Monday, August 5, 2013

Women Get No Respect

Both my younger brother and sister were spectacular basketball players, each scoring over 1,000 points in high school on the "pass first, pass second and only shoot as the last resort" principle. They both also went on to play successfully at the collegiate level. What I noticed with them and what I am seeing now as Amber gets to become a better and better athlete, is the disparity between men and women's sports. My sister games wouldn't get nearly the attendance of the men's games despite the fact they were oftentimes far more exciting. It seemed that she also didn't get quite as much of the newspaper coverage as the men's teams nor the acclaim.

The reason I bring this up is that I've seen this happen to Amber several times in the last few years, most recently this past weekend at the Top Notch Triathlon. For the second year in a row, Amber broke the female course record, placed in the top six overall and yet no one made mention of her course record demolition. In fact, this year in the men's race, the course record was also broken and they couldn't seem to stop talking about it and then for Amber-crickets.

I read a quote once that said that women have to work twice as hard to get half the respect and I think that might just be about right.

Just looking at qualifying for the 70.3 Championships, 50 males qualify while only 35 females do. Why is this? The argument could be made that there are more male pros then females but that argument is limited as when you look at the depths of the two respective fields, it is the women's field that has more athletes who, race in and race out, vie for a podium finish. As opposed to the men who have some superstars and then a lot more of the also rans.

Amber placed as the fifth US women at the Mount Washington road race which was the qualifier for the US mountain running team a few years ago. The team took ten runnners. Five males and five females? Nope six and four. In that instance, the men's field was far deeper but still it would be great to see even numbers at some of these races. 

Other than Zoot providing apparel and shoes and, of course, the awesome help of MC Cycles, Amber has not been approached by any sponsors while we see male pros who haven't had nearly her caliber of season, receiving substantially more sponsorship help.

When you think about all the things up against women, a)physically (higher percentage of body fat, less testosterone, less oxygen carrying capacity, less lean muscle mass and density PLUS increased risk of injury), b) physiologically(women pros often have to make the choice of being a mother or an athlete-or at least a reduced volume athlete), c) economically(collegiate women only receive 33% of athletic recruitment dollars and many sports are drastically different in salaries[this is where triathlon and tennis are the exceptions]) and d) socially(I know I never have to worry about running alone in the woods, vans passing by on a back road, or getting cat calls[which I'm not sure I would mind;)], it's amazing that so many women do so well. 

And even when women do well, it seems like society is up against them. In addition to the lack of mention and uneven distribution of team allocation, there are artifical contrivances to make it even harder on women. Just take a look at Paula Radcliff'e's amazing marathons and how the IAAF tried stripping her of the records because she "benefitted from faster male pace-setters". Ahhhh, kind of like every time a guy runs a race when he's not the fastest one running it? Most races even have official(and far more often unofficial) rabbits to take the pace out fast with no expectation of winning. And yet when a woman does it, it's cheating? There hasn't been a single woman fast enough to race in the Tour De France? Really? Or how about when pro female triathletes often have to start with the corporate athletes(like at the European Championships)? Not quite the same as the men who have a clear field to swim through.
He runs(throws, punches etc) like a girl. This pejorative statement isn't really used as a compliment but I know many girls that I would like to run like.

Where are all the female sports on television? How can young girls decide to play a sport, or race if all they see are men doing them? I think my sister did so well at basketball because she had three older brothers who modeled the behavior but also included and encouraged her to play basketball. If you don't expose females to these activities, how can we expect there to ever be equal participation? Amber(and maybe Marilyn) will probably get mad at me for complaining, saying that look at all the good things that have come out of sport and that there is far more positive than negative. She'd say that who cares if no one knew she broke the course record. She'd be right that it doesn't really matter if she got recognized, and she did qualify for the 70.3 Worlds and she wouldn't have been able to compete in the World mountain running championships if she had made the team. BUT STILL. Things are not equal and I hate to see Amber not get the recognition or the sponsorships that she deserves just because she's female.

We have made great strides towards inclusion but if you happen to be a race director and a woman breaks the course record, give her the props that she deserves. Because she does certainly deserve them.

Amber picking and passing a male competitor at Top Notch Tri

Addendum: After posting this article, Paul Kirsch the US Mountain Running Director and Cranmore Mountain Race Director, clarified the reason for the disparity of the team. In his words: "the reason it is 6 and 4 athletes for the mountain team is because that is what is allowed at the World Mountain Running Championships for teams. I am not saying that it should be that way but our focus at that race is to mimic what would occur at Worlds and the WMRA only allows teams of 4 women at this point so us picking 5 would have no purpose. In years it is not a qualifier, you will notice that men and women do the same exact distance. Not trying to defend the disparity but I wanted you to know it's not something the Cranmore Hill Climb or the USA Mountain Champs is trying to do, it's to mimic Worlds. I should also mention- prize money for men and women at Cranmore this year was evenly distributed- top 5 men, top 5 women got the money as I think that is important to be done evenly."

Up Next: Danny returns from Costa Rica just in time for Amber to compete at TIMBERMAN 70.3!


  1. You are a wonderful man, Danny! This is beautifully written, and so necessary for people to read.
    Hope there weren't any crawling, biting things in CR.

  2. 5th place at Mt Washington is a great accomplishment! The reason they take 6 guys and 4 women for the US team is the World Mountain champs has 6 & 4 total members of each team. My big gripe is that at Worlds women run a SHORTER race than the men. That seems pretty stupid to me.