You’ve seen them, I assume. Maybe you even wear them. They’ve entered the mainstream, now available at Mountain Equipment Coop and Lululemon (complete with butt frills for added cuteness). You can browse them here at home of the running skirts where you can buy ruffly black tanks to go over your leopard print skirt.
Cute but I do think they make women look more cheerleader, less serious runner. Arguably I just need to change my view about what serious runners look like. And I do know that cheerleaders can be serious athletes too.
As you can see, I go back and forth on this issue…
In the end, I think they’re a bit much. But are running skirts sexist?
The philosopher in me cringes at this question. Skirts aren’t moral agents, they aren’t even rules or regulations or states of affairs. They’re things. Can a thing even be sexist, just on its very own?
Deborah Dunham seems to think so. Here’s what she says in her piece Why Running Skirts Are Sexist And I Would Never Wear One
“While these skirts have been around for at least the last four years, apparently, it’s becoming more of a trend to want to look stylish when we work out (Runner’s World even nicknamed such females as “stunners”. Get it? Stylish runners?) But to me, nothing could be more detesting than trying to look cute when it comes to running. I just couldn’t take myself seriously while donning a frilly skirt all covered with sparkles and shit.
What’s even worse than the skirt itself (and I do get that some women swear these are totally comfortable), is the fact that they can create a sexist atmosphere on the road or at a race–places where women should be seen as athletes, not girly girls trying to look all adorable.”
Now I’m with Dunham on athletic fashion and preferences and I want to cheer her on when she asks, “When did running become all about body image and “hugging the right curves”? Can’t we just put all of that aside when we hit the road and embrace our bodies for what they do versus how they look? We’re not out there for others to gawk at. We’re out there to get shit done. And for me, that’s in a basic pair of black shorts and a tank.” And I’ve written as much here in my post Athletic versus Aesthetic Values in the Pursuit of Fitness.
But I recognize that lots of women do care about looking good while working out. See past posts on padded sports bras, and on body conscious sports performance attire as a barrier to entry for women in sports.
So here are my worries about running skirts:
- I worry that they contribute to yet more pressure on women to look good at all times–even while running marathons. Triathlete Nicole DeBoom even won an Ironman competition in a skirt. Can’t athletic events and training be times for other values in women’s lives? Can we get a break from caring about our appearance? Please.
- There’s also a note of modesty and body shame about them I don’t quite like. The ad for the tri skirt, in hot pink of course, says “Slide this one over a tri one-piece. It holds your race number and gives you the psychological edge of wearing something cute and carefree.” But it’s an added piece of clothing. Why not just run in your tri one piece? In transition between the swim and the bike, seconds count. No added function, just fashion and a bit of modesty.
- And there are a few too many sports with skirts for the girls and shorts for the boys. Think about the recent debate about skirts for women’s boxing in the recent Olympics. Think netball in the UK, Australia. and New Zealand. Tennis, of course, too.
But I disagree with Dunham on two key points.
First, I start getting angry when I hear people claim that the skirts play a role in a sexist male behavior at races. This sounds a bit like blaming men’s predatory behavior in nightclubs on the clothes of the female patrons. My clothes are my responsibility and if I want to have fun with them, I will. Your behavior is your responsibility. Let’s draw some clear lines here.
Second, I would also never judge another person’s choices of running attire. You want to run in an evening gown, a tutu, some fishnets? How about stilettos? Go for it.
I’m also with the coach quoted in the New York Times article below who says if the skirts get more women out running so much the better.
In the end I’m happy pluralist. You want to run in a skirt? Cool by me.
Take the extra seconds to put it on in a triathlon? Fine.
I’m living by the Underpants Rule as explained here: “The Underpants Rule is simple: everyone is the boss of their own underpants so you get to choose for you and other people get to choose from them and it’s not your job to tell other people what to do.”
The Rise of the Running Skirt Runners’ World
The One Where I Revisit My Most “Controversial” Post Ever. On the blog Run Angry. Warning: very angry and lots of language your parents might not like