Gender Bender

113th Boston Marathon April 20, 2009, Boston, MA Photo by: Lisa Coniglio Victah1111@aol.com 631-741-1865 www.photorun.NET

Kara rewrites the narrative. Wear pink and kick ass.

The topic of gender in sport has been on my mind in recent weeks, and I have a lot of thoughts on the issue.

  • I always pursue equality in my life, whether in running or in general. We’ve recently posted about it on the blog, and while I think we all want the same things from our beloved sport, I come from a different school of thought. However, the one thing we can universally agree on is this: men and women are wired differently.
  • A couple weeks ago, I was in Seattle watching the ECNL soccer playoffs. At the tournament, I saw a lot of girls, from all over the U.S., playing soccer. They are the very best players in the country, and they proved that on the field. They were fierce, competitive and, yes, feminine. Their uniforms fit their bodies because they were women’s uniforms cut for a woman’s body. But my husband’s teams looked a little different. Their shorts were longer, the tops boxier. So I asked, and I found out that his girls wear boys’ uniforms. Wait, why? “To even the playing field.” Wait, what? What’s wrong with wearing a woman’s uniform? I mean, as long as it’s not pink. Right? But why is pink the enemy?
  • Isn’t the great equalizer being able to embrace our differences and share the same power? Why do we have to measure ourselves against maleness to be equal, even in sport? Why can’t wearing a pink tutu in a race be empowering, if that’s what you love? I don’t need to be like a man to feel strong, capable or competitive. I don’t need to set aside my femininity in any area of my life — sport, career or relationships — I am a woman and I seek equality by embracing who I am, not by setting it aside.

Fierce competitors, but not genderless.

  • I don’t think the world of sports perpetuates a specific “girly” stereotype to attract women. From my vantage, women’s sports are intense, powerful and exciting. Did you watch the Women’s World Cup? Have you seen Kara Goucher compete?
  • Parents don’t sign up their daughters for softball so they can wear cute uniforms. They sign them up to play softball because their daughters want to play softball. If appearance were the motivator, they’d probably sign them up for pageants. My gut tells me that these girls want to play the sport and be allowed to be girls. We can’t deny that girls like Elsa, so why not let them wear Elsa and play the game they love? Girls playing sports doesn’t lessen what is means to be a girl, and it doesn’t lessen what it means to play sports.
  • Then there are race T-shirts. We complained until we got the right fit for our shirts, but we now complain if they’re pink? It seems inconsequential to me. Sexist sayings aside, I see nothing wrong with the women’s tees being different than the men’s at the same race.

I think you can absolutely love your sport while absolutely embracing who you are, and if that means wearing an asexual outfit, great. But if you want to rock a pink shirt and tutu, you’ll still be a badass in my eyes. — Amie

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What a Girl Wants

She doesn't need sparkles, she just needs a finish line.

She doesn’t need sparkles, she just needs a finish line.

If you had asked me about gender roles and differences before I had kids, I would have told you they were entirely the result of societal pressures and enforced norms. But now that I am the proud owner of two little girls, I realize, more than ever, that there is a big difference in the way boys and girls are wired.

They play differently, socialize differently and often act differently.

But while boys and girls are indeed different, there is one place where they are the same: the world of sports. The way they play them, the way they learn them, the way they love them.

Sure, women’s soccer looks a bit different from men’s soccer, but the main difference is simply that there are men on the field in one example, and women on the field in the other example.

This isn’t to say that society doesn’t have an influence on gender. I’ve become more aware (and frankly, enraged) about how society perpetuates these gender differences, especially as it relates to sport.

Recently, a series of photos of a girls’ softball team has been exploding all over the Internet. In the photos, the juxtaposition of the girls in Princess Elsa dresses wearing eye-black on the infield dirt has made a lot of people smile.

The mother/photographer who dreamed up this “Frozen”-themed softball team says, “Little girls that are in beautiful sparkly dresses are okay to look a little tough and look a little mean.”

The problem isn’t the dresses themselves. In fact, in another context, those dresses are great and fun and even empowering. But when you add them to a softball game, it makes it all about appearance and less about the game and the experience.

Sports are not about LOOKING a certain way. Sports are about DOING. About PLAYING. About SPORTSMANSHIP and TEAMWORK.

We don’t need to make sports “pretty” or “girly” or “feminine” to “help” women enjoy them.

The power of sports goes beyond that. We all rally behind a team because it makes us feel like something bigger. We participate in sports long beyond our peak athletic years because it still makes us feel strong and capable. And these things are universal and genderless.

So this year, when yet again, I saw that my Hyde Park Blast race shirt had a different design (in pink, no less) than my husband’s, I felt angry, stereotyped and offended. I’m sure no one meant to disrespect me (or the scores of other disappointed women runners) with these shirts, but, nonetheless, that is how I felt. And the Blast is certainly not alone in its unintentional sexism.

We’ve written time and time and time again on this blog about the struggle to empower female athletes, and unfortunately, that balance has not yet been found.

Ignoring the inherent differences in the genders does each a disservice, but we need to find a better way to welcome both men and women into the sporting arena.

Yes, it is possible to be feminine and strong.

Yes, it is possible to love dresses and softball.

Yes, it is possible to love the color pink and the way it feels to run a race.

However, making sport about these differences also does the sports themselves a disservice. Rather than get our daughters excited to wear an Elsa dress for a photoshoot or a tutu to run a 5K, why don’t we teach them to love the game? To love to run? To explore their physical limits in an empowering way that works the same way for men?

I dream of a world where my daughters can line up for a race and be treated like equals to their male counterparts. A place where they can run on the riverfront without fear of catcalls. A time when they can turn on the TV on any given day and see strong female athletes competing in and talking about the sports they love.

We’ve come a long way in our acceptance of female athletes. Shoot, when my mom played high school basketball, it had a completely different set of rules than the men’s game. And when I ran my first track meet, I did so in a pair of men’s spikes because women’s spikes did not yet exist. But we’ve still got a long ways to go.

Things are better. The fact that people are making attempts to find ways to get women excited about sports is encouraging, but often, they’re missing the mark. Women and girls don’t need different colored shirts, tutus at their races or sparkles at their softball games. They simply need enthusiasm, encouragement and acceptance in the same way that boys and men learn to love sports.

Let’s do better. — Aidz

Empowerment vs. Sexism

WTF?!?

WTF?!?

The email popped into my inbox. Women ROCK! Chicago Half Marathon! The rage soon followed. Allow me to explain.

I take umbrage with women-only races in general. One thing that makes running so amazing is that you can go to the starting line and find women, men, Olympians, novices, college athletes, young, old taking part in a race. You all are running together and competing against each other on the same course at the same time. You’d be hard-pressed to find another sport where that is possible. On the roads, we are equal.

Then you have women-only races. I can kinda understand some arguments; they’re the same arguments people make for women-only gyms. Sometimes women are intimidated or embarrassed about working out, and they feel more comfortable if there aren’t men around to judge or stare. First of all, you are never free from judgment or staring. Let’s be real, women do it too. But whatever. More importantly, you lose all credibility and opportunities to make the aforementioned argument when your women-only race includes things like:

  • Pink champagne at the finish line!
  • A natural ruby, diamond and sterling silver pendant finisher’s necklace!
  • A free copy of the Men of Women ROCK calendar! (i.e. guys with their shirts off)
  • The opportunity to have your photo taken with one of the Men of Women ROCK calendar models!

These are all real things offered at this real event. I just don’t get it. I am a champion of female empowerment, but this isn’t the way to do it. You want to be empowered? Line up shoulder to shoulder with men and race against them. I can tell you from experience, there’s no feeling quite like beating a man to the finish line. In addition:

  • The pink champagne and bejeweled necklace make it about your gender, not your accomplishment of running 13.1 miles. Which is an awesome accomplishment, whether you’re a woman or man. Celebrate THAT.
  • Objectifying men doesn’t empower you, it merely encourages objectification. Can you imagine a men-only race where they gave out a bikini calendar and had babes in skimpy outfits at the finish line? “Reverse” sexism is not OK. Sexism is not OK. And that’s not what running is even ABOUT, in the first place.

The beauty of running is that it isn’t sexist. Why bring it there? — Mags

Sexism Starts at the Top

Livid is the first word that comes to mind after reading the International Association of Athletics Federations agreed to acknowledge as women’s world records only those times set in all-women competitions. Performances achieved in mixed fields would be referred to only as “world best.”

If the IAAF has its way, Paula Radcliffe's world record time (above) will be downgraded to world best. WTF?

That would mean Paula Radcliffe’s women’s world marathon record of 2:15:25 set in 2003 in London would be downgraded to “world best,” and her 2:17:42 set in London in 2005 would become the record — if the rule change goes into effect in January as planned.

Huh? Did I miss something here?

The IAAF claims it wants to make the change so women can have no possible advantage of having faster men pace them to a record. Yet the IAAF still allows “rabbits” in men’s races. Runner’s World recently published a huge feature on how the use of rabbits — athletes who are paid to go out fast to set the pace and then drop out before the finish — is still alive and well in road racing and track today. God forbid a woman should “benefit” from chasing (and likely passing) a man on the course to help her set a world record.

Fellow Bad Angel blogger Amie ran the Chicago Marathon in 2009 and qualified for Boston. Her now-husband, Doug, helped her train and then helped pace her to a BQ. But, as she angrily wrote, “DID HIS LEGS RUN IT FOR ME?” No, they most certainly did not.

In some cases, it could be even more difficult for women to set records in mixed races because they’re not only battling for position with their elite female rivals but also with the second-tier elite men.

Meanwhile, World Marathon Majors (WMM) and the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) are doing a piss-poor job of standing up for their sport. From Reuters:

WMM and AIMS said in a joint statement that they felt the IAAF Congress decision “does not represent what is required by the sport of road running.

“They further believe that there should be two world records for women’s road running performances, separately recognizing those achieved in mixed competition and women’s only conditions,” it added.

Gee, thanks, guys.

The fact that men and women stand together at the start line in the majority of races is one of the things that makes running so great. But how can we even keep up the illusion of equality when the sport’s own governing body issues an absurd decision like this?

Sexism starts at the top and works its way down. Maybe the rage that is working its way up from the bottom will force those at the top see the error of their ways.

Until then, I say eff off, IAAF. — Mags