The sonorous Irish comedian Ardal O’Hanlon once did a bit in which, and I’m paraphrasing (but I could have just as easily ripped this off because the internet is Thunderdome, so YOU’RE WELCOME), he explained very soberly that the words “fun” and run” should never be used next to each other in a sentence because running is something you do when someone is chasing you with a knife. Zombie-themed running events have capitalized on this faux-terror running motivation, but perhaps no race concept has done more to seem real-world scary (and also seem to not at all realize it) than Skirt Chaser, a really, really stupid-sounding 5K with one simple theme: female runners eluding male pursuers.
Skirt Chaser 5K is a thing that definitely exists in the world. It has sponsors (PowerBar), official merchandise, race locations spanning the North American continent, and a promotional video set to Flo Rida’s exercise anthem, “Good Feeling.” Participants seem to be enjoying themselves as they turn the slowly revolving Earth into their own 5K treadmill. The “fun, flirty Skirt Chaser 5K race series” race was launched in 2007 not by a dude-bro touting a shaky cam and a lascivious dream, but by a woman named Nicole DeBoom, winner of the 2004 Ironman Wisconsin and inventor of “the world’s first-ever women’s fitness skirt”. Nothing about this race seems mean-spirited or malicious, people seem to enjoy it, and DeBoom seems to be doing well. So, what’s the big deal?
Well, for one, this is how the concept is introduced:
Get it? Because women run from men, maybe for their lives! Because men are chasing them! Also, women are not “women” — they are skirts. Guys are just guys. I mean, what else would we call them? Jockstraps? Nipple band-aids? There is no metonymic signifier for male runners, apparently, but women can totally be reduced to a piece of athletic apparel.
In one sense, these are all minor quibbles — nobody’s getting hurt, DeBoom is an empowered entrepreneur with her own company, and the actual spirit of the race seems convivial. In another sense, the language used to promote Skirt Chaser works its subtle magic to deprive female participants of their humanity (or at least subjugate it to male humanity) and validate certain elements of rape culture. Women are not women — they are skirts. Skirts are not meant to be worn, folded, or returned for almost a full refund — they are meant to be chased, with “capturing” or “catching” as the ultimate hypothetical goal.
As I said, minor stuff, right? After all, these are just words, and Skirt Chaser, with all its flirtys and funs and feminines, is just a branding tool that DeBoom has used to differentiate her 5K from the countless other races littering the fitness landscape like discarded PowerBar wrappers and unraveled ACE bandages. Some kind of critical discipline based — just like Marxism or Deconstructionism, only, you know, for ladies — on the ways language buttresses existing cultural hierarchies might take issue with Skirt Chaser’s language, because frankly, that language sucks. If only such a form of criticism existed. Then we’d really have something here.