My Twitter friend Patty (@pattyboge), who is very active in the Winnipeg bike community, shared a couple of thoughts about biking and feminism this week.
First was an excellent commencement speech at Smith College given by Reshma Saujani on imposter syndrome. “Imposter syndrome is modern day Bike Face, just another attempt to hold women back. Just ride your bicycle, pursue what you want to pursue.
“Imposter syndrome is just two made up words on the page. Start pedalling, feel the sun in your face, feel the wind in your hair, feel the joy, feel the freedom, feel the love.”
Sam wrote about Bicycle Face way back in 2013. She also interviewed lawyer David Isaac in 2020 about how safe infrastructure and women on bikes. His key point was that safe infrastructure that connects to places where women want to go is key to getting women riding bikes. And it is a feminist issue because it can make cities more equitable.
That brings me to Patty’s second thought: « Women’s Rights activist Susan B. Anthony says it best ‘Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel, the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”
Patty’s response to all the people who pass two close and try to intimidate women to try to get us “off the road, B!&%!” is to say “we can’t and we won’t stop. Our bikes are our freedom”.
Recently a woman who serves on our local board of public health received a letter from a stranger telling her that she did believed she “cannot fulfil that role because of your unhealthy status. It is unacceptable to be overweight by the 20 pounds you appear to be carrying”.
Other women serving as elected officials in my city have been harassed in ways that range from their choice of lipstick (“makes you look like a cheap whore”) to violent threats that required police intervention.
It is no-one else’s business what someone weighs. There is plenty of evidence that being fat does not equal being unhealthy. How we define fatness is very subjective anyway. And don’t forget, diversity is a good thing. Having a broad range of of people can only help make public policy better by bringing their experience to decision-making processes.
Want to learn more? Skim through this blog, Google “fat women politicians” for many articles about the issue, listen to the Maintenance Phase podcast, or read Aubrey Gordon’s book “You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People. I’m reading it now and it is very solidly based on science.
It is true that men in public life sometimes get mocked about their fatness or some other characteristic, but it is almost always in the context of some other policy-based criticism. And there is almost never criticism of men of a similar size/ shape to the women being bullied.
I couldn’t find any images of larger women politicians that weren’t accompanied by stories about the harassment they had faced, and sometimes why they felt forced out of the public sphere. It made me so angry I ended up settling for an older photo of local open-water swimmer and former politician Catherine McKenna.
But then I got mad again that I couldn’t find something suitable, so you get a few more images of smart, capable women.
Figure skating and artistic swimming both made some big changes to their rules this week. In Canada, Skate Canada removed the gender barrier in pairs skating and ice dancing so a pair can be any two people who skate together. Meanwhile, men will be able to compete in the artistic swimming team event at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Male artistic swimming has a long history, with the first competition in 1892. Male swimmers were also part of the “water pageants” that were popular in the 1930s and 40s, and the first rule book for artistic swimming, written in 1940, stated that “Competitors may be men or women or both.” However, when synchronized swimming was adopted as a sport in the USA in 1941, men and women were separated, in line with other sports overseen by the Amateur Athletic Union. Men competed against other men through the 1950s, but interest waned as the “aqua-musical” movies starring Esther Williams cemented the image of artistic swimming as a feminine activity.
Artistic swimming teams will be allowed to have a maximum of two men on each eight-person team. They have been eligible to compete at the World Aquatics Championships since 2015, in men’s solo, mixed duet and mixed team events. However, there is still no place for elite all-male teams, This leaves only rhythmic gymnastics as an Olympic discipline without both men’s and women’s participation.
Figure skating also started out as a male sport, though it didn’t take long for a woman to compete against the men. Just six years after the first world championship in 1896, a British skater named Madge Syers placed second, after noticing that there was no explicit rule barring her from competing. At the very next meeting of the International Skating Union, a rule was put in place barring women from the world championships, though they created a women’s category and finally recognized the winner as a world champion in 1924. By 1908, pairs figure skating was added, with a male and female skater at the 1908 Olympics, Syers won gold in the women’s event and bronze in pairs with her husband Edgar).
Pairs skaters are required to perform certain skills according to their gender: the men must do the lifts and throws, while the women (generally much smaller) are the ones lifted and thrown. The new rules simply list which elements must be performed, but do not assign a gender to who must do them. So far, this change only applies to Skate Canada’s domestic competitions and athletes in the high-perform and Podium Pathway program.
It appears that only Canada has taken this step, although there are rumblings of interest in the USA, where pairs skater Timothy Leduc became the first openly non-binary Olympian at the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year. Skate Canada says that the change is to remove barriers to participation in skating, to ensure that all gender identities are accepted equally.
I wasn’t able to find photo images of pairs skaters in anything except traditional roles. If you some, or have news about other countries looking at changing the rule, please pass them along.
The title of this blog is a quote from vice-chair of the South African Women’s Basketball Association, Kornelia Semmelink, at the South African Women and Sport Foundation last week, courtesy of Dr. Sheree Bekker, who researches gender-inclusive sport.
I follow Dr Bekker on Twitter, and here are a few more of her thoughts from that conference:
“Which actions/measures must we take to enforce long lasting changes in women and sport? Huge focus on building and supporting next generation leadership, transparency, values, and a national policy that has teeth.”
A national policy that has teeth might be something like Title IX in the USA. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, Title IX was established in 1972 to provide everyone with equal access to any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, including sports. This means that federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities. Before Title IX, one in 27 girls played sports. By 2016, that number was two in five.
Dr Bekker also noted “Let’s remember that it’s not only about elite sport. It’s about community sport, organizations, sport for social good, health and peace.”
That point led me to recall past efforts to encourage sport for all children as part of international development efforts. While those efforts seem to have faded away, I did come across an article prepared for a side event to the Women Deliver international conference in 2016. It was on the power of girls’ involvement in play.
Here’s what Women Deliver had to say: “The evidence is clear that sport and physical activity provide a myriad of physical and mental health benefits….perhaps equally important, sport represents a mold-breaking departure from the traditional scripts of femininity that girls are often given. Well-designed programs can begin to transform gender norms, challenge traditional roles, and break down gender stereotypes.
By increasing girls’ visible, active presence in the public arena, sport can transform the way girls think about themselves and the ways their family and communities perceive them. In short, sport can be an empowering force in girls’ lives….We know that sport provides girls’ access to female mentors and role models, as well as an expanded network of friends, group membership, and social capital. These connections are extremely valuable and often lacking for girls in many settings.”
As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this blog, these reflections remind me of what drew me to it in the first place. Though it started out as a blog about being as fit as possible by 50, it has morphed into something much more. Here’s to another 10 years of reflection and advocacy for the rights of people who identify as girls and women to enjoy sports and healthy lives.
Lia Thomas’ recent win at the NCAA swim meet has sparked another round of debate about the rights of transgender athletes to participate in sports.
Here is what Sarah Sardinia wrote on Twitter: To all those pushing this false narrative that Trans People have an advantage in sports, and are using Lia Thomas as “proof”, let me lay down some stats here …
1650 yard distance Lia pre-transition: 14:54.765 Lia post-transition: 15:59.71 (lost 65 seconds) Male record: 14:12.08 (Kieran Smith) Female record: 15:03:31 (Katie Ledecky) She was 40 seconds behind the male record, now she is 56 behind the female
500 yard distance Lia’s best pre-transition, 4:18:72 Lia’s current, 4:34:06 Female record (Katie Ledecky), 4:24:06 Male record (Kieran Smith), 4:06:32
200 yard distance Prior to transition 1:39.31 Male record, 1:29.15 After transition 1:41.93 Female record of 1:39.10
See a pattern here? Not advantage, consistency
There’s a reason that with all the Trans Women competing in sports for years, she is one of the only top ranking ones, because she’s always been one of the top ranking. You can read more here about the data.
To put it another way:
And those images really need to be juxtaposed with the next one, which includes a photo of Olympic champion Katie Ledecky. Katie is 6 feet tall, which makes her one inch shorter than Lia, and two inches shorter than Missy Franklin, who set that NCAA 200 yard record in 2015. There is a lot of talk about how height, and size, and arm span give men natural advantages over women. Swimmers like Michael Phelps have natural advantages, including height, huge feet and flexibility, arm reach, long torsos and relatively short legs. That’s true both among men and women.
The reality is that the vast majority of youth athletes of any gender don’t compete at the elite level. However, even as amateur athletes they face discrimination, so few participate, especially trans girls. A recent Reuters article noted that “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2019 that just 1.8% of high school students in the country are transgender, and the Human Rights Campaign has said that, according to surveys, only about 12% play on girls’ sports teams.”.
Some do do compete as boys or men without too much attention, such as Schuyler Bailar, the first openly trans swimmer in the NCAA men’s first division, and Chris Mosier, the first openly trans athlete to qualify for Team USA and who competed in the Olympic Trials in January 2020. Others, such as Mack Beggs, the Texas high school wrestler forced to compete against girls even after starting to take testosterone, are forced into the same unwelcome spotlight as Lia Thomas. By focusing so much on biology and physiology, the impact is the dehumanization of those kids.
Lots more research is needed on the impact of hormones on performance, and there are legitimate concerns about putting competitors of significantly different sizes/abilities in the same categories when there is a risk of injury. The Christian Science Monitor has done a decent job of trying to summarize the latest research and how it is interpreted. But the bottom line for me and most of the people I know can be summarized like this:
Recently the Toronto Star ran an article about women’s hockey at the Olympics, with the conclusion that it shouldn’t be there because only the American and Canadian teams are serious contenders. Not everyone shares this view.
I agree with The Gist. I grew up in the era when girls’ and women’s hockey was in its infancy. I wanted to play, but wasn’t allowed. Instead, I have watched the game grow from the sidelines, cheering on the women every time I knew they were playing.
My biggest thrill when visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame was seeing Hayley Wickenheiser’s jersey on display. When my son played in a league during a Winter Olympics year, the motivational speech was to get out there and play like girls. They knew that meant to skate hard, play as a team, and keep their sticks on the ice. And win the game if at all possible.
Women’s hockey is still growing in other countries, but it is getting increasingly competitive as more girls and women take up the sport. We absolutely should not shut down their opportunity to grow the game. We didn’t do that for men’s hockey in the early days, or basketball, which is now completely dominated by the American NBA players.
The Canadian and American teams will meet on Wednesday in the gold medal game. I’ll be cheering for the Canadians, of course. But I’ll also be keeping an eye on Switzerland and Finland as they face off for the bronze. I’m willing to bet it will be pretty great hockey too.
Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is still a hockey mom to her grown son, and a recovering Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
Last week, FIFA, the international soccer federation, recognized Christine Sinclair as the greatest goal scorer ever. Period. Male or Female.
Astonishingly, although she has been shortlisted as FIFA player of the year seven times, she has never won that recognition, despite playing in five World Cups and four Olympics (bringing home two bronze medals and a gold). This year, she didn’t even make the final cut.
It was almost two years after she broke the record. She scored her 185th goal in international play back in January 2020. She now has 308, along with 53 assists. She scored her first goal in her second game as a member of the Canadian national team, when she was just sixteen.
Over twenty years later, she is still going strong, playing with both her Portland professional team and the Canadian team. And she is not done. In addition to plans to play at the next Women’s World Cup in 2023, and committing to another two years with Portland, she is pushing for a professional women’s soccer league in Canada. Canada is the only FIFA top 10 ranked country without a professional women’s soccer league.
A pro league wouldn’t solve all the disparities between the men’s and women’s games. But as Sinclair explained just after that gold medal win “We’re hoping that this platform will give us the opportunity to start that change and plead to Canadians that have the ability to make the difference to invest in women. The young little kids, they deserve to be able to go watch their heroes on a week-to-week basis and not [just] every four years.”
Starting a league, or even a team, takes a lot of resources. I get that. But I also note that soccer is the most popular team sport in Canada, with over 750,000 participants in organized programs. It ranks among the most popular sports for girls, and as long ago as 2012, more than 360,000 females played the game (41% of all players).
Approximately 4.4 million Canadians tuned in to watch that gold medal game in Tokyo, making it the most watched event of the Games. It seems to me that there is an audience. I, for one, would love to follow teams regularly, instead of a World Cup of Olympics tournament every few years.
Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is an enthusiastic watcher of World Cup and Olympic soccer, and looks forward to catching a live game when the Men’s World Cup comes to Canada in 2026. She still regrets missing the Women’s World Cup sole Ottawa game in 2015.
I recently had the opportunity to tramp (that’s what New Zealanders call hiking) the Tongariro Northern Circuit in the Central North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The TNC is a four-day, three-night 43.1 km loop that partially overlaps with the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The TNC takes place in the shadows and volcanic fields of the mighty active volcanoes Ngāuruhoe (which you may recognise as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies) and Tongariro. While I had done plenty of day hikes and a handful of overnight trips before, this was my first multi-day trip, and I decided to do it solo. Aotearoa New Zealand has several tramping tracks that are billed as Great Walks, which means they are well-maintained, monitored by rangers, and usually well-equipped as far as huts and campsites go. The TNC is one of those walks, and as such, is well-populated with trampers and rangers alike. That made me feel fine about going solo. I had previously spent a long time wishing I could do something like this, but it wasn’t until I saw these wise words of a kid from the hilarious blog Live From Snack Timethat I decided it was time to go do it: “You can make a wish, but then you have to do the wish. It doesn’t just happen.” I decided it was time to do the wish.
Here’s the thing about tramping in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to other places: pretty much nothing here will kill you except the weather. There are no large predators like bears or mountain lions, there are no snakes, there are no particularly venomous spiders. The water is usually clean and plenty of trampers just go ahead and drink it without treatment and are usually fine. (Note: that’s risky. Don’t do it. Or do. But also, don’t.) What puts people at risk in the New Zealand backcountry is when weather closes in quickly—particularly common in alpine environments—and natural disasters like avalanches, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions. (There are also risks like falling and breaking your leg and being unable to get to shelter.) Those are serious risks, and I don’t mean to be flippant about them. You must prepare for them as much as you are able. Now, admittedly, there’s not a whole lot you can do if a pyroclastic flow is headed your way, but I’m of the mind that life is inherently risky, and if the only thing that ever figured into your decisions was how risky an activity was, you’d never get off the couch. That’s not the life I want, so I’m prepared to accept some calculated risks. I went to an outdoor equipment shop and asked for advice from them and from experienced friends, rented and borrowed the gear that I could, bought what I couldn’t borrow, and set out.
The track was absolutely incredible and the trip was well worth it. I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to make it happen. The photos don’t capture the scale and vastness of the landscape. They don’t capture that mixed-up feeling of achievement, relief, and “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” that rises up when you arrive at the hut. It’s hard to explain the introspection that goes on when it’s just you, your boots, your pack, and a volcano to keep you company. It was transformative. Really.
But a peculiar thing kept happening while I was tramping, and kept happening after I returned and told people about having gone. People seemed very concerned that I, a woman, was doing this tramp solo. At first, I thought it was a bit funny. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it reflected some weird assumptions people have about women’s ability to manage risk. When I told others about the experience and wondered whether people would have said the same thing about a male soloist, a male friend was quick to tell me that “it wasn’t about gender” (a bold assessment from someone who wasn’t there) and that going solo was “potentially foolhardy.” He’s right, in some sense: the risks of tramping—things like avalanches and volcanic eruptions—aren’t about gender. The volcano does not care about the genders of the trampers walking on it when it erupts. Dehydration and hypothermia don’t care about your gender. Venomous snakes don’t care about your gender. Flash floods don’t care about your gender. I’m totally with him on this one: the risk is not about gender. But if that’s the case, then why were the comments? Why were so many of the comments of the scandalized “A woman, alone?” variety? What is it about being a woman that leads people to assume you can’t look after yourself? (If I sound annoyed, it’s because I am.)
I want to be clear about something: I certainly don’t think I know everything about tramping. I’m still very much a novice and will be for a long time. But I’m a sensible novice: I consulted experts while planning my trip, followed their advice, and did every single thing I possibly could do to mitigate my risk. I left detailed trip and route plans with a trusted contact, and I carried a personal locator beacon, a first aid kit, emergency shelter, all-weather clothing, an extra day’s food, and so on. I also respect the power of nature and know that ultimately, sometimes things go wrong and no amount of preparation can save you from that. Nevertheless, I did what was, by any reasonable metric, a good job of making sure I was going to be okay, barring a volcanic eruption. (And let’s be real, having a buddy isn’t really going to help you much in that situation.) It struck me as odd that my friend immediately concluded that what I was doing was foolhardy, when he knew nothing about the precautions I’d taken, and made no effort to ask.
A couple of women tramper friends of mine say they’ve had similar experiences. One says she, too, finds that people are either amazed or concerned when they find out she’s tramping alone, and that something about it rubs her the wrong way. How about you, fellow women soloists? Have you had this kind of experience? How does it make you feel?
I’ll finish off with this photo of sunrise on the ascent to the Red Crater of Ngāuruhoe. I left my hut dark and early to catch this special sight, all by myself. It was glorious.
Earlier this week the Swiss Supreme Court denied Caster Semenya’s appeal of the IAAF’s decision to impose chemical modifications on the runner. Told in June that she would need to medically reduce the levels of testosterone in her body, Semenya said she would not comply and she launched an appeal of the decision.
The Swiss court had said earlier Semenya could still compete, unaltered, while a final decision was pending, but now the court has reversed that decision.
What that mans is that Semenya cannot compete in her preferred races (800 metres) because the IAAF says she she can only run in her natural state in races less than 400 metres or more than a mile in length.
With the Worlds coming in September and prep for the Tokyo Olympics next summer, there is no time for Semenya to comply with the medical demand (six months in treatment is required before she can race) even if she agreed to do it.
This is a problematic decision on a couple of fronts. One, supposing Semenya agreed to the chemical alteration while the Swiss Court continued its deliberations, if they decide to dismiss the IAAF ruling, she would have undergone medical intervention unnecessarily and perhaps negatively affecting her performance in the long term.
Two, upholding the IAAF ruling as an interim measure already gives the medical intervention some weight as a legitimate approach to dealing with individuals who have higher than expected levels of testosterone and who identify/consider themselves female.
Since the ruling only affects females (there’s no issue with males whose hormone levels don’t fall into the range considered acceptable for men), we have here another example of how medical intervention is being used to manage women’s behaviour.
Don’t get me wrong — I think there is a time and place for medical intervention when warranted. I know many people who have benefited from drug therapy and not only for mental health issues. However, we also know how often medical intervention has been used to control or modify women’s behaviour in the past, from hysteria to forced sterilization.
I think it is worth noting too, that Semenya as a black woman, is also facing a racialized challenge to her physical excellence on the track. While we may think we are more civilized in the 21st century, is the IAAF’s ruling that distant from the gynecological experiment performed on enslaved black women in the 19th century?
The IAF based its decision on limited science as discussed in this CBC article. In many respects, forcing Semenya and other athletes classified as having differences of sexual development (DDS) to undergo medical alteration through drugs is experimentation. While we have evidence documenting the effect of drugs used to aid transition from one sex to another, we have limited evidence on how above average levels of testosterone benefits athletes. To quote my earlier post on Semenya and the IAAF ruling:
There is a lot of disagreement about what the advantage means, and a key part of the legal argument put forward by Semenya’s legal team was the lack of rigour used by the IAAF in setting its standards. The CBC referenced a recent editorial in the British Medical Journal that cited several problems with the IAAF’s own methodology, and most damningly they said the IAAF’s results could not be reproduced:
“… the authors noted the criticisms of an analysis commissioned by the IAAF which found that women whose serum testosterone levels were in the top third performed significantly better than women with levels in the lowest third. Those results, Tannenbaum and Bekker claim, could not be independently reproduced, and the data does not reliably mirror the source track times of athletes from the 2011 and 2013 world championships.”
We should be worried about this latest development in the Semenya case. The value of women’s contribution and performance in sport has been questioned, with the most recent examples being the women’s World Cup in soccer, the Tour de France, and Serena William’s accomplishments in tennis. We should be asking why people, especially the men at the executive levels in sport, are afraid when women aim to be and succeed at being faster, higher, stronger? And yes, sometimes that means you will have someone who dominates a sport, like Semenya in track or Michael Phelps in swimming, but I see no effort to hobble him so others may exceed as they are doing with Semenya. Most importantly, we should be very concerned when courts and official sports bodies are making decisions, not based on science and established evidence, but on fear and emotion.
MarthaFitat55 is a writer based in St. John’s whose rage at injustice often fuels her workouts.