Gender Inequality in Cross-Country Running

When I was 6, I went to my first ever Arsenal match with my Dad. I can remember the day SO clearly, partly because my Dad covered my ears throughout to block out any “rude words” shouted by other fans, but also because this is the first time that I was exposed to any form of gender gap.

I struggled to concentrate on the game as I was too busy asking questions about Arsenal Ladies FC;

“Can we go and watch the ladies next time?”

“Why have I never seen Arsenal Ladies on tv?”

“But WHYYYYY does nobody go and watch the ladies?!”

I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that at the time I didn’t really understand and proceeded to sulk the whole way home. Twenty years later, I felt a similar sense of sadness upon discovering that women’s races are often significantly shorter than men’s at cross country events. *

In January this year, I along with 3000 others signed a petition calling for equal distances among men and woman. I’m unsure as to what (if any) steps have been taken since the petition was put into action, although a bit of Googling has resulted in a very vague update that UK Athletics is working towards equal distances.

I want to make it clear that I am a HUGE fan of cross-country. I love that it’s not elitist, I love the general excitement/team spirit/build up, and most of all I love running through the mud and sludge. I am getting mini palpitations of excitement just writing this!

However, the unequal distances baffle me. I have questioned this matter many times and am always greeted with a response along the lines of “well, it’s a very traditional sport.” I’ve also been informed that a lot of male runners would prefer a shorter distance… no comment.

There is no logical reason that I can think of that justifies this discrepancy, and quite frankly it worries me that 6-year-old Mell watching the football feels the same as 27-year-old Mell running cross-country.

*This post focuses specifically on cross-country running in England. In Scotland and the World Cross Country Championships, equal distances have been implemented. 

Am I a “loud woman?”

A couple of weeks ago I read an article* about “loud women” (whatever that means) and immediately felt compelled to write about it. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily class myself as a “loud woman’” and obviously this is a ridiculous phrase, there were many aspects of this article that resonated with me and I wanted to share a couple of them.

  • Loud shaming

I can’t count the amount of times I have been told to use my ‘inside voice’, both as a child and as an adult. Approximately 70% of the time the person telling me to be a little bit quieter has a very valid point; of course, there are certain situations where one should be quiet, and I definitely need to learn how to whisper!

However, being told to use my ‘inside voice’ always brings about a familiar sense of shame – the feeling that I have spoken out of turn or embarrassed myself in some way, when in fact this is just my voice, booming out like a big old foghorn.

Am I being ridiculous? Am I being over-sensitive? Perhaps, but I do believe that loud shaming is an expression that should be recognised and acknowledged.

  • What is a loud man?

Obviously loud men do exist, but I think the word ‘loud’ has a different meaning across genders. If I were to simplify it, I would say that loud men are confident, go-getters, intelligent and attractive. Loud women, on the other hand, are overpowering, intimidating and somewhat hostile…perhaps even irritating?

I am being rather presumptuous here, as I have based this purely on personal experience, and the experiences of those close to me.

Therefore, I would love to open this discussion to a wider audience. I would also be really interested in hearing your thoughts in the context of running** (of course!) so please do get in touch!

*The article was written by Viv Groskop, author of How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking

**Gender equality in sport has always been a controversial topic, and one that I am interested in exploring in later posts.

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Running While Female

I have SO MUCH to say on this topic (even more so than usual), therefore I’m going to publish 2 separate posts on a later date which will explore the following:

  • Cross Country (in line with recent discussions around gender inequality in XC running)
  • Running in a group

This post will focus solely on my experiences of running alone (as a female, obviously), as my experience when running in a group has unsurprisingly been quite different.

As expected (although obviously this should not be expected!!), many of my unpleasant experiences have taken place when running in summer. I was once told by Hortencia (if you have read any of my previous posts, Hortencia is a fictional character representative of a variety of moronic people I have come across) that I’m “asking for it” by wearing short shorts. Obviously, the phrase “asking for it” is complete and utter BS and I find it SO infuriating that people still say this.

I want to emphasise that nothing terrible has ever happened to me when running alone; certainly nothing that breaches catcalling, innuendos and other inappropriate comments made by someone in a car or on a bike. I wouldn’t say that I have ever been majorly concerned about my safety – it’s more that I find it incredibly irritating – although recently, 2 men shouted at me from their car so abruptly that I ran into the middle of the road out of shock.

I hate to admit this, but a culmination of cat calling and mildly (sometimes REALLY) repulsive comments has made me feel slightly vulnerable. If I’m running in the summer months or in the evening, occasionally I select routes that avoid main roads because I simply cannot be bothered with the possibility of unwanted attention. Sometimes I wear headphones purely to block out the sound of potential unwanted attention (can’t hear the morons over my music!)

It infuriates me that sometimes I feel the need to modify my run due to the potential behavior of others. It infuriates me that I feel that I cannot run in a sports bra and shorts in 30-degree heat. It infuriates me that some of my friends will only run on a treadmill to avoid harassment. It infuriates me that in 2018 this is still an issue that needs to be discussed! In case you couldn’t tell, I’m INFURIATED.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on this – what has your experience been as a female runner? I’m also curious to know how you deal with unwanted behaviour when running – how do you respond?