by Claudia Murphy
In May of 2015 I lost my job. Although my job had always been precarious, I was very emotionally unprepared for this big change in my life. At the time, I was 63 and had been professionally identified for much of my life. I was suddenly catapulted into grief over the loss of my professional identify, into internalized sexism in response to the events leading to the loss of my job, and into a sudden sense of being old.
As a philosopher, I have spent much of my life in my head. I fit the academic stereotype—intellectual, nerd, geek, lost in thought, and perhaps even disembodied. Occupying this realm has allowed me to escape from some of the ravages of sexism. But I have long been taking on some physical power challenges to notice my embodiment. Doing so has given me a women’s liberation strategy that allows me to enjoy my body while feeling powerful rather than noticing my victimization or objectification. My long-term go-to strategy for times of crisis or emotional upset has been to give myself a physical power challenge.
One of my former colleagues had told me about a local running group. I was initially hesitant about joining for a variety of reasons. I have never considered myself much of an athlete, although I have led an active lifestyle for a long time. I have thought of myself as a nerd who does physical activity while hoping that it will not lead to humiliation. In this case, I was also afraid that I would be the oldest (by far) person in the group. And I was feeling very emotionally fragile—like I could cry at any time. But I decided to do it anyway.
This is a group that is led by a team of trainers that are preparing runners for marathons. They offer endurance and strengthening classes as well as organized runs. I joined them shortly after the local marathon, so the training was just getting organized for the following year.
How does this tie into a women’s liberation project? I find that the internalized messages of oppression become quite available whenever I take on a new physical challenge. I am amazed at the self-directed hateful messages in my head. In this case I felt too old, weak, ridiculous, and scared. Overall, the most noted internal experience has been one of fear. I have been scared of humiliation, injury, expulsion, and more. The fear is attached to my wider life, and not just my exercise challenge. The fear is omnipresent, overwhelming and at times debilitating. I have been uninterested in “analyzing” the fear, or understanding the source of it. My physical challenge has allowed me to face the fear rather than try to move away from it. And I have found that extremely useful.
Another useful realization in my women’s liberation and anti-ageism project has been the realization of how often and apparently easily I give up. I have long thought of myself as a strong fighter, having accomplished tremendous things. So I am surprised by the ease with which I am defeated. In doing the endurance exercises, I can watch myself think “I can’t.” When my muscles start hurting–when I feel that burning sensation, I have been prone to stop. I have recently learned how to keep going beyond my comfort level. And I realize that these types of limiting thoughts are not restricted to my physical activity. I can only imagine how often and in how many places I have given up. I am not being hard on myself here. I realize that this is an effect of oppression. But it is hugely liberating to realize that I do not have to settle for comfort.
When I first joined this group, I set myself the goal of running a 5K faster. I had some success with that goal. In September, I ran a 5K after 3 months of training. I took one minute off my mile and came in first in my age group! But I have now decided to run a half marathon. The race is scheduled for mid-May. And the ageist oppression is really loud in my head. I am constantly trying to figure out whether a pain is normal or whether it is an injury. I am constantly facing the internal messages that I am too old for this type of activity. I am facing my fear that I will injure myself and never run again. I feel fortunate that I can take on this challenge. I am grateful for my health and physical condition. Sometimes there is nothing better than getting out of my own head.
Claudia is an unemployed (perhaps retired) philosopher living in Moorhead, MN. She enjoys feminist philosophy, running, and gardening.