A Word In Edgewise: In the Long Run II


I recently wrote about Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb who sneaked into the 1966 Boston Marathon after being told that women were not physiologically capable of running the 26.2-mile course (issue 547). She ran it in 3:21:40, garnering cheers of support and a handshake from Massachusetts Governor John Volpe.

The Boston Marathon should then have been open to all comers, but the following year, 1967, when Kathrine Switzer entered legally, signing her application simply “K.A. Switzer,” she was grabbed en route by race manager Jock Semple, yelling, “Get the hell out of my race!” (Google the iconic photos.) Switzer managed to finish the race, but still, it was 1971 before the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) officially allowed women runners.

It’s both saddening and significant to see how discrimination can keep its stranglehold in the face of all reason and empiric evidence. Perhaps one may discern the seeds of such thinking in the comments of two men running against Gibb in 1966. Charles Stalzer, then a 38-year-old Navy captain, later recounted that after being passed by Gibb he thought, “No way a girl is going to beat me.” Another called her passing him “a bit of a blow to my male ego.”

Current news is saturated with the case of the Stanford swimmer given a tap-on-the-wrist sentence for raping a young woman, his father is angered his son has to pay anything for “20 minutes of action.” An appalling assessment of rape, and not one I mean to make analogous to the male runners’ comments, but there does seem to be some inherent awfulness, 50 years on, in boys/men seeing any woman doing well in any field to which they feel solely entitled.

There is a rape mentality today in secondary independent schools, colleges, and universities in which the ex-Stanford student is but one egregious example. Male anger against women is not a thing of the past. Women, once barred from higher education and top jobs, now excel in them.

Add in the likes of Colorado’s anti-gay pastor Kevin Swanson who broadcasts that voting for a woman will make your daughters lesbians, and it becomes clear that enlightenment is far from universal, for women as well as for blacks. Just look at where the intransigent racism has landed the political landscape today.

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