Back when I was a freshman in college, the first two women came out for the cross country. Gwen and Lynn were the pioneers for women’s running at Luther. They trained together daily and ran with the men on occasion. Our coach prescribed their workouts and brought them along to meets. When they weren’t able to join the men’s meets, he got them to events where women’s competitions were held.
There were a few men on the team that thought the whole idea of women’s running a bit silly. It was a product of the times. Women’s rights were just starting to burgeon for real in the 1970s. The Title IX legislation requiring investment in women’s sports was just taking effect.
It’s hard to argue that investment has not paid dividends in the lives of millions of women these days. There are frequently more women runners in the typical marathon event than there are men. Triathlons at the Sprint and Olympic level aren’t far behind. Women compete quite comparably with the top men in the sport.
This all could have been written off as liberal folly had not some wise advocates seen the potential growth in personal health and freedom for women back in the 1970s. Some men were (and remain) embittered by the fact that women’s sports received similar funding. The women’s track team at Luther was 1/3 the size in numbers of the men. As a result, those girls had it pretty good the first few years. The food was a bit better on road trips, for example. I well recall the grumbling issued by so many men about that. They didn’t consider it “fair” that women should get the same amount of money when their team was much smaller in numbers.
But that’s what investment in worthwhile programs is all about. It takes seed money sometimes to make things grow. That’s why venture capitalists seek out companies that have good ideas but lack the funding to make them a reality. It’s a free market principal that works in many ways.
Of course, not all ventures succeed. Some startups flare up and die. All that cash and the demands for return on investment can turn a happy little company into a den of wolves. But there is a rule in all of business and life: nothing ventured, nothing gained. And the investment in women’s sports and the symbolism of that freedom have paid off. Investment in that world has produced enormous returns in the self-esteem, personal health and independence of millions of women. Even countries that through social and cultural practice suppress women’s rights, have been forced to accept that their top women athletes cannot play by rules that say they should completely cover up their bodies.
Ancient beliefs about women’s bodies took a long time to die. All the way through 1984, the longest distance in women’s Olympic running was 1500 meters. That was a holdover from the period of history when it was believed that too much exercise could result in a fallen uterus.
It wasn’t women that propagated most of these falsehoods. It was stodgy men who wanted control over women and their bodies. The most potent demonstration of this attitude was the physical aggression shown by Jock Semple toward Katherine Switzer when he attacked her during her participation in the Boston Marathon. That aggressive act symbolized the fear and anger some men felt toward the supposed threat posed by women to cultural standards.
Shamefully, some of this patriarchal bluster emanates from places like the Holy Bible, from which some people take literally interpreted passages and apply them to daily life. The Old Testament presents menstruating women as “unclean” and the New Testament writings of Paul suggest that women should keep their mouths shut.
These attitudes have not gone away. In fact, even some women still embrace this brand of asceticism. In case you don’t know what that word means, here is the definition:
Asceticism: severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.
When normal, everyday behaviors such as running or having sex (for fun or procreation) or simply holding down a job are characterized as “unsuitable” or a selfish “indulgence” for women, the world can be an ugly place. For many centuries and millennium, this was the case. Women were little more than the property of men in many cultures. Their rights meant nothing even when if they lived in situations where they were physically or sexually abused. In some cultures, even a woman raped by another man is the one who must bear the shame.
In the last five years in America, there have been many indications that these attitudes have not changed for millions of Americans. Despite the fact that social progress has been made for women in America, and for blacks and gays and other legitimate citizens of this nation, there are still millions of people who can’t stand the idea that such people deserve equal opportunities and respect in society.
Those attitudes are a big part of what made it so difficult for some people to support a woman candidate for president. Not only did she advocate for women’s equality, she also supported equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgender people. It’s a sad fact that equal rights for these citizens still lags 40 years behind the progress women have been able to achieve in society. President Barack Obama faced similarly backwards attitudes about his race and his religion. Ignorance has ruled despite cultural progress on all these fronts.
In order to discredit and distract from these notions of equality and progress, opponents of the female candidate for President did everything they possibly could to knock her off course. The male candidate Donald Trump behaved just like Jock Semple did all those years ago, jumping into the race to shove aside the woman who was the object of his close-minded hate. Think back to what Switzer said about Semple: “He was pulling at me and screaming,” Switzer recalled. “Get the hell out of my race, and give me that number.”
One can imagine Donald Trump saying the exact same thing to Hillary Clinton. Yet she conducted herself with calm and aplomb in the face of his hateful, bombastic attacks. Whether Donald Trump truly believes in his brand of political asceticism is what we’ll all find out soon enough.
But his ugly behavior won the day. He knocked Hillary Clinton out of the marathon race for President of the United States.
Yet there are many of us who know too well that a close-minded control freak may win the day, but they will never win the war. Progress is too strong a motive for women and every other oppressed faction in America. The people who support Trump have tried to lay claim to the idea that they are the suppressed majority. Those notions are the ravings of selfish simpletons caught up in celebrity worship and the idea that someone is going to come along and fix all the problems the very party Trump represents has created.
This is called cognitive dissonance, and it is the product of a confused mix of religion, politics, fear and narcissism all wrapped into one.
For those of us who know better than to follow such dolts, who possess the ability to discriminate between superstition and faith, this morning dawned with a painful thud. But like Katherine Switzer, the feet of progress will find their traction and move on. The likes of Donald Trump and a political marathon full of zombied idol worshippers praying to an ascetic god (with a fleece of orange hair!) do not constitute the future of America. What we witnessed yesterday was the conclusion of a Greek tragedy. The Gods of Vice and Acquisition won out.
My only real disappointment in all this is simple. I wanted to see what a woman could do as President of the United States. That is my principled objection to the lies, slander and libel cast her way. I wanted to see what she could do. America should have given her a chance. Instead the brutish masses rose up to shove her into the ditch,. The human race is a much less wiser place as a result, and we’ll have to live with that.
In the meantime, let’s all get up and run. Because giving up is not an option.