What Were You Wearing?

Should we be surprised she made it to the finish line in one piece? Flickr image by Phil Roeder.
Should we be surprised she made it to the finish line in one piece? Flickr image by Phil Roeder.

What were you wearing?” That is exactly what my supposed friend asked me when I called her shortly after I was stalked while running. “Excuse me?” was all I could form my lips to utter. I was very upset. Hurtfully, that was the response from many other women. Not that it mattered, but I was in my usual running attire: running bra, shorts, shoes, and socks. Fortunately the police did not care what I was wearing. Stalking is against the law and they took action.

My incident happened over 10 years ago and I am distressed that the same thing is still happening. We are still blaming women for actions that men may or may not take based on clothing.

The most recent attacks are about high school dress codes and prom dresses. The message is loud and clear: our bodies are to blame for the distraction of males.  How fair is that? Are male humans incapable of working alongside female humans without harassing them,  stalking them or jumping their bones? And if not, which one, the male or female human, is responsible for the male’s behavior?

I don’t know about you, but I wear the least amount of clothes while I run. Not because I am trying to attract a man, but because I am a runner. And running requires a certain level of comfort. Comfort when running in the heat (or racing for many of us) means tight and sometimes otherwise skimpy outfits. And, yes, there are shirts that I or other women runners who prefer to run in bras could wear, but we choose not to. That choice does not give anyone the right to step into my personal space. It is also not my responsibility not to arouse lust in anyone who is watching.

This was a bathing suit in Victorian times. Is this what we're supposed to work out in to ensure men behave? Image via wikipedia.
This was a bathing suit in Victorian times. Is this what we’re supposed to work out in to ensure men behave? Image via wikipedia.

Why am I responsible for what my stalker felt as he pursued me? Why was he distracted? I have been distracted by many things, and yet I have never stalked any of those things. And why does that make sense to people that it was my fault? Or the fault of those girls who were banned from their proms?

What message are we sending our women? We want them to be proud of their bodies. We expect them to look amazing, especially if they’re athletes. We scoff at countries who force their women to wear veils or other clothing which completely covers their bodies. But are we any different? Blaming our clothing or lack thereof for any violence perpetrated against us is just wrong. And I think a few failing grades, lackluster performance reviews, or jail, depending on the severity, just might be the cure for distraction. And that is the message we should be sending everyone.

How do you feel about the way women dress to run?


I eat miles for breakfast, or occasionally for a snack later in the day. Self proclaimed 50+ and fabulous poster child, US Army vet, college professor, avid runner, yoga enthusiast, guest columnist, and I've used Olay since I was 17 so they should use me in at least one of their ads!

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  1. I’m with you, Chipotle! As a fellow sports bra wearer, I know that I do it for comfort and not attention. I’m fortunate to have not experienced stalking (that I know of) but I do get harassment, at times. Men should learn some self control and those who can’t have psychological issues and need a therapist!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I agree we should start teaching boys that girls should be respected and not harassed. We need to stop allowing the distraction defense to be relevant.

  2. hell yeah, Chipotle! It’s ridiculous. I’ve been leered at, ogled, harassed and insulted by men for what I choose to run in. I’m just trying to do my thing. I don’t know why my clothing is a license to scare the sh*t out of me! Jerks!

  3. Great post! I think you cut to the heart of the matter. As a guy, I have been socially conditioned to find certain features attractive. Part of this social conditioning is modern masculinity where I am expected, even applauded for being sexually aggressive and am only considered a successful man if I succeed. Throw in the entitlement of patriarchy, sexist social scripts, institutionally enforced gender roles, and rape culture; oppression becomes an invisible part of our identity. And yet, despite the reasons behind male oppression, it is a man’s responsibility to resist. It is MY responsibility to resist. Thank you for your insights.

    1. Thank you for posting, John.

      I agree, it’s social conditioning. It’s part of our culture and every one of us has a role in both perpetuating the “bad” (in all its forms) and reforming for the “good.”

      For all the many ways in which I’ve felt harassed, threatened, oppressed, or abused, I know that I am responsible for:
      – standing my ground
      – stepping up and speaking out for change
      – and, in part, supporting the very culture I loathe – in ways I am not even aware of – as I am unavoidably part of that culture

      You all run on with your frisky selves – whenever and wearever you want.

    2. Wow John! Talk about enlightened 🙂 I think you touch on this and are correct that a lot of men don’t even realize what they’re doing and how it affects us. often I don’t think this stuff even comes from a bad place within the men who do it, but if they fully understood how it affects the objects of their catcalls or whatever they would never do it again!

    3. John, I am glad you are willing to accept responsibility for your part in this. I wish more men would. We need to learn how to co-exist in a society of mutual respect and admiration. We should never take any gender for granted. We have the power to stop this if we would all just take a step forward. Unfortunately it is too easy to maintain the status quo. That worries me. Those coming behind me should not have to deal with this issue.

  4. Thank you for your comments. I agree. We can always find reasons to blame the victim. That needs to stop. We are not equal in the eyes of society even though we are 51% of the population.

  5. What a great post. This is a huge problem, and the “what were you wearing” question really undermines the severity of the issue. Anytime women step out into public spaces, whether it’s to run, walk, or just exist, it’s treated as an invitation to comment/intimidate/harass, because some men feel a huge sense of entitlement when it comes to women’s bodies. I hate the argument that not all men do this, and that it’s unfair to paint in broad strokes, and here’s why: men don’t worry about this issue. Men don’t have to think about this as a personal safety/vulnerability issue like women do when they are in public spaces. Unfortunately, this is in the back of my mind every time I run, no matter what I’m wearing. And that’s a damned shame.

    1. Myra, I am right there with ya! The more I fight this the more people look at me as if I was crazy. I get that it is comfortable being status quo, but I want to be able to exist without worrying that someone else is viewing my clothing as an invitation. And don’t get me started on what happens when someone says I should just change my clothing…