Breaking sexism’s back

I wrote a piece on a different blog this week titled Thus Spoke Vagina. It addresses the many ways women in this world must deal with both the control and ignorance men try to place on them.

I’ve written also about the focus on women’s breasts on this blog, and how athleticism and healthy body image is a positive trend for women who run, ride and swim.

id_134_2005ITUGamagoriEliteU23JuniorTriathlonWorldChampionshipsEliteWomen20050911_1054__mediumTests of my own objectivity and respect are not difficult to find. Yesterday in the pool I popped up from an interval to find a woman perched on the pool edge working up the will to get into the water. I said hello, and offered a bit of commiseration. “For me, the worst part is getting into the water,” I laughed.

She laughed as well. We talked briefly and I learned that she’d taken up swimming a year ago following a serious injury to her spine. “I broke my back sledding,” she informed me.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” I responded.

Her face grew serious and she looked up the lane of the pool. “Yes, swimming has been wonderful. I used to be a runner, but I can’t do that anymore.”

I shared the fact that I was grateful to have avoided spinal injury during my bike crash a few years back. “I was grateful to only break my collar bone,” I told her.

She was sitting on the side of the pool with her swim cap on, wearing a teal swimsuit, and she wrapped her arms across her chest at that point.  I sensed a bit of self-consciousness, and took pains keep my gaze on her face as we talked. It was well past time for the start of my next interval anyway.

I know that women are too accustomed to being ogled, and did not want to be one more guy being perceived as doing that. That’s especially true at the pool, but just as true at the track or on the bike. But I’m human and we athletes do appreciate athletic bodies. It’s part of why we all go out there and try our best to be fit. We want to look good. But there are rules of respect that we all need to maintain.

 

Sure it was just an encounter at a swimming pool. The world did not change because I took pains to respect her personal space. I genuinely learned something from our conversation, and how much she now loved to swim. My girlfriend Sue loves the water too. And now so do I. Most days. It’s still a difficult process, but it’s improving.

The trick to swimming is learning balance in the water between stroke, kick and body rotation. The trick to life is learning balance too, between interest, appreciation and respect. That’s the triathlon of social interaction, in a nutshell.

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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2 Responses to Breaking sexism’s back

  1. runsonsyrup says:

    Thank you for this post. It’s interesting to hear “the guy’s” side of the story. I ran an ultra last year in the dead of summer and for a moment, tucked my tank top up under my sports bra, exposing more skin to cool down, and in doing so, bared my belly. I passed a male race official, who smiled at my abs, and I immediately pulled my tank top back down, self conscious of my appearance. Looking back, he could’ve just been admiring my strong stomach!
    It’s interesting that you wrote you kept your eyes on her face because “did not want to be perceived as doing that” — ogling her. Maybe it’s just that, our perception of guys’ glances, not the actual intention of the glances. Sure, lots of guys ogle shamelessly and creepily, but others are perhaps, as you say, drawn to the athleticism of a fellow human being. I’m certainly guilty of staring at other runners’ bodies, male and female, especially when skin is exposed. I applaud you for recognizing your potential to creep this lady out (simply by being a man, and her being a woman in a swimsuit), and your conscious decision to rein in your gaze to not do so. Love your blog, by the way!

  2. Thank you for the perspective as well. I’m not trying to prove myself better than others, just raise awareness. And yes, the glance of a man is not always sexual. Sometimes it’s just that, a glance taking in the scene. It is, however, interesting to be out in public with a woman such as your daughter or your girlfriend or just a female friend and see how male attention is directed. I read a lot about street harassment, and it’s a really subtle thing at times when to perhaps compliment a woman as a sign of respect or appreciation but hold back because, as you mention, it can easily be taken in a creepy fashion. Usually, I just tell a gal her shoes are nice. But I’ll fully acknowledge I look at women’s bodies, but I also will comment to my girlfriend, “that guy’s really fit” or “he’s really good looking, isn’t he?” Because some people are either blessed with good looks or have worked to build themselves into a fit person. It would be strange and repressive to pretend that we don’t notice people that we find attractive. From my perspective, I’ve seen women’s athletics travel a long way from those first two gals who started the cross country program at our college 35 years ago. Now women outnumbered the men in our local Turkey Trot. There is real societal change going on as a result of women’s fitness that as far as I can see, almost totally positive. I met the gal I’m dating on a site called FitnessSingles.com. But let’s be frank: we can admire a nice butt or a fine set of muscles without ruining society. But in circumstances where women are clearly vulnerable or do not want the attention, absolutely men must respect that.

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