I went for a nice long run today. After posting a suggestion a few weeks ago that men wear sports bras as an act of solidarity, and one reader suggested that might be a lark, I did it. It was pretty early, but there were tons of people about, as the fitness bunnies are all early risers.
I figured if somebody said something, I would tell them I was making a political statement. It actually looked kind of good though. And yes, there are always men running around topless, and that is what I am going to call it now. Yes, they are mostly good looking too, but boys, cut it out, it is disrespectful to the ladies—equal rights isn’t enough, equality is also what we live and what we accept as a society.
On a serious note, going out dressed in this way has the potential to invite unwanted attention. The kind that I worry about is aggression. To dress “female” as a “male” invites at least the fear of violence. Specifically, white male aggression. I don’t mean to jump on the white male bashing, but for some reason minorities seem less likely to be aggressive—are they more tolerant? Perhaps their own oppression makes it so?
In a way, experiencing the fear of violence helps ground me and understand better what women face. Though obviously I can control it, like taking off a mask, whereas she has to live it all the time.
There you have it. I admit to being a little nervous before setting out. But not in the way one might expect. Whenever I first set out, the idea that my exercise gear is clean and fresh feels so fashion princess rather than exercise animal that it is a little embarrassing. I can’t wait to break into a sweat so that it is clear I deserve to dress this way. For some reason, today’s getup produced that anxiety at a much higher level. Ditto the high I felt once I had pushed myself further and faster than usual, was positively drenched with sweat, but feeling euphoric and maybe a little defiant as my legs gobbled up the road.
The top I chose was a full coverage model, so it wasn’t a strappy, dainty thing. It also had no padding, no pleats, no extra seams—just right for a flat-chested “girl” like me. It could almost be said to be one of those good-ol-boy cut off shirts that shows your waist. Right!
A couple of things I noticed along the way. First, I ran faster and harder than usual—I wonder why? Second, people made eye contact with me. Normally when I run, people avoid eye contact. Sometimes a walker insists on saying ‘hi’, when talking is the last thing I want to do. None of that today, not even from the usual “fiendlies”. I know that women almost always avoid eye contact so as to avoid unwanted attention—true in life, even more true at 7:00 am running around in spandex. Today was different. The ladies looked me in the eyes. Almost every single one of them.
Men too. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Today was no different in quantity, but instead of that hazy looking-at-all-of-you-thing people do, they were also looking right into my eyes and nowhere else. This was definitely a first. It got me thinking…
Clothes are a defence mechanism. People were not looking at me the way they usually do…they were avoiding looking at me but doing it by looking at my eyes. At least that is what I think was going on. Okay, I was also wearing hot pink knee-highs. I figured they might be so distracted by my socks that the bra would be neither here nor there! But my question is this: how do people dress to get people to avert the gaze—to not look? How does a woman in particular dress to fend off unwanted looks and attention?
We often hear about how women dress to attract, and sometimes hear that trope in a not-so-flattering way. Perhaps women are generally more aware of clothes as a means of communication. But I’ll bet 99% of the time, the communication is more “look, don’t touch” than anything a man might interpret. Men dress for effect too, only a man seen to dress to attract is perceived as trying too hard. I am sure, however, that women especially, dress to detract attention, and that they do it all the time. Clothes are an incredible signifier.
Now, I would certainly not suggest that running around in skimpy shorts, pink socks, and a bra is the right cocktail for a woman to use on her morning run. But what’s a girl to do? Exercise gear is very attractive, but the last thing you want when you are working out is unwanted attention.