“Male Privilege Once Gripped the Running World as Well”

Yesterday morning, I laced up my running shoes and did a lap around New York’s Central Park. It’s about 10K,  it’s hillier than I thought, but wow is it an amazing run. The juxtaposition of park and city is almost overwhelming.

But this wasn’t just any lap around the park. I took the lap in place of the cancelled New York City Marathon.

Yesterday I wasn’t alone, not by a long stretch. Runners from around the world were doing the same lap. In fact, as an English-speaker, I’m pretty sure I was outnumbered. Runners from the Netherlands, Guatemala, Spain, Japan, Italy, all in town but unable to race, provided a beautiful multilingual soundtrack  in the park yesterday.

And because the ratio of women to men was pretty much even, it’s tough to imagine a world in which women were not allowed to race a marathon like New York. But such a world existed once. That’s right, male privilege once gripped the running world as well.

So this morning, one day after my lap around Central Park, I want to commemorate something else that happened in Central Park, about 40 years ago. That’s when Nina Kuscsik and 5 other women staged a sit-in at the marathon starting line, protesting the unequal treatment of women in the sport. Here’s the story, in brief, from this article:

Forty years ago, on October 1, 1972, Kuscsik was sitting defiantly on the New York Marathon start line with the five other women competitors, in protest against an AAU ruling that they must start ten minutes ahead, to avoid the supposed health and morality risks of “competing with men.” Kuscsik still managed to win that year’s women’s race, and repeated in 1973. She also took her dissenting energies inside the sport, joining management committees to press for rule-changes that eventually achieved equal status for women.

Health risks? Morality risks? Laughable now, sure. In our day, boys and girls have (for the most part) equal access to sports, in part thanks to the groundbreaking work of Title IX. On the roads, according to this site, more women than men ran 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons in 2011.

In 40 years, we’ve  run a long way.

So here’s to Katherine Switzer, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Nina Kuscsik and women like them for doing the hard work to demonstrate that women can put down the miles as well as men can. Thanks for integrating the sport that I love.

What about you? Where do you see male privilege continuing to have a hold on America’s sports culture?

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2 responses to ““Male Privilege Once Gripped the Running World as Well””

  1. Traci says :

    I’m actually proud to say that I compete in one of the only sports where men and women compete head-to-head, as true equals. Men hold no advantage because while riding needs an aspect of fitness, it’s not a purely physical endeavor. Finesse can override strength, tact trumps brute force. Women do not have to be cordoned off into their own leagues as they do in basketball, soccer, tennis (save mixed doubles), volleyball, etc.

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