Feminism and Running

I never thought I’d be writing that title on my running blog. I never even considered that running and feminism were issues that would cross each other, although I guess when you read about women’s fight to be included in marathon racing and the IAAF trying to over turn Paula Radcliffe’s world record, I suppose feminism and issues of equality do come into the sport more often than it ought to. I always feel that where feminism and sociology are concerned I’m a bit naive and a bit thick. But I feel I’m intelligent enough to know when something or someone is being derogatory to women or not.

Yesterday Runner’s World sent a tweet asking their female followers a question:

‘Question for lady runners: has PMS ever struck before a long training run or big race? How did you cope with cramps on the go?’

The few replies they received answered honestly as to how they dealt with it: pain killers, gritted teeth, will power. However there was a tweeter who objected. They suggested that they might unfollow Runner’s World on feminist grounds. Or suggested that she just ran whatever hormonal state she was in. They felt there should be no genderisms in running. I tweeted with this fellow runner that I disagreed and we exchanged a couple of polite tweets  and that was that. But I just wanted to expand on this to explain, in my own opinion, why I don’t think Runner’s World were being ‘unfeminist’.

Firstly, Pre Menstrual Syndrome is a very real syndrome. As a teenager I suffered and it could affect my running. My cramps used to get so bad that on occasion I would pass out from the pain. If I’m honest I always struggle running at ‘the time of the month’. I feel more lethargic, my immune system suffers and I have back pain. So I believe Runner’s World were genuinely asking followers how they deal with these symptoms. Symptoms that are as real as those of IBS, ITBS, PF, CLBP or any other abbreviated condition. They did not mention ‘hormones’ anywhere in the tweet.

Secondly we cannot deny biology. If the tweet had been asking female runner’s how they cope with running while pregnant would the tweet have caused the same reaction from this person? Probably not. The fact is women have a menstrual cycle, men don’t. Women have a womb and ovaries, men don’t. Runner’s World were addressing an issue that affects 50% of the population. For me, to do that rather than leave it solely to publications directed at women means that they are being inclusive of their female readership.

Thirdly I feel that Runner’s World did the right thing asking their female readers. If they’re doing a feature then why not ask their female readers? I would find it more patriarchal if they asked a male doctor what women should do to cope with PMS coming into a race. PMS affects all women differently and as we’ve already established, males don’t have the kit that we do in there, so how can a man have the experience to tell us how us women should manage it. Instead Runner’s World have taken a ‘Twitter focus group’ approach to ask the women who are affected by this how they manage the variety of symptoms it causes (however saying that I was put on iron by a male doctor to manage the anaemia caused by heavy bleeding so I guess my last point doesn’t really stand up there. Bugger).

In a nutshell what I’m trying to get at is that I didn’t agree with the other person. I didn’t see what was unfeminist about the question. Surely to ignore a fact of biology that affects half their readers would be unequal and less feminist. I assume they were working on a feature triggered by inquiries from their female readers. They may be acknowledging that running is becoming increasingly popular among women and are finding ways to connect with them. Maybe it’ll give some insight to men who are eager to blame ‘er bloody hormones’ rather than understand that what some women experience at that time can be as debilitating as a pulled hamstring. Or maybe I just don’t understand feminism and what it is at all. I better go and burn my sports bra.

P.S For the record I find this offensive to my feminist leanings. This picture appeared on the page of a company I follow asking followers on FB to ‘tag’ female friends that they felt the picture applied to. This gave me rage. Or am I being unreasonable? I haven’t included the whole image or the name of the company. I’ve cropped that lower part out because I really don’t get why seeing a women’s buttocks are relevant to women’s sport or fitness. Rather than a ‘what can she achieve’ she is reduced to ‘wow look at her butt’. Am I being a fuddy duddy killjoy?

heavy rep gear

6 thoughts on “Feminism and Running

  1. PDX Running Chick

    Not being a fuddy duddy about the picture — I’ve seen similar ads and wondered how they thought they were getting a message across greater than “look at her rearend, yours will never look like that.” Great post! 🙂

    1. kat_rocket Post author

      Yes I agree. It’s almost generating an elitist image of fitness, an unreachable one which could alienate people from their fitness products. Or maybe that’s what they want? Argh more rage!

  2. genderneutrallanguage

    Great post. There does need to be a real clear distinction made between gender equality and gender sameness. This is a wonderful example of why that distinction is important, and how it can be handled well.
    On being a fuddy duddy. If that pic is offensive is based on context. In a “men’s” magazine it would be something pretty to look at, not offensive. In the context of “feeling beautiful/strong/athletic” it shouldn’t offend. In the context of actual fitness or ability, well then it should be very offensive. A shapely ass is pleasant to look at, but has no bearing on actual health, fitness or ability.

    1. kat_rocket Post author

      Thanks for commenting. Interesting about the picture. Definitely agree that in the context of female athleticism and achievement the picture is inappropriate.

  3. JenJ

    It seems to be the month for these issues, hey? When Katherine Jenkins is being criticized for wearing make up and sunnies during the LDN marathon, women come to her rescue, and rightly so. If I could pull off looking glam while running, I would. Unfortunately I get too tomato-faced and overly sweaty. But when a magazine takes a sincere interest in real issues that affect us women (not just our make up and accessories), it gets hammered. There just is no right and wrong, is there? But I agree with you, completely. Being a feminist (and men can be feminists too) is to recognize that you know what, we’re not all the same but we’re all equal (a big difference), so let’s try to understand our differences so we can live in a more sympathetic and fair world, where everyone’s treated equally but where every effort is made to understand the various issues the affect us all.

  4. kat_rocket Post author

    Great comment Jen, thank you. I honestly can’t add anything to what you’ve said because I whole heartedly agree and I think you’ve said it better than I did in my post! Funny you should mention Kath Jenkins and make up, I wrote a post about make up and running a while ago!


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