pepper commercial with a young girl. Maybe she’s 8, or 10, or 12. This is the girl who sat next to you on the couch watching the U.S. women’s soccer team over the summer, the one with the grass stains on her knees.

Good luck trying to explain why something tough and strong isn’t for her.