Every time I start typing this article I get hung up with the intro, I want to focus on addressing the entry barriers preventing women from exploring the outdoors, but I can’t seem to get there unless I include issues with inequality, and the history of our society.
You see, it’s all related. We need to understand where we started, why stereotypes are the way they are and the advances we’ve made. Without that knowledge, it makes our mission for change that much harder.
Sure, this might sound like the start to a women’s lib article, and yeah, it might be, but the way our society thinks and acts directly relates to how we perceive, organize and approach sport (and everything else for that matter).
So let’s start with a brief timeline of advances for women within US history.
*For the sake of time and article length, I tried to choose landmark advances.
1900 – All US States finally allow married women to keep their work wages and are also granted the right to own property in their names. Prior, wages were given to husbands and all property was in the husband’s name.
1920 – The Nineteenth Amendment is ratified. Women now have the Constitutional right to vote. This was a big win for women, as they could now vote for the people representing them, and what those people stood for.
1963 – Congress passes the Equal Pay Act. This act is meant to enforce equal wages for the same work no matter color, religion, race, national origin or sex.
1964 – Civil Rights Act – Title VII is passed. This act prohibits discrimination in employment based on a person’s sex.
1972 – Title IX is created! This prohibits sex discrimination in all education programs that receive federal funding. Women now have more opportunity to play sports!
1973 – Roe v. Wade ruling. Supreme Court rules abortion is now legal.
1978 – Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This act ends discrimination against pregnant women applying for employment.
2013 – Women are granted the right to take military combat positions. The Pentagon’s 1994 restriction is removed.
Now that we have a better grasp on the battles women have been fighting for, and when there was change, we can understand the mindsets and expectations that society has placed on women.
As you can tell the issue of equality has been a hot topic since as long as anyone can remember. It’s 2018, and we are still marching and demanding for rights that should be inherent with being human, never depending on your gender, sexuality, race or religion .
Unfortunately, the sought out equal treatment of every human and the disposal of discrimination, is something that cannot be resolved until all members of society get on the same page. The pollution that results from negative mindsets and out dated societal expectations has created the barriers we experience today.
Shifting focus back to women in trail running specifically, I’ll break down the major obstacles that women encounter while trying to gain entry.
* I compiled this information through numerous one-on-one conversations, 30 female focus groups throughout the USA, Canada and China, and demographic research. Do note these barriers don’t affect every woman, and that some are also barriers for men.
Historically and instinctually, women play the primary role in care giving to children. Anyone with a kiddo, or puppy for that matter, can relate to all the time and care a little one requires. Additionally, because of the historical trend of playing primary care giver, mothers often feel guilty if they aren’t spending time nurturing their children. Some mothers are even shamed for not putting 100% of their free time into their family.
Besides caring for the children, women also have the issue of shape shifting. For some, they are able to bounce back to their previous running form not long after pregnancy. Other women may struggle to regain their running bodies because of the healing process, and time needed to train. If breastfeeding, that can also be another hiccup in the quest for spending long hours on the trails. Additionally, the longer it takes for women to regain their running bodies, the harder it is to get back into the sport.
This may actually be the biggest barrier, or it comes in a strong second. When time is the most prevalent issue for a woman, she’s most likely a mother as well.
As we grow our independence, and wants and needs, women are more motivated to take on additional tasks and opportunities. It wasn’t so long ago that women were discouraged from pursuing a career, or extending their education. Instead, women were encouraged to tend to the home and family. This wasn’t a bad thing, and many women thoroughly enjoyed the role of wife, mother and homemaker. The only hiccup came when income or security was threatened. If there was a divorce or separation, women struggled to find work since they had limited education or no prior work experience.
This is all to say that in today’s world, women are focused on much more than just wife, mother, and homemaker. Today’s lady juggles a career, taking care of children/family, minding the housework/cooking, self-care and a hopeful social life.
Women who struggle with the time barrier are more likely to participate at short distances for the fact that’s all they have time for. Logically, this is one reason why ultra distance races don’t see a higher female turnout.
When venturing into any new endeavors, most people are hesitant to spend $$$. For example, if you’re a newb to mountain biking, you’re most likely going to purchase an entry level bike, and work your way up to clip-in pedals. There aren’t many who go straight into the clip-in pro version, and aren’t in over then head, or over their handlebars in no time. Most aren’t willing to make a big investment until they’re sure they’ll enjoy the sport. The same holds true for trail running. To pay a $50 or $100+ for a race entry fee isn’t super appealing for a first timer, especially if they’re unsure they’ll even finish.
In July of 2018, Trail Sisters partnered with the Loon Mountain Race (LMR) which also doubled as the US Mountain Running Championship. Our hopes were to encourage more women to experience mountain running, and to grow the 2016 LMR female participant percentage from 31% to 50% for 2018.
Race directors Chris J. Dunn and Paul Kirsch offered a 50% discount to any female first time racers at the LMR. With some promotion and this generous price break, the race entrant percentages came to 53% women and 47% men. Of the 53% women, 64% were first timers.
This is normally the largest obstacle to conquer for most women. After years of being designated as the weaker sex, (and yes, genetically women are built differently), women have adopted the fact they need to be on the defensive. Women have traditionally been warned of the dangers that exist instead of being empowered to handle any trying situation.
Using fear to gain power or control has been a proven tactic. In decades past (and still today), women were fed messaging that kept them in the household, away from politics, away from education, and dependent on their husbands. In a nutshell, this messaging was meant to take away a woman’s independence, and without that, it left her feeling vulnerable. Women in your 60’s or older, this may be something you can relate to or have experienced. For anyone wanting a better understanding of this issue, read: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.
Women aren’t as eager to venture out on a new trail solo, run at night, or even at all if there isn’t someone with them. Pushing past the stigma of co-dependency and the manifestation that someone or something is always out to get you, will take some work, but is possible with education and a boost in self-confidence!
Women’s entry to running really didn’t come till the 70’s thanks to Roberta Gibb sneaking into the 1966 Boston Marathon and to Kathrine Switzer’s 1967 Boston Marathon “rule breaking” debut. On the other hand, men have been racing the marathon distance long before. The Men’s Marathon has been an event at the Olympics since 1896, and the Women’s Marathon was finally established 1984. Until then, women were allowed to compete in the 200 meters distance, and at times, the 800 meters.
With the lack of opportunity from years past, women have had less time exploring the sport of running, which logically accounts for lower female participation numbers. The lack of participants creates a domino effect in acquiring more visibility, and ultimately the ability for growth. Here are what I call the “dominos of doom”:
- Low participation leads to lack of competition.
- Lack of competition appears as if the women’s race is less important.
- Lack of importance leads to less/or no coverage.
- Minimal coverage embeds the idea that women’s trail running is unimportant and consciously or unconsciously discourages women to participate.
Besides visibility in participation, let’s take a look at visibility in role models and marketing. Having worked in the media business, I’m confident in making the statement that there is much more written and photo & video content of male trail runners verses female (one reason why TrailSisters.net was created). The argument for this: more men are participating in the sport and more men are spending money thus, more content should be directed towards men.
Let’s jump from the one dimensional thought process for a second….
If women were celebrated more frequently and front and center re: media and brand marketing, it would provide women the opportunity to relate, be inspired, to learn, and to be empowered. This would result in increased participation, new customers, more spending, and a more profitable industry.
In terms of types of visibility, women want more promotion of your everyday sheros (vs. elite) who have all different types of backgrounds, stories and experiences, and who are also different shapes, colors, and sizes (inclusion!!!!!!). That doesn’t mean get rid of your elite athlete Q&A or human interest piece, but don’t forget that some women could care less about times or records, and more so about a relatable experience. And while we are on the topic of how to reach women, can we cut back on the usage of sex driven images? Unfortunately, media companies know they can always make $ with a sexy photo because someone out there needs to get their jollies by oogling a photo framed perfectly to catch the bounce of a woman running in a sports bra and tight shorts.
At the end of the day, if women don’t have visibility of other women like them participating in sports, we can expect a very slow and painful growth process.
Who wants to participate in a sport without appropriate gear?
Historically, it is more cost efficient for companies to work off of one model or one last (referring to shoes). To create new molds and casts for multiple sizes and shapes comes with a decent sized price tag. To dig a bit deeper, more new products with additional new sizes, also means more SKUs. In layman’s terms, brands must manufacture more goods, which means spending more money, all with the hope the goods will sell. When they manufacture and market goods as “unisex” their backend costs are lower because its all the same product and set-up. Thus less products, sizes and SKUs.
The argument of whether to make female specific vs. selling unisex is usually determined by the amount of females participating. If the numbers aren’t there, it isn’t cost effective to create new female specific products.
With the increasing interest and growth, more and more companies are beginning to create products from a women’s figure vs. the pink and shrink technique used from a man’s figure. Women are much more likely to purchase a product that is created for their anatomical build, and are more likely to be brand loyal because of the focus that brand is providing to generate a better running experience.
Yes, women. We can be our own worst enemies. We are great at cutting each other down, and allowing our cattiness to get the best of us. When threatened we make sure others feel unwelcome, when jealous and insecure, we can find flaws in anyone just to boost our self-esteem. So why do we go straight for the jugular instead of working out our potential issues?
The suggested answer is rooted in our history, yet again. Decades ago, little girls were taught to look pretty and act lady-like from little on up. Their main mission would be to grow up and attract the best male suitor possible so that he could take care of her and to provide. As with any prize, there is always a competition to distinguish the winner. In this case, the competition was held amongst women.
You see, finding a husband was the key to security, the key to having a successful life. This was the same time frame when women were discouraged to pursue careers or education thus, they needed someone to look after them. Additionally, women not married were referred to as spinsters or ridiculed for their choice in being single, as there had to be something wrong with them for not wanting the societal definition of the “American Dream.”
Flash forward to the 60’s where it was a bit more accepting of women holding careers. In ‘63 the Equal Pay Act was passed, and in ’64 Title VII Civil Rights Act was passed. You’d think these rules would have created a more equal situation in the professional space, but discrimination and lack of opportunity was still endemic.
As a result, women learned to be competitive towards one another in hopes to get the one job position offered. You might say competition is good, needed in fact, and you’d be right, but there’s a difference between healthy and unhealthy competition.
Cattiness, flirtation, acting tough to be like the men, you name it. If getting a job had a large impact on a woman’s livelihood, she was going to fight for it, using any and all tactics.
It’s now 2018 and we are in a much better position with work place opportunities and pay, but we are far from equal. The same holds true within sports. Sponsored or elite women are still paid less than their male counterparts achieving the same standards.
How do we fix it? Well, we work together, not against each other. It seems like common sense, but when one’s livelihood is involved, it’s hard to make the choice to stand up and use your voice for change, verses taking the meager amount of money offered. This is another perfect example where the “dominos of doom” come into play. I’ll break it down:
- Sponsor offers Elite Female A $10k. Sponsor offers Elite Male $20k.
- Elite Female A is pissed. She wants equal pay since she is equally bad ass.
- Elite Female A is worried to negotiate for the following reasons:
- She’ll be embarrassed if the Sponsor says no.
- She may lose her offer to Elite Female B who is willing to accept the lower rate.
- Doesn’t want to accept offer and reconfirm women are willing to take less.
- Worried she’ll be black balled for voicing her thoughts and won’t find another sponsor.
- Elite Female A is worried to negotiate for the following reasons:
Unfortunately, women will struggle with participation growth and the ability to receive equal pay unless they can work together to create a better situation for the gender as a whole. We have the choice of empowering one another in an effort to make change, or we can continue to fight one another just to make small personal (and normally limited) gains.
Let’s face it, history hasn’t set women up for success in the realm of equality. And although we can’t change history, we can certainly control the future. If we truly want eliminate barriers and to create opportunities, we need to work together. We need to use our voices, and exude confidence. We need to harness the values of camaraderie and empowerment to change outdated mindsets, and to create solutions. We need to be a force, a movement, a community. When we work together, anything is possible.
*Call for Comments!
What other entry barriers do women face?
What are your thoughts on how history has shaped our current situation?
What are other ways we can tackle these issues?
Time.com – Future Gender Norms
PlannedParenthood.com – What are Gender Roles and Stereotypes
Study.com – Gender Roles in the 1950s America
TheVisualCommunicationGuy.com – The Fear Appeal Advertising
JSTOR.org – Fear Appeals in Marketing
Apa.org – Fear Based Appeals
Khanacademy.org – Women in the 1950s
PBS.org – Mrs. America Womens Roles 1950
TheNewDaily.com – Womens Sport Visibility
Forbes.com – The Dark Side of Female Rivalry in the Workplace
PsychologyToday.com – Female Competition