The New York Times op-ed from April titled “Why Men Quit and Women Don’t” is so tantalizing, isn’t it? It implies an answer to a question and I was sure that it would provide me with a witty quip-laced-with-fact to interject into the many conversations about gender and sport I seem to get myself into. The caveat to the title is that women generally don’t quit less often than men (very awkward), in fact, under ideal running conditions the rate of women quitting during the Boston marathon is higher than men. When it comes to extreme weather, that’s when women climb inside their pain locker and persist while some men give up.
So, the question really is, why men quit when the run gets tough, and why women power through to the finish line?
There are several viable theories presented in the article as to why this occurs, including pain tolerance, body fat composition, decision-making tendencies, childbirth and risk aversion, but the one that spoke to me on a deep level, was the tribalism of women. This is not a biological, genetic, or inherent quality that we as women have, it is born of our history, our protest, our oppression and our progress. This is the learned evolution of women understanding that we have to empower one another to achieve our goals both as individuals and for our gendered group.
The Boston Marathon, in particular, embodies the story of women fighting through gendered adversity, societal disregard, and exclusion in sports. Kathy Switzer, the woman who became the first female to run Boston as a numbered entrant, registered after her run coach told her that women were “too fragile” to run that distance. Switzer entered using her initials instead of her given name and become widely immortalized in the picture of her being grabbed by an official who was attempting to rip off her bib.
To me, the relation between Switzer’s action and the article is the “why” factor. Why did Switzer do this, why do women push through? I believe that it’s in large part for the good of women as a whole. Switzer did this in response to her run coach’s remarkable affinity for sexism and stupidity, not so that she could prove that she alone could do this, but to prove that WE could do this. That of course women weren’t too fragile to run a marathon. What did the coach think would happen, our ovaries would fall out?! Perhaps this is why women push through under extreme circumstances, we’ve been told for centuries that our minds are too weak, that we are frail and fragile, so when faced with the worst of the worst, we finish at all costs, because there is a cost.
Where this article fails me is in author Lindsay Crouse’s choice of experts used to untangle the question. Crouse refers to women and some of the things they’ve said, but when it comes to experts she relies on a psychologist, distance coach and author, all of whom are men. This is where I get lost because I don’t really care about the expert opinions of men in this case, or the science behind why men and women are psychologically or biologically different. Don’t worry, I’ve heard it all, and understand them.
I want to hear about the current systems and the ones that have been dismantled that have forced women to continually prove our worth and prowess, be it athletic or otherwise.
As a vocal feminist, I understand the compelling need to prove my opinions through fact, and man-approved science because it helps to combat gaslighting, accusations of bias, and “unproven” critical-cultural opinion. We can have opinions and we are the experts.
Let’s talk about the stuff that may not be proven, that may not be visible but that resides within us. I want to hear from women like Jacqueline Gareau, who had her first place stolen by Rosie Ruiz in 1982 and continues to be a force in the running community. I want to hear why Bobbi Gibb ran Boston un-numbered in spite of women not being allowed to race. I want to hear the opinions of women and moms like Krista DuChene and why she pushed through in 2018. Let’s make space for athletes of colour to tell their stories, let’s hear from our trans sisters, and those in transition, and what we can do as allies to empower them and give them the room and agency they need.
These are the experts that I want to hear from, but I also want to hear from the women scientists, authors and psychologists. This is how we can make sure women always persist, even when the run gets tough. Is that too much to ask?
Lindsay Van Gyn is the marketing manager of GWN Events and the Divas Race Series. Their website is RunLikeaDiva.com.