In 2018, it will (and should) seem alien to most of us that 50 years ago women were not permitted to enter and compete in a marathon. Kathrine Switzer, a pioneer in the feminist sporting movement, was aggressively tackled in an attempt to prevent her completing the Boston marathon in April of 1967. Much to the surprise of her coach – who firmly told her a marathon was far too far a distance for a “fragile woman” – as well as the majority of the males that dominated the sporting world at this time, Switzer completed the race. This was a momentous turning point, and five years later women were legally allowed to enter in the Boston marathon, with many events following suit. In today’s society, thankfully, women participation in sport is normalised and accepted. However, there still seems to be this sense that women need to be patronised and babied when it comes to physical activity and exertion, a sentiment that Switzer and so many others have fought to abolish.
The Herald recently published an edition of their weekend newspaper containing two completely juxtaposing articles. The first article I came across was one on adventure running in Scotland, an informative and exhilarating read that would encourage any thrill seeker – male or female – to check out the events highlighted. A race that was notably mentioned was the “Glen Coe Skyline”, a treacherous 32-mile run/climb, ascending 4750m over some of Scotland’s most spectacular alpine landscapes. In the event’s debut in 2015, there were 146 participants in the starting pen at 7am. 7 hours and 44 minutes later, Emelie Forsberg was the second individual to cross the finish line, coming ahead of 131 males and 14 females. Just as Switzer did all those years ago, Forsberg showed the world once again that this race need not be about two separate genders but about the incredible feat and physical exertion that all of these individuals have managed to put their bodies through. Back to the newspaper and as I progressed over the page, I fell upon an article condescendingly named “A Girls Guide to an Outdoor Life”. Considering everything already mentioned, this is quite frankly b******t.
The first discrepancy that I immediately noticed when reading these two articles, was the pictures that accompanied them. In the adventure sports article, very real shots of athletes, running, kayaking, swimming and cycling over dangerous terrain and dramatic backdrops, provided a raw insight on the nature of these races. The same rawness could not be observed in the second article. A woman, probably having just sat for hours in a makeup chair, is “aptly” positioned in numerous different outdoorsy scenarios. Her perfectly manicured hair and wonderfully matching outfits look out of place and ironically contradict the “care-free” lifestyle this article is attempting to promote. The problem with pictures like this is the contribution it is having to these unrealistic and frankly damaging expectations of women to always look and act a certain way. Even in a situation such as the ones the pictures are trying to replicate, there is a pressure for these girls reading it to look immaculate, even when they might be cold, wet and tired.
There are many specific aspects of the article that hit a nerve or two however the general overriding message is what really grinded my gears. While I feel there are certain things in 2018 that require gender distinguishing – a guide to an outdoor life, is not one of them. Whether it’s advice on buying a wetsuit, how to scramble your way up a mountain or riding a wave, this need not differ between what is said to men and what is said to women. Our needs in the outdoors, whether that be adventure racing, hillwalking or camping are all the same, regardless of gender. So while, yes, in 2018 we may see our sporting and physical activity culture to be absent of discrimination, this is not entirely the case. And while mainstream media continues to produce, condescending and offensive pieces, it seems there is still a long way off before women become viewed as tough, proficient and strong individuals in our own right.