Monday, May 21, 2012

Femininity and running

Several things have conspired to lead to this post--the most recent being that two minutes ago a woman ran by the cafe I am sitting at grading papers wearing a running skirt--just as I was thinking about running skirts and the reasons women give for wearing.
I was thinking about this because of this article about the growth of female distance runners. This piece focuses on Portland, Oregon. It was a smidge of history. I did learn that Joan Benoit Samuelson would walk when a car drove by her as she was running. The piece overall is an important reminder of how women's participation in distance running does not have a long and rich history.
It has a controversial history, however, as noted by the article sent to me by a friend. If you study sport and sport history, you likely know about the one time the IOC decided to let the women run a little bit longer and then they all collapsed from the exertion of running 800 meters and it was too much for people to bear and so they banned distance events for women until the 1980s.
This piece from Running Times notes the hype around the post-event (somewhat constructed) drama in Amsterdam in 1928. Men were shocked at the "spectacle" and fear--the same fear that had carried over from the 19th century about women being desexed, in fertile, and not so pretty anymore (premature aging was the fear in 1928)--reigned. The reporter from the New York Post wrote that he saw "11 wretched women, 5 of whom dropped out before the finish, while 5 collapsed after reaching the tape."
This was not the most accurate of reporting it turns out. There were only nine runners. All of them finished. Only one "collapsed" after the finish line. Not bad given that it was a hot day, the semifinal heats had been run only 24 hours prior and that the top three finishers came in under world record time.
So fast forward to today. Women run--some are still run off the road when they train, and still leered at sexually; apparel and accessories makers are all over the female market. And now we have running skirts.
So that same fear of defeminization clearly still exists. Except now the discourse has been constructed in such a way that women "choose" to feminize themselves. "It’s kind of fun to look feminine when you're running sometimes" said a female manager at a running store in Portland.
If wearing a skirt is really more comfortable when running (inner thigh chub causes a lot of tugging of shorts--I know!) then wear them. Wear them because it's practical. That's what training gear is supposed to be. But if it's the same as running shorts--why reinvent the wheel? Are you really going to go out, as the above cited manager suggests, after your run, to a place where you need to be wearing a running skirt? Are you going someplace where the spandex skirt will compensate for your sweaty and disheveled look in a way that running shorts will not?
A friend of mine wrote her dissertation about running skirts and the industry around women's running. I hope she turns it into a book! So many issues to explore.

1 comment:

Caitlin said...

I hope your friend turns her dissertation into a book, too! I'd love to read it!