Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tell Me How You Really Feel

After reading a news article about an Edmonton woman who after running for 2 hours on a treadmill wearing a sports bra and no shirt, was approached by gym staff and told that walking around in a sports bra was “unacceptable,” I was fired up to write a response.

I’ve had this experience myself – the first time was at a YMCA in Tucson, Arizona.  I was running a hard treadmill session and a staff member approached me and told me I had to either cover up or I could not be in the gym as it was a “family friendly facility.”  I was flabbergasted, humiliated, shocked. I had to stop mid-session, get off the treadmill and go back to the change room to grab a shirt. My face turned beet red – what had I done wrong?  Why was running in a sports bra deemed threatening to families?

The second time I had this experience was in Victoria, British Columbia.  I was even more shocked.  The very first thing that sprung to my mind was: “But this is CANADA!”  As a proud Canadian woman, this was my first experience of being told that what I was wearing was “wrong.”  My head swirled with emotions and questions and through that jumble scorched a red-hot indignation:  Why am I being told it is inappropriate and wrong to wear only a sports bra?  Why am I being made to feel that exposing my midriff is “inappropriate” and “wrong?”  
More importantly, why is having an exposed midriff so threatening?

Here are my thoughts…

Most of the sports bra only debate falls into four predictable responses:

  • Men have to wear shirts, so women should wear shirts.
  •  Worst case scenarios and hygienic reasons.
  • Women who wear sports bras are flaunting their goods so-to-speak and want to be looked at, ogled, approached.
  • Wearing only a sports bra is inappropriate, not family-friendly and somehow “unsafe.”

Men have to wear shirts, so women should wear shirts.
The difficulty with this tit-for-tat comparison is it can go on forever without resolution spiraling into ever more ludicrous comparisons until the focus becomes on who is winning with the latest example instead of addressing what is so fundamentally wrong with a woman wearing a sports bra. 

When a man takes off his shirt at the gym he is typically not wearing a sports bra underneath. Implying that a man’s bare torso is the equivalent as a woman wearing a sports bra is erroneous.  More along the lines of this, we’ve all seen men at the gym with tiny tank tops exposing their nipples. Applying this same logic to women, why can’t women wear skimpy tank tops without sports bras and expose their nipples too?  Is that considered safe and unthreatening?

Worst-case scenarios and hygienic reasons
Somehow if women are allowed to wear sports bras only at the gym, the floodgates to indecency will be opened for men as well.  I don’t really know what is implied here, but the image that springs to mind is masses of sweaty flesh, dripping perspiration all over the floor and overexposure of hairy backs and bellies.

Women who wear sports bras are flaunting their goods so-to-speak and want to be looked at, ogled, approached.
Is it ok to look at a woman because she is only wearing a sports bra at the gym?  This is a ridiculous question.  Of course, it is “ok” to look at anyone.  We look at people everyday as we shop for groceries, walk down the sidewalk.  

What this question really implies is that a woman wearing a sports bra is inviting more than cursory attention – in fact she deserves any attention she gets.

Wearing a sports bra in the gym is inappropriate, not family-friendly and somehow “unsafe.”
This idea that a woman’s bare midriff is threatening to the gym environment speaks directly to how old, entrenched ideas about woman’s behaviour still exist.   Why is wearing a sports bra sans shirt “inappropriate?”  This implies some offense has been given – who is offended and why is this offense granted more weight than the woman wearing the sports bra?  

The family-friendly adjective is tossed about quite frequently as well:  What is it about a sports-bra clad woman that threatens children and families?  Of what are they in danger?

How is a woman wearing a sports bra at the gym “unsafe?”  Is she the cause of danger or the target of danger?  There is no good answer for the latter question.  Are we as a society still saying that violence against women comes down to what the woman was wearing?

In Conclusion
The common denominator in all of this are those dark sexual innuendos that no one will come right out and say, but everyone inherently recognizes:  wearing only a sports bra is indecent, the woman wants attention, therefore any attention good or bad she receives is deserved.

This kind of reasoning is more reflective of the person doing the judging than of any threat posed by a sports bra clad woman.

These discussions inevitably circle back to the K.I.S.S. principle:  Put on a shirt, you warm up. Take off a shirt, you cool down.