I'd like to say something to the active ladies out there.
If you need to insult, mock, or make disparaging remarks about how other women dress for their run / exercise, you are doing it wrong.
I'm addressing the ladies specifically because, in my experience, men are usually not the ones engaging in this behavior. Just about everything I can remember ever hearing or reading in that vein came from women, directed at women. (Sure, we've all furtively giggled at Short Shorts Guy at one point or another, but it's the rare lady among us that's actively nasty about it.)
I won't get into the infinitely more complex world of insulting/mocking/etc. lady clothes in general. I've tried writing that post (not on this blog) over and over and over again, and I can never quite get it right. But surely we can leave each other alone when it comes to a shared hobby where we're all just trying to have fun, get strong, & feel good about ourselves?
You don't have to look far to find examples of female runners getting judgey & mean about what other female runners wear, and there is certainly no dearth of this behavior on the internet. But since I'd like to publish this post sometime before the next millennium, I'll start with just one that seems to come up over and over again, and we'll see how efficient I am about follow-up posts about others.
Case Study #1: Running Skirts
In certain circles, the running skirt has become the latest whipping boy/girl in a seemingly endless parade of running blog posts about "Things I Hate." I've lost track of the number of posts I've read complaining about this particular item of clothing and the women who run in them. They've stuck with me not because of the posts themselves (because, hey, your blog; write whatever you want), but because of the way they fit into a larger pattern of complaining about other ladies' running clothes choices in general.
The criticisms I have most often heard about running skirts include:
- They are dumb-looking;
- They are un-tough/wussy looking (and running is about being tough);
- Girls wear them because they want to look cute and/or feminine while running;
- Running is about looking/being tough and and strong, not cute and feminine;
- They only exist in the first place because of the relatively recent influx of slow, non-tough, girly-girl runners to the sport.
I say to you: bullshit.
Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
First, we're all obviously entitled to our own opinions about what is and is not dumb-looking. I think a lot of trends are dumb-looking. I'm sure I wear things all the time that other people think are dumb-looking. Hell, I probably wear things sometimes that my friends think are dumb-looking. But please recognize that a) this is your personal opinion, not objective fact, and b) when you inflict that opinion on others, nothing is accomplished besides making someone feel bad and/or confirming that yes, you are indeed an asshole. That's all. No one is going to be like, "Wow, you are so right! I never realized how dumb I/they look! How observant and wise you are!" No. You get to think running skirts are dumb-looking, but please also try to be a stand-up human and keep it to yourself.
Second, although the opinion that running skirts are un-tough/wussy looking is also one you get to have if you want, it's a much less neutral, more insidious one, because it's rooted in gender stereotypes that have been doing women more harm than good for generations. It is absolutely true that traditionally female attire like skirts have historically been associated with traits like weakness, demureness, kindness, subservience, etc., because those are the traits that have historically been associated with and expected of women.
Fortunately, many people--men and women--have worked extraordinarily hard to begin undoing these associations. Many of us are gradually learning to uncouple a) a person's gender from her character traits, and b) certain character traits from traditionally gendered clothing. Women now give us ALL *KINDS* of opportunities for judging how tough they are if we insist on doing so, without resorting to their wardrobe. Ladies change tires, wrangle children, broker multi-million dollar deals, and win at boxing, sometimes in skirts, sometimes not. When you make a statement like "Running skirts are/make you look wussy/un-tough," you're aligning yourselves with a brand of sexism that says it's okay to judge a person's character based on YOUR interpretation of THEIR clothes, and also that things associated with girls/women do and should continue to symbolize weakness. If you really do insist on judging the character of someone you don't know at an endurance event, *at least* have the decency to do it based on her performance, not her clothes.
These skirt sportin' ladies all placed in their age groups.
Nicole Deboom won Ironman Wisconsin in 2004 in a hand-sewn
running skirt, then went on to found the wildly successful Skirt Sports.
Elite ultramarathoner Lisa Smith-Batchen ran 50 miles in each
of the 50 states in 62 days, rotating through 4 Nuu Muu running dresses.
Are you really saying that the fact that your garment of choice has a visible crotch
makes you tougher than these ladies? Because I kind of dare you to throw down that gauntlet...
That said, the very idea that a girl who is running should look tough (or bad ass, or hardcore, or whatever word you want to use), is somehow obligated to look tough simply because she is running, is also pretty exclusionary. Like most other hobbies, there is no one thing which running is "about" for all people or all women. Running is about all kinds of things. For some people, it's about being tough/bad ass/hardcore. Other runners really couldn't care less about being tough/bad ass/hardcore or about whether others perceive them that way. No one gets to be the judge of what running is or should be "about" for all people, any subset of people, or any one person, other than yourself.
Which segues nicely into the idea that women who wear running skirts do so because they want to look cute and feminine while running. There are two issues with this argument:
Issue 1: You don't know that. Like most other things, it's true for some women and not for others. To my knowledge no one has conducted a rigorous, peer-reviewed study on the topic, so until that happens it's impossible for us to say with any certainty whether or not this is true for many or most or all women who wear running skirts. That means that when you make this argument, you're making an assumption--even if you happened to know one or two or ten or two hundred girls who have straight up told you that this is why they wear running skirts, it's still bad logic to assume that that's the case in general.
Based just on conversations I've had with lots of different women over the years, I can give you a whole list of reasons why some women wear running skirts:
- They don't like how they look in shorts.
- They like the fit of compression shorts but want some extra coverage.
- They want to look cute and/or feminine when they run.
- They feel they perform better when more people are watching them, and skirts attract more attention.
- They never thought of wearing a running skirt before, but then found one in a pattern they LOVED.
- They feel self-conscious about crotch-sweat & the skirt layer makes them feel more comfortable.
- They are very very UN-girly/feminine & enjoy subverting that stereotype by wearing a skirt.
- They get a kick out of pissing off people who get bent out of shape about running skirts.
Issue 2: So what? Is some runner girl's desire to look a certain way while she's running personally harming you in some way? How does that work exactly? At what point did this somehow become your business? Is it because you think that running should be about toughness and bad ass-ness and somehow looking cute and feminine conflicts with that? Because that's another opinion rooted in some pretty sketchy assumptions about gender signaling and character. You might decide that you can't feel cute/feminine and tough at the same time, but there are plenty of women out there who can and do. Don't project your stuff on to them.
Finally, this idea that running skirts only exist in the first place because of the relatively recent influx of slow, non-tough, girly-girl runners to the sport.
This. This is my hands-down favorite argument against the running skirt, because it does such a nice job of wrapping all of the others up into a nice, neat little package. Implicit in this argument are the ideas that running is about toughness and performance only, that toughness and performance are in conflict with femininity, that running skirts are un-tough and wussy and purely about looking feminine.
Let me try to explain some things, as gently as I know how.
|For a primer in fake nostalgia, I recommend this book. Totally explains why I'm always nostalgic for four years ago.|
Part of the change is just perception, but part of it (not to get too zen on you) is just the reality that everything is always changing. Before it was "those girly girls in their girly skirts," it was "those girls wearing girly colors," and before that, "those girls," period. All of us tend latch onto the things that disrupt the nice, comfortable narrative we've created for ourselves about our sport. Adults have to learn to recognize when we're doing this and not act like children about it.
2) Disparaging people who are getting involved in your thing because they don't look like you or dress like you or do it for the "right" (read: your) reasons or get the "right" (read: same as you) thing out of it is called xenophobia, and it's just plain petty. Particularly when your thing is a social sport that has such a myriad of benefits to offer just about anyone. No one is hurting you. No one is "ruining your experience." (And if
they are you are letting them....Well, if you're out of your teens and still letting other people have that level of power over your experience, I just don't know what to tell you.)
We need to be careful about the assumptions we make about people based on things as superficial as clothes. Just as with a woman in shorts or tights, a woman in a running skirt may be a new runner training to finish her first 5K, or she may be a seasoned veteran gunning for a three hour marathon. She may be just learning to deal with the physical discomfort of physically challenging her body, or she may be tough as nails. Maybe she's a new runner but climbed K12 last year. You don't know, and it's not fair to make assumptions because of a piece of clothing. We also need to think hard about the reasons behind those assumptions. Sometimes if you really unpack them, they come from some pretty insidious places.
And for the love of Yasso, stop acting like you own the sport of running because you wear shorts. Geez.
Tune in next week (or next month, or next year, or whenever I finally get it together) for Part 2, where I take on stupid comments about booty shorts. (You know you can't wait!)
**Post-script:** This is still only my second time writing about something pseudo-controversial on the internet. As a refresher, the ground rules in general are 1) feel free to respectfully & thoughtfully express disagreement, and 2) don't be a dick. I won't delete a comment just because someone has a different point of view, but I will not abide ranters and pool-poopers that insist on making things tiresome for everyone. Of course you guys are the coolest, and I've never yet had to resort to that. :)