Friday, February 17, 2006

I want to throw something at my television

I just need to start keeping a basket full of Nerf toys in my living room to throw at my television. I am usually prepared for the infuriating stupidity of prime time viewing. Commercials for The Bachelor, for instance make me want to hurl objects at the screen all by themselves. I don't think I could actually watch the entire program. Desperate Housewives and Tide commercials also make my fingers itch for something to heave at my t.v. These instances are usually brief and restricted to evening viewing.

So, imagine my surprise when I hear a story on Good Morning America today about the winter Olympics and female ski jumpers. As I wandered around the house in my usual morning stupor, I heard Diane Sawyer say that women are not allowed to compete in the ski jump. I thought I must have heard her wrong. I mean I've only been awake for a half hour and I've not had any coffee yet. Perhaps she was speaking of a rule from back in 1954. This is 2006 after all. Women can do everything men can do (except serve in the U.S. Navy on a submarine, but I think that's more about their safety from their fellow sailors than their exclusion..ahem.)

Nope, apparently it's just not lady-like for girls to leap off of a ski jump. According to the International Ski Federation's president, Gian Franco Kasper, "It's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view,"

Let's take a look at the last part of that sentence. "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view." Who is this guy? I don't see an "M.D." after his name. Where is he getting this pseudo-scientific opinion? This sounds a lot like the general thinking back in the 60s and 70s when women were not allowed to officially run marathons, specifically and most noticeably, the Boston Marathon. It was thought that our poor reproductive systems might be damaged by such activities. It amazes me how women are deemed strong enough to carry and deliver babies, but too fragile to run 26 miles or hit the ground after a ski jump.

You see, back in 1966, Roberta Louise Gibb or Bobbi Gibb as she was known, was a long distance runner. She did not have a trainer or a track team. She ran because it made her feel balanced with nature and her world. She ran because she loved to run. She had lived in Boston and dreamed of running in the marathon there but there was a strict 'no girls allowed' policy. So, after much training and thought she decided to run anyway. She hid out in the bushes near the starting line and began the marathon with the other runners when the starting shot was fired. She merged into the group and ran the race. She was supported by the men who ran around her and by the people on the side-lines as she ran by. However, when she finished the race she found the doors to the after marathon banquet firmly closed to her. She ran in the Boston marathon two more times, proving that it was not dangerous for women to run long distances. She is a lawyer and a mother.

Then in 1968 Katherine Switzer, another female runner, turned in her application for the Boston Marathon. She only wrote her initials in the name box and since it never occurred to the officials that a mere woman would want to run, they assumed she was a man and sent her an official number. She began the race wearing a hooded sweatshirt and running with her boyfriend, a 235 lb former All-American football player. She was idealistic, not stupid. Once it was discovered that a "girl" was running with numbers on there was an uproar. Word of this unprecedented event sprinted down the street faster than the runners. Many people along the sidelines cheered, but officials were not pleased. One official in the press truck tried to physically remove Switzer from 'his' marathon but her boyfriend body-checked the man and Switzer finished the race.

I can somewhat understand women meeting with this kind of resistance 30 or 40 years ago. We were still mired in the ideals of the 'feminine mystique'. Women had not had the opportunity to express themselves and break down some of these ridiculous barriers. It boggles my mind that in 2006 people still believe these archaic and chauvinist stereotypes. In Italy right now there are a brother and sister attending the Olympics, Alissa (19) and Anders (16) Johnson from Park City, Utah. Anders will be competing in the Olympic ski jump. His sister, Alissa will be watching. Even though she is one of the world's top ranked ski jumpers, she cannot compete because she has a uterus. Not only is the Olympic committee wrong about their policy on women ski jumping, they are alone. Women are allowed to compete for world titles in other competitions, just not the ever-so-lofty Olympics.

ABC News mentioned that this rule is going to be examined this spring and perhaps overturned. If that happens then Alissa and others like her will be able to compete in four years at the next Winter Olympics. Until then, these talented young women will just have to wait and watch from the sidelines, secure in the knowledge that they are just as good, if not better than the boys who will be allowed to "go for the gold."

Here is a link to Bobbi Gibb's story. Go there. Read her account. Try not to get all misty eyed.

Katherine Switzer trying to officially

run in The Boston Marathon in 1968.

Some of the world class female Ski Jumpers who will not be competing at the Olympics this year.

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