“What better way to stick two fingers up at the anti-feminist #NewYearNewYou rhetoric?”
BY GEM BARTON
Don’t feel like changing your lifestyle just because the clock turned midnight? Don’t think you have anything to “resolve” other than just being yourself? What better way to stick two fingers up at the anti-feminist #NewYearNewYou rhetoric than engaging in the very activities that the patriarchy prevented women from taking part in for so long? Nope, I’m not talking about speaking at board meetings, breastfeeding in public or having doughnuts for breakfast – I’m talking about the basic privilege of running.
Did you know that before 1972 – just 48 years ago – women were not allowed to run in marathons and the furthest women were allowed to run in the Olympics was 800m. When in 1966, Bobbi Gibb applied to run in the Boston Marathon, she received a letter from Will Cloney, race director, informing her that, “Women were not physiologically capable of running marathon distances,” and that under the rules that governed amateur sports, women were not allowed to run more than a mile and a half competitively. Um… why the hell not?
At the time, many people truly believed, “anything long like 800m, or even longer, God forbid, was considered dangerous, de-sexing and de-feminising for a woman. [It was thought] that the uterus might fall out and their legs would get big, and maybe they would grow hair on their chests.”
Gibb ran anyway. She hid behind a bush near the start line and snuck into the field of runners, finishing the race in an unofficial time of 3:21:25. Then, in 1967, Katherine Switzer was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, only later to be disqualified for having entered fraudulently – on account of her application form being filled in with her initials only.
When they saw her start the race and realised she was not a man, Switzer was chased by officials – Will Cloney again – trying to grab her and remove her (or at least her official number) from the race screaming, “Get the hell out of my race”, captured in all its ferocity by the press truck. It would be another five years before a women’s division was approved in 1972, all thanks to the mighty Gibb and Switzer!
If you prefer a speedier ride towards exercise-induced emancipation, I recommend reaching for the bicycle, a true symbol of female liberation, garnished with the title of the “most feminist of machines” due to the independence and freedom it afforded women in the late 19th Century.
Prior to the bicycle, women had to walk, travel by carriage or on horseback – all methods of travel designed to be slow, delicate and chaperoned. The bicycle turned all of that upside down enabling the first truly independent form of travel. The humble bicycle enabled women to travel alone to rallies and meetings and is recognised for the part it played in the suffrage movement.
It also offered one of the first “legitimate” reasons to wear trousers and bloomers, as bicycles could not be ridden sidesaddle. In 1895, a list of things women shouldn’t do on bikes was published in an attempt to order and regulate women’s cycling, “Don’t refuse assistance up a hill,” “Don’t wear a garden party hat with bloomers,” and “Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run,” – golden advice for any human about town, no?
“To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world”
– Munsey’s Magazine, 1896.
Seriously though, early discrimination against gender, ability and femininity, as well as equal, independent access to the free roads of our cities, has created decades upon decades of decisions that favour the heteronormative and able-bodied in terms of mobility and generally getting around.
So why not begin this new decade by doing something salty? Join me! Run, ride and move however you choose to and let’s sweat together… all over the patriarchy! #sweatonthepatriachy
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