"No dame ever ran the Boston Marathon!"
April 7, 2012 4:19 AM   Subscribe

"To cajole me through tough evening sessions like this, Arnie told and retold stories of famous Bostons. I loved listening to them--until this night when I snapped and said, "Oh, let's quit talking about the Boston Marathon and run the damn thing!" "No woman can run the Boston Marathon," Arnie fired back. "Why not? I'm running 10 miles a night!" Arnie insisted the distance was too long for fragile women to run and exploded when I said that Roberta Gibb had jumped into the race and finished it the previous April."

Semi-previously, on MeFi.
posted by the man of twists and turns (29 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Such a great story. Unbelievable that just 45 years ago, people just accepted the notion that woman were just too fragile to run. I wonder what similar silly ideas - not necessarily related to gender - we hold as true?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:35 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to give future generations a laugh, I'll point out that it's absolutely preposterous for (non-GenMod) Humans to ever run a 2 minute mile. HAH!

Also, Personal Jet Packs and Flying cars are pure science fiction! HAH!

(now, prove me wrong, please?)
posted by ShutterBun at 4:47 AM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

it's an amazing and inspiring story. Thanks.

My buddy Lynn Jennings ran the Boston Marathon at age 17 and would have finished third for women, but 17 years olds were officially too young.
posted by caddis at 4:54 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Strange how different Switzer and Gibb's first experiences with marathon running were. Gibb also ran against Switzer in 1967... what's the deal with the "official" antagonism against Switzer?
posted by ShutterBun at 4:56 AM on April 7, 2012

I guess because Gibb "ran again without a number however, because there were no official numbers for women. I finished one hour ahead of the other female competitor, K. Switzer, who had obtained a number by disguising her gender at registration."
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:01 AM on April 7, 2012

She was 'officially' in the race, as she had registered beforehand with her AAU number, under 'K.V. Switzer.'

You can pretend that Gibb was just out for a jog and popped in, so it didn't count, but Switzer was real, so you have to try and knock her out
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:03 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Right, but Gibb had also run the previous year, and was (apparently) embraced and congratulated by all involved. Was it simply a case of Switzer's inadvertent deception?
posted by ShutterBun at 5:05 AM on April 7, 2012

A little wikipedia browsing led me to this interesting article: Pacemaker (running).
posted by ryanrs at 5:05 AM on April 7, 2012

Did she and Tom stay broken up? Did Tom get disqualified from the AAU? Did be make it to the Olympics?

I need the interpersonal drama resolved!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:09 AM on April 7, 2012

I wonder what similar silly ideas - not necessarily related to gender - we hold as true?

"Our thinking is obviously only shaped by culture as we are all blank slates, despite the fact that the device that does the thinking is a biological organ shaped by evolution."
posted by DU at 5:14 AM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

for clarification, the man in black in the photos was a race official, who was trying to catch her. The big guy in the sweatshirt was her boyfriend, keeping the official out of the way.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:24 AM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Evolution certainly hasn't made our brains evolve to the point where we know from birth that a stove is hot. Its evolution has more centered around basic things like "blink when confronted by dust" and "retract hand when pain happens."

The question is still a fair one.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:25 AM on April 7, 2012

Even in his NYT Obit, Jock Semple is primarily remembered, not for his contribution to athletics, but for trying to knock Switzer out of the race.

Being a sexist (racist/homophobic) person might seem like a good idea at the time, but being on the losing end of history forever has got to suck.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:34 AM on April 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

All right, and that is really a shame, because I just found this CBC Interview With Switzer where she describes how Jock Semple came around and ultimately both became friends with her and became a supporter of women running the marathon.

Yeah, man, seriously, your actions can end up defining you to the world years after you've abandoned the views that prompted those actions.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:43 AM on April 7, 2012

It wasn't until 1980 that women and men competing in the Boston Marathon were even awarded medals of equal size.

Damn... Athletics sure did kinda suck for most of history, didn't they? (I imagine Future ShutterBun will someday be making the same observation about present conditions)
posted by ShutterBun at 6:06 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great story. Hah: There were 741 people entered in the race, a huge race.

Even though I have lived through many of the changes, it still boggles to think how recently it was that women here in the US were confined to such narrow and restrictive roles and how pervasive the myths and prejudices against equality were. Those myths were so entrenched that I remember many women themselves railing against those who were fighting to establish the most basic of rights.

This made me think back. Sometime in the 70s, my boyfriend and I were visiting one of his friends who was attending college in NYC. The friend said the would take us to the most famous Irish bar in New York. He took us to McSorley's Old Ale House, a wonderful place. The waiter was totally surly to us. At first I didn't catch on, having cut my teeth on Boston's legendary rude waitresses of Durgin Park, I thought it might be sort of an Irish tradition. And because we were young and the other patrons were significantly older, we thought maybe it was our youth, our borderline hippiness, or our non-New Yorker status that accounted for the truly rude reception. I expected that being an Irish redhead might have counted for something, but no. It became apparent to all of us that I seemed to be singled out for the worst treatment. I ordered a burger with no onions and it came smothered in onions; when the waiter slammed our drafts down on the table, he spilled a generous portion on me each time. My boyfriend then said "Hey, maybe you are not supposed to be here, it seems to be a guy's club." I looked around and didn't see any other females. And then I discovered that there was no ladies room. That wasn't as surprising as the patron who tried hard to trip me as I walked by. We stayed for another beer or two and then left. I'm not sure if we actually heard a cheer as the door closed behind us or if my memory just plays tricks on me because it seemed so likely an occurrence.

I later found out that McSorleys was the site of a bitter NOW battle and was forced to admit women in 1970. But they didn't have to like it, and even tho this was some 5 or 6 years later, I still felt the chill and was treated with great disdain. It amuses me now to think I assumed it was our youth or "hippiness" that caused the disdain and not my being female. McSorley's didn't get women's restrooms until some 16 years later.

A huge salute to Switzer and Gibb and the other early women sports pioneers. And kudos and hugs to her dad, Arnie Briggs, and all the other men who stood up for women's rights in an era when it truly took grit to do so. It's pretty amazing that sports is so often one of the front line battles against prejudice, and also one of the first places that the oppressed group really gains acceptance probably because performance trumps.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:21 AM on April 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

Male or female. To run a marathon requires strength of body, mind, & soul.
posted by Fizz at 8:19 AM on April 7, 2012

whenever I read stories like this, or the post about John Carlos and Tommie Smith giving the Black Power salute during their Olympics awards ceremony in Mexico, I silently ask myself, "If I were alive back then, would I be on the right side of history?"

In the past I was rather trustworthy of the state and the "powers-that-be" that anyone questioning or going against the grain would have been nothing but a troublemaker and a hooligan.

And I thank God that I live in the 21st century, where our society has finally evolved (well some of us at least) to the point where we know enough about the brain, physiology, sociology and other human-related sciences to think twice about judging people based on their gender, looks, sexuality, race, physical or cognitive ability, past history, etc.

And my opinions continue to evolve.

But it's one thing to disagree with someone's actions. It's another thing to actively try to suppress someone. How much hatred did the staff and patrons at McSorleys have to knowingly bully madamjujujive? How much hatred did Jock Semple have to run after and physically try to block Switzer? The death threats to Tommie Smith and John Carlos?

If I was alive back then, I'd like to think that I would be on the right side of history. But even if I wasn't, at least I could console myself with the fact that I wouldn't be filled with so much hatred.

oh, and I think it bears repeating that Jock Semple did have a change of heart. We all don't have the luck to do things right the first time, but we all deserve the chance to mend our ways.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:01 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not as old-fashioned an attitude as we would like:

At the time, a women's world championship didn't exist, and females had been participating in the FIS* Continental Cup — a notch below a world championship — for only two years. The sport didn't have very many high-profile, FIS-sanctioned competitions, but that too may have owed to gender bias. In 2005, Gian Franco Kasper, FIS president and a member of the IOC, said he didn't think women should ski jump because the sport "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."

Because...our uteruses might fall out? Or something? 2005, y'all.

* International Ski Federation
posted by rtha at 9:17 AM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

wow, rtha, that is infuriating!

"I don't think there's any discrimination going on," says Joe Lamb, the U.S. ski-team representative for the International Ski Federation's (FIS) ski-jumping committee. "It may seem like that, but there are hundreds of other issues at play." Vancouver can accommodate only so many athletes, says Lamb, and whenever a new event is introduced, it limits the number of people able to participate in others. That, coupled with the IOC's list of criteria that a sport must meet before it is accepted — a history of world championships and a sizable number of athletes participating worldwide — made the women's ski jump an unlikely addition for 2010. And yet the IOC allowed Vancouver to add something called ski cross — a freestyle discipline in which multiple skiers race over bumps and jumps, like a snowy version of motocross — even though at the time of its application, the sport reportedly had fewer participants than women's ski jumping.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:23 AM on April 7, 2012

There's still Augusta National Golf Club.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:07 AM on April 7, 2012

It's not hard to see why ski-cross made the cut and not women's ski jump: Ratings.
posted by Mitheral at 10:21 AM on April 7, 2012

Maybe this just makes me a sappy girl, heh, but that Runner's World piece brought tears to my eyes.
posted by limeonaire at 11:13 AM on April 7, 2012

It's not hard to see why ski-cross made the cut and not women's ski jump: Ratings.

Well, that explains why there's no men's ski jump - bad ratings. Oh wait.
posted by rtha at 11:16 AM on April 7, 2012

The grossest current example of this to me is the requirements for women to wear bikinis while playing Olympic beach volleyball, and the rules about the maximum body coverage that the bikinis could be. Maximum. Excluding teams from all over the world where religious women want and need to wear more than that. No such rules for the beach volleyball men, wearing baggy shirts and shorts. I think it is only this year they decided women were allowed to wear real clothes while playing beach volleyball, like the men. But still, with a MAXIMUM length requirement on the shorts.
posted by cairdeas at 11:42 AM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Not to mention the prohibitions on allowing Muslim women to wear head coverings while playing soccer. The rationale for that one is it is too dangerous. No, a piece of cloth over your hair is too dangerous in soccer, wearing a leg-covering garment is too dangerous while playing volleyball on SAND on a flat beach. But it is perfectly fine for men to take the risk of speeding down a snow covered mountain and doing aerial flips. Sexism plus racism for the win.
posted by cairdeas at 12:03 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was born in Massachusetts a year after that race. I didn't run in high school or college, but I remember my mom joined a local running club when I was in elementary school, and when I started running myself in the the early 1990s in Rhode Island, a lot of the veteran area runners I'd see at races remembered her. As I started training with other area groups I ended up becoming friends with a lot of men who'd competed at a high level in 60s and 70s, and they treated me as an equal when they'd give me training advice. I really had an unusually egalitarian experience with the groups and coaches I trained with as my racing career progressed, and I think in retrospect it was largely due to the fact that the old-timers and established coaches I was around a lot had trained alongside some of the earliest serious female runners and become enlightened about how little difference there was in drive, commitment, and toughness between the top men and the top women.

As I was nearing the end of my racing career I was seeing a shift among the younger, recently post-college men I was training with. They seemed on average to think there were bigger psychological differences between men and women who were serious runners, and the level of commitment and fortitude between the genders. It was pretty disheartening that they treated me like an anomaly who was to be respected as tougher than the average woman, since *I knew* I wasn't any tougher than any of the other women I competed against. All I can figure is that as the depth of women's running grew, many women were able to find training groups comprised primarily of other women, so male runners no longer were as likely to get a chance to train alongside their female counterparts and experience first hand how little difference there is in approach.
posted by stagewhisper at 12:41 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

rtha writes "Well, that explains why there's no men's ski jump - bad ratings. Oh wait."

Men's ski jump is included historically; I was talking about the adoption of new sports.
posted by Mitheral at 2:24 PM on April 7, 2012

No, I get that.

My point is that poor ratings can easily be ameliorated by, you know, providing training to athletes (so there's a deep competitive field) and promoting it. But if you're a sexist asshole who happens to be head of the organization in charge of that stuff, you can guarantee that ratings will continue to be poor. If you didn't have some in-charge yutz asserting that ladies are too delicate for [whatever sport], you could probably build an audience for it easily, especially since there's *already* an audience for the guy's version.
posted by rtha at 2:57 PM on April 7, 2012

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