I’m training to run in a marathon next February, so I’m thinking about running a lot lately. One of the most prestigious marathons, the New York Marathon, took place last week. Several people reported to me that a woman had won it for the first time, which took me by complete surprise. The fastest woman in the world can run faster than most men, but the fastest man is still slightly faster than the fastest woman (although that difference is closing.) I went to investigate, and it turned out that the first American woman had won the race (it’s always been a woman from another country). This is cool, but not quite as exciting as the original story.
While researching this event, I came across something much more interesting. Last Sunday Nov. 5th, The New York Times reported an amazing story about the history of the New York Marathon. Prior to 1972, women were barred from road races as “experts” claimed distance running was “damaging to their health and femininity.” Some officials warned that a woman’s “uterus might fall out should she attempt to run long distances”. (Those pesky uteruses are always falling out at the most inconvenient moments! Good thing those officials were watching out for women’s organs!)
For years women snuck into races anyway (In 1967 Katherine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon under the name K.V. Switzer. Her amazing finish wasn’t officially recognized so it didn’t count. Women didn’t count.)
In 1972 the Amateur Athletic Union, the governing body for US marathons, finally “allowed” women to take part in distance road running. 1972. I was 4 years old. This happened in my lifetime. But they insisted on a “separate but equal” start, so men wouldn’t be competing directly with women (male egos couldn’t tolerate the possibility of losing to a woman.)
Women were allowed to run, but required to start ten minutes before the men. So on the day of the 1972 New York Marathon, the six women competing in the race sat down on the curb in protest when the gun went off. The women runners sat with signs that said: “Hey AAU. This is 1972. Wake up!” When the men were ready to go, the women stood up and ran with them. A photograph of the protest was printed in The New York Times, and as the story spread, the AAU, embarrassed by the media onslaught, scrapped the separate but equal rules.
This year there were over 21,000 women runners in the New York Marathon. Six women stood up and stood together and changed the world of running for all women, making it possible for me to run marathons today (with my uterus intact!)
Regulating women’s activities under the sham of protecting their reproductive organs was happening in MY LIFETIME. As we watch the current Administration roll back women’s reproductive freedoms and human rights, attempting to elevate the rights of the contents of their uteruses above the rights of women themselves, it is easy to picture the natural progression (regression?) of these policies. If her fertilized egg is legislated to be equal to or more important than the woman herself, then her eggs and organs exist in their own right. It becomes perfectly acceptable to limit or outlaw women’s behavior, activities, and rights, not only when we’re pregnant (which is egregious enough) but anytime we are of childbearing age. In 1972, 45 years ago, it was OK to declare women could not run because it could damage the organs they may one day need for reproduction. (Are these considered “preconceived babies”?)
Hey people. This is 2017. WAKE UP!!! This is happening. We need to stand up and stand together, so women can continue to count as human beings, not as incubators.