Apparently, Women Don’t Run

A Woman Running
See, women do run!

When I was five years old, I scarred my arm. Racing boys on the playground was always one of my favorite activities (I LOVED that they hated losing to a girl and they lost to me often) and when I had the lead over one of the boys, he tripped me so he could win, and I ripped my arm open.
Twenty years later, I am still running and I am currently training for a half marathon. It’s been 35 years since the passage of Title IX and its guaranteed that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance, “ essentially guaranteeing women an equal opportunity to participate in sports – along with equal access in all areas of education including admission to college, law, and medical school and the opportunity to participate in previously gender stereotyped classes such shop for girls or home economics for boys. As a daughter of Title IX, my sports career always flourished through field hockey, soccer, track, swimming, lacrosse, and ultimate Frisbee. It never struck me as odd that a girl would enjoy participating in sports.
So, imagine my surprise when I walked into the bookstore to grab the most recent issue of Runner’s World (I was excited about their Winter Fitness issue) and I could not find it. I searched fitness, I searched sports, and I couldn’t find anything. “Strange,” I thought, “Runner’s World is a pretty major magazine.” Then, just I gave up hope; there it was under “Men” right there with those girls in bikinis magazines like Maxim, FHM, Stuff, etc. Oddly enough the magazines for other sports such as cycling, hiking, skiing, and Sports Illustrated were in the fitness/sports section where they belonged. “Maybe it’s a mistake I thought,” but upon further examination, this was no mistake. The magazines were being restocked and ALL the running magazines were right there in the men’s section. Apparently, women don’t run or are not interested in running.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of outrage over running’s classification as a men’s interest. Who was this bookstore to tell me that running is a “men’s” interest? In actuality, women have been running since the beginning of human history. Ancient Greek and Egyptian women ran believing it improved their fertility. Greek myths celebrated Nike, the winged, female goddess of victory (and perhaps the namesake of the incredibly popular running shoes) and Atalantis, the woman who was raised by wolves to become a fast runner. She would only marry the man who could beat her in race.
Granted women’s running suffered many setbacks in history including many attempts to discredit women’s running; women were not officially allowed to compete in the Olympics until 1928. They could not run the 1,500 meters until 1972 (the same year Title IX passed) and the women’s marathon was kept out of the Olympics until 1984! Through all of those challenges, women kept running, either in their own events or as bandits in the men’s races. Currently, running is enormously popular among women who run for competition, companionship, charity, the challenge, or simply just to feel good and healthy. Like men, women run and have success at all levels; from the woman just trying to make it through her first mile on the treadmill as part of her New Year’s resolution to the women who win major, elite races. Runner’s World has even been edited by women such as Claire Kowalchik (also the author of The Complete Book of Running for Women) and many of its writers and editors are women. The magazine is clearly written for a co-ed audience. So, why is it I have to go to the men’s section to find a magazine about a hobby many women and men enjoy? Is someone trying to tell me that in 2007 someone still believes women cannot or do not want to run?
– Ashley English

Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, An Important Milestone for Women

Nancy Pelosi button
Button of Nancy Pelosi as Rosie the Riveter (used with permission).

Elated, awed, in tears of joy. These words pretty much describe how I have felt these past few days as I’ve been privileged to be able to attend several of the events organized to celebrate the election of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. And while everyone I’ve discussed these events with has been similarly thrilled, I also note the criticism that has come that Speaker Pelosi is making too big a deal–huh?
First woman speaker of the house ever, second in line to the Presidency (after Vice President Cheney) and we are all making too big a deal? This is just the first wave of the many critiques she will receive, all of which will be conditioned by her gender. Women leaders and all feminists have a role to play in speaking out in support of Pelosi and other women members of Congress when they are attacked for being where some think they don’t belong–in the halls of power!
Please join me in a New Year’s Resolution to support our women members of Congress with our voices and actions in 2007. At only 16 percent in both the House and the Senate, women have still not achieved a 20 percent share, a proportion that many observers think would indicate that women have advanced beyond the token stage in which they can be relatively easily marginalized (see the CAWP site at Rutgers University for more data on women’s office holding).
– Heidi Hartmann

Celebration for Ann Richards and Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi
Photo by Elisabeth Crum at the reception celebrating The People’s House.

Let me share my impressions of the Women’s Tea held in honor of Nancy Pelosi and in memory of Ann Richards on January 3, 2007, the day before Rep. Pelosi was elected Speaker of the House. What makes me happiest about Ms. Pelosi making a “big deal” on becoming speaker is her willingness to own her election as a triumph for women and of the women’s movement that fought first for women to get the vote and then to enter the workforce in large numbers and then to hold political office. When speaking she frequently pumps her arm in the Rosie the Riveter pose, which appeared on the large buttons made for the event (and which has previously appeared on other political paraphernalia). The very fact that she held a tea for women makes me deeply appreciative of her understanding of the importance of this moment for women in the United States.
At the women’s tea, held in the Mellon Auditorium in a federal building now used by the Environmental Protection Agency, I was first struck by how well the party was set up–like a real English tea party writ large. Tea and coffee in silver urns, real china, cucumber and other tea sandwiches, petits fours, pastries, and most importantly scones with clotted cream and jam! As someone said coming in while the hall was still empty–this looks just like Nancy. Known for her graciousness, Rep. Pelosi’s party reflected a desire to treat the guests well.
The guests included many women who head or work in women’s organizations, supporters from California and elsewhere, and many members of Congress. There were quite a few seats available at small round tables the better to enjoy your tea. As a veteran of many receptions, etc., in Washington, some of which boast no more than warm soda in paper cups, this event was refreshingly civilized. The spirit of pure joy is hard to describe.
Those of us who have toiled mostly in the dark the past several years on women’s issues could not, I think, quite believe our good fortune. Here was a woman being elevated to an amazingly powerful position in America who was not afraid to, even happy to, acknowledge her debt to the women’s movement and to generations of women who fought to make her election to that position possible. Many of the people in the room, of course, had worked hard to elect a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and especially in the last few weeks before November 7, knew that Ms. Pelosi would become the Speaker, but it was not really possible to imagine beforehand the sheer joy of it as it came to be.
It was not unlike the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act in February 1993 in the Rose Garden very early on in the Clinton Administration as dozens of people poured into the White House for the first time in twelve years. Yes, people had worked hard to pass that bill in Congress three times (twice vetoed by Pres George Bush the father) and many also worked to elect President Clinton. We even knew that once President Clinton was elected that it would likely become the first major law he would sign, but still it would have been impossible to predict how wonderful that felt when it actually happened.
Rep. Rosa De Lauro, like Rep. Pelosi an Italian-American, served as emcee. A fabulous speaker, she also spoke eloquently about the importance of this moment for women, as well as the importance of their Italian American and Catholic background and the support of their families. She also spoke admiringly of Ann Richards, who served as Governor of Texas for one term and will be remembered by many for her remarks at the Democratic convention in 1992, when she described George Bush (#41) as having been born with a sliver foot in his mouth. She was much more than a fiery orator exceptionally good at the pithy one-liner. At this event, she was remembered by her very well-spoken granddaughter, Lily Adams, a Stanford University student and daughter of Cecile Richards, who heads the Planned Parenthood Federation, as well as by a short video about her life.
I got to know Ann Richards at the Aspen Institute when we both were members of the Domestic Policy Strategy Committee. Ann was one of the smartest people I have ever met; she frequently gave me good advice and I miss her very much. Would that we could have benefited from her shrewd political skills and wisdom a few years longer. As her granddaughter said to me afterward, they regret that they didn’t write down every word of the advice she gave them over the years.
Nancy Pelosi’s granddaughter, Madeline a second grader, read a short letter to her grandmother “Mimi” saying that she was happy her grandmother got this good job because it meant many other women would also be able to get good jobs. That too was followed by a short video about Ms. Pelosi. Then Ms. Pelosi spoke, calling up all the members of Congress present to stand with her on the stage. In her remarks, she previewed several of the themes she would use over the next few days. She thanked everyone for their hard work, acknowledged all her supporters, family members–especially her mother, several women leaders in California and nationally, including some like Molly Yard, past president of NOW, who are no longer with us.
Her remarks hit just the right note and were not too long. And she stayed afterward to allow anyone who wanted to, to take their photo with her. I of course forgot my camera (as I always do!). The program closed with a beautiful rendition of “What a Wonderful World” sung by a young man, Elijah Lawrence (10 years old), son of John Lawrence, Ms. Pelosi’s chief of staff, and Deborah Phillips, a well-known child development expert at Georgetown University.
As perhaps you can guess from the line-up of speakers at this event, the theme of the event was children. In her remarks, Ms. Pelosi stated that improving the lives of children in the United States would be her goal as Speaker. It previewed her unprecedented call to all the children in the chamber on January 4th to come forward as she presided over the House for the first time as Speaker.
On the one hand, this focus on children seems to come out of nowhere since it is not included in the 100 hours agenda and as a member of Congress Ms. Pelosi has not been especially known for work on children or women’s issues. Nancy Duff Campbell pointed out to me that Ms. Pelosi noted three separate areas that need to be addressed: child care, early childhood development, and education.
Ms. Pelosi spoke eloquently about how women’s advance in the work force has been met by a policy gap — no or not enough child care — limiting women’s opportunities as a result. Nowadays as several prominent, male executives have seen the light on early childhood development, we hear more about young children’s brain development than we do about the need to ensure children have good care while their mothers work, so it was refreshing to hear the future Speaker stress that women, and all parents, need good child care.
On the other hand, children are a traditional topic of interest for women legislators and Ms. Pelosi has five children and six grand children. She waited until her youngest daughter was a senior in high school to run for Congress. While feminists might feel some concern that speaker Pelosi is uniting children’s and women’s interests so strongly, they should be reassured that as a member of Congress, Ms. Pelosi has championed family planning, health care, and education (among other issues such as fighting terrorism and protecting the environment).
In the dominant political climate of the last 20 plus years (conservative and centrist), children’s issues have become a short hand for a progressive agenda — increasing access to health care, reducing poverty, improving public education — in short, making the economy more people-friendly, a goal most of us can support. It will be interesting to see how Ms. Pelosi’s priorities on children will play out in the new Congress. John Sperling, author of the Great Divide, commented to me that he thought by focusing on children, Ms. Pelosi is explicitly appealing to Republican women, to which someone else in the room said “more power to her.”
– Heidi Hartmann