Yoga Pants and Rape Culture

god-created-yoga-pantsDuring reading week, I came across an article on my news feed from titled The Comfort and Sexualization of Yoga Pants. In the article, author hollypenny explores the increasing popularity of yoga pants and leggings, which have become widely acceptable to wear in public.

The author makes reference to a hypersexualized website called Girls in Yoga Pants and then to an article on The Good Men Project to make her point about the sexualization of yoga pants. She mentions two very important quotations from Nathan Graziano’s article in which he states:

“I have a hard time believing that—outside of the gym or the yoga classes—women wear yoga pants solely for comfort.”

“…baggy sweatpants are also comfortable, so I can only assume there’s more to it. There is an implicit game here—the age-old tease where women flaunt and men look.”

She then points to this comment posted on Graziano’s article:

“yeah honestly I have to admit this whole deal is more than a little alarming to me … when most of the girls in my daughter’s high school show up in very revealing skin tight yoga pants it seems to me like something has gone a bit off. … I guess I like that women feel comfortable in their own yoga skin and also that fitness is something that we all generally are more aware of. But I do ask myself repeatedly how it became okay to wear close to nothing to dinner or class or a movie? I am not a prude by any means. But what ever happen to a nice pair of jeans and a white t-shirt?”

hollypenny asks, “Are we all really too sex-crazed to the point where clothed, rounded bodily shapes are too much to handle?”

The Comfort and Sexualization of Yoga Pants prompted me to consider a larger issue that is often discussed in the context of social media and internet activism, and one that was not explicitly referenced in the article: rape culture. In Gendered Worlds (one of our GNDS 125 textbooks), the writer introduces rape culture with regards to the American legal system, explaining that “in rape trials before the feminist reforms of the 1980s, women’s actions, dress, and words could become implicated in the [case of a] rape. Often the rape victim herself was on trial, as rapists’ excuses and justifications– ‘she asked for it’ or ‘no really means yes’– blamed the victim for the crime” (Aulette and Wittner 125). My understanding of the term “rape culture” is that it involves the perpetuation and encouragement of a culture in which rape and victim blaming are not taken seriously. It also involves “slut bashing” or “slut shaming,” when women experience “bullying and harassment regarding [their] perceived sexual behaviour with the intent to shame, degrade and dehumanize the victim” (Tolmie). Dehumanization, according to our professor Jane Tolmie, is a factor in the objectification of women, or the idea of women as objects for male pleasure. Furthermore, the “degradation and dehumanization inherent in slut-shaming has shaped societal discourses on rape, abuse, and harassment. Slut-shaming is a consistent theme in the lives of women as the fear of ever being labeled a “slut” provides a method of social control against women living as sexualized beings” (Tolmie).

The idea that men would think that women choose to wear yoga pants in order to please them and the comments that hollypenny refers to in her article are perfectly in line with rape culture, slut bashing, and the objectification of women.

I think hollypenny's poll speaks for itself here.

I think hollypenny’s poll speaks for itself here.

Why should women and girls feel ashamed to wear clothing that makes them feel comfortable and confident about their bodies? As hollypenny writes, “How did it become ok to wear [yoga pants]? When we, women, decided it was ok. When we started practicing yoga and decided we would feel good in our bodies and our clothes while doing anything from yoga to running errands to sitting on the couch.” Many of the comments on her article support this argument. One user wrote,

“In all honesty, I never wear baggy sweatpants in public because they get in the way! […]

If I’m wearing skin-tight yoga pants […] I can move about without the burden of stepping on my hems. Plus, yoga pants look less sloppy!

I have never ONCE thought “oh, I’m going to wear the hell out of these yoga pants because guys LOVE it”. Get over yourself, guys.”

But is it okay to want to feel “sexy” as well? Another user wrote,

“I would like to have the option to choose that I wear yoga pants outside of a yoga class because they are easy & comfortable AND that they make me look sexy.

Choice number three: Both.”

Regardless of a person’s reason for choosing to wear yoga pants or leggings, whether they wear them for comfort or even to look more attractive, their decision should be respected by others. This means not making them feel ashamed for their clothing choices, not treating or viewing them as a sex object, and not calling them a slut.

One of my favourite comments on the article says,

“If yoga pants are sexy it is because they cover the toned legs of fit yoginis rendered beautiful inside and out by a regular yoga practice. ;)”

So what do you think? Do you think that despite efforts to increase awareness of rape culture and slut bashing, women should still make careful decisions about their clothing? Can you think of any strategies for increasing awareness and eliminating rape culture?

Check out these images for a better understanding of rape culture.

Works Cited: Continue reading