Running With (Strong) Women

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This week marked the kickoff of a series of urban runs for women sponsored by Nike under the rubric 'We Own The Night.' The London version of this race is to take place in Victoria Park on a Saturday night in late May.  A number of my friends from Run Dem Crew got invited to the launch party, and there is lots of excitement on Twitter too. I'm bringing this all up because I am planning on running this race myself, and have gotten some interesting reactions to that which have gotten me thinking.

Interestingly very few women have voiced anything resembling an objection to the idea of my running this race. Women have been more curious about my reasons for running than opposed to the idea. Nor have women looked askance at my plans to try to get a place in the Nike Women's Marathon. In fact, a number of women have been positively encouraging. The guys have been a different story. While most of the men have been fully supportive, there have been some negative responses. And, upon reflection, the way some guys have reacted actually helps to illustrate why it is that I want to run this sort of race.

The reaction one gets from these guys is either, aimed directly at me, something along the lines of "but it's a women's race" as if that somehow makes it below me, or that there is something wrong with the race. Or, aimed at other guys, expressions of discomfort; attempts to distance themselves from the idea of participating; or suggestions that maybe someone or other should run the race in women's clothes. Which, to me, raises the basic question: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Over.

The way these guys react gives me the clear impression that they think that the fact that this is a "women's race" makes it somehow emasculating for a guy to run it. As if women's sport is somehow unclean. Or, at least, second-rate. Hell, you can almost hear them say, why bother running when it's just going to be a bunch of girls. And, to be honest, I am disappointed. And a bit angry too. I'm getting this from people who I like, and I really expect better of them. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I just bring this up to point out that even a lot of the more progressive, better intentioned guys find women's sport outside of their comfort zone.

Far worse than these comments on Twitter is the behaviour one sees or hears about on the race course. Or on the street. I've heard two different stories this year from women who had their races completely messed up by some egotistic idiot pushing them to the ground in pursuit of their personal goal. That's class for you. Then there are the catcalls, comments, etc. when women go out running the streets of London. Sure I get comments every now and then, but they aren't threatening. Or sexual. I understand guys drinking beer at a pub feeling embarrassed when they see much fitter guys running past. And that embarrassment turns into stupid comments. But when women go running it is apparently seen by a certain breed of troglodyte as sexual provocation. How dare that woman be fit. How dare she dress in tight-fitting clothes (duh, she's RUNNING!). How dare she be out in public without a chaperone. No, bruv, you got it wrong. How dare you think anyone wants a glimpse into that swamp you call a personality.

In the face of this shameful status quo in the world, it isn't enough for women to have events with other women where they all encourage each other. There also need to be men showing up to be encouraging and supportive. This is about showing the women that we are on their side; and showing those other men that whatever problem there might be is their problem not ours. And I hope that on the day when enough men are willing to stand up and participate in a women's race, the world will have changed to the point where women no longer feel that they need women's events to feel supported, encouraged, and safe.   

So why am I running? I fully support the idea that women should be strong and independent. I don't think this is a women's issue. I think this is a human issue. To take the attitude that women can only be strong with other women is sad. And in much of the world, and in many niches within our society, women have to battle against men to assert their independence and strength. I want to be visible as a man who not only isn't fighting against women, but is willing to stand up shoulder to shoulder with them in proclaiming how fantastic it is for women to be taking control of themselves. And I don't think that my standing on the sidelines and cheering is as powerful as my actually lacing up my trainers (well, metaphorically speaking, my VFFs are all velcro) and running with them.

1 Comment

Er.. It's for women. The clue is in the title. If you want to support, why not be an actual supporter? Everyone knows sideline support is one of the best parts of a race. Go cheer. No need to join in.

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Maskit published on April 5, 2013 8:58 PM.

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