Why Sport Needs Feminists

So last week I was watching the BBC 2 show Icons, which was celebrating the achievements of some of the greatest figures of the 20th century. The shortlist was made up of men, and Clare Balding made a really astute comment on why this might be the case. When asked if she was surprised no women made the shortlist, she said:

“I wasn’t surprised, disappointed but not surprised because I think you can’t be an icon unless you are allowed to have the limelight and I think the 20th century largely was the history of men told by men”.

I love Clare Balding, and so I tweeted a condensed version of her speech, saying “YASSSSSS ! Brilliant summary of why no women made the shortlist. The 20th century was a history of men as told by men.”

Clare Balding

And boy oh boy did that tweet get some attention (by my standards). I got accused of “moaning”,  was asked to name one woman who was worthy (ROSA FREAKING PARKS), got told that men are the reason my life is so good and was told that feminism is killing our culture. When I challenged this last point (made by someone who considers themselves an egalitarian rather than a feminist) I was told that women in the west “are vastly more privileged than men” and that feminists are “smashing western civilisation”.

I’m always interested in the opinions of others and so I did a bit of reading around feminism vs. egalitarianism (this article by Beth Turnbull was particularly useful), and after some research I still consider myself a feminist.  To quote Beth’s article:

“Egalitarianism is not an alternative to feminism. It’s like saying, “Why worry about exercise? Why not just worry about health?” You can’t really have one without the other. And don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with egalitarianism. It is simply a broader view of the fight for equality. Feminism is a narrower focus of that view; a focus on bringing women up to the same places men have been for years.”

So why am I mentioning all this in a fitness blog? Because a couple of days after this debate on Twitter, I saw a new petition on my timeline called #SeeSportyBeSporty by Totally Runable, calling for sports coverage in the media to be more gender equal. Despite the 2012 Olympics, where women won one third of all British medals, currently less than 3% of photographs of sport in the newspapers show women playing sport. and this article from 2014 shows that just 3% of sports articles at that time were about women as well. So this is where feminism comes in – not to tear down men, but to raise up the stories of women doing incredible things in sport (and all other sectors for that matter).

SeeSportyBeSporty

So we need to push for change – for more coverage of women in sport (you can sign the #SeeSportyBeSporty petition here) so that young girls can see themselves represented across the board. We need to keep shouting about the achievements of women like Jasmin Paris, Desi Linden, Dina Asher-Smith, Laura Muir, Jo Pavey and countless others (I’m focusing on runners here as that’s my passion but there are so many women doing incredible things in sport). When I google “Boston Marathon winner” I want the first result to name both Yuki Kawauchi (who I think is brilliant BTW) AND Desi Linden. We need to push for equal coverage and call out aging white men who write articles for crappy newspapers claiming that women’s sport is not as good as men’s and that’s why they don’t deserve equal coverage. And we need to keep telling the stories of female 20th century sporting icons like Tanni Gray-Thompson, Kathrine Switzer, Bobbi Gibb, Joan Benoit and many more. Because their stories are incredible, exciting and inspirational, just like the men’s stories are.

And I know this is ever so slightly off-topic, but this is a good time to shout out to Dr Jess Wade, who has written literally hundreds of Wikipedia entries for women in science (as well as other underrepresented groups) whose achievements have been overlooked in the past, in the hope of attracting more girls in to STEM in the future. Awesome stuff.

Why I Love my Leggings

So in the last few days I’ve been seeing a lot of chat around an article from the NY Times written by the “does-she-or-doesn’t-she exist” Honor Jones. The title of this piece (of garbage) is “Why Yoga Pants are Bad for Women“.

Are we getting paper cuts from the price tags?

Are they releasing chemicals that we’re absorbing into our skin?

HAVE THEY BECOME SENTIENT?!

No – they’re bad for us, because we’re all wearing them to look sexy, and this is NOT OK AT THE GYM.

First of, what a load of utter, utter bobbins. While I can’t speak for everyone, I have never once put on leggings (I can’t quite get on board with calling them “yoga pants”) with the purpose being that I want to look alluring at the gym. Anyone who has seen me with sweat dripping from my face knows that really isn’t a primary concern of mine when I work out. I put them on because – for me – they are the most practical item for an exercise session. If I’m sweating on a spin bike or trying to do eagle pose or a standing split in yoga, of course sweat-wicking, flexible clothing is the way to go. If I wore sweatpants (which often seem to come in a shade of marl grey that show off sweat patches to their absolute best) I would be a sweaty mess within minutes, and I guarantee they would snag on the first bit of machinery I tried to clamber on to.

And as for her statement that she got funny looks when she got on the elliptical, if it even happened maybe it’s because she came in looking like a sour-faced harpy giving the stink eye to every woman wearing lycra. Oh and FYI – sweatpants fit OVER leggings. That’s why I wear mine on the bike ride to the gym to protect my ankles from the cold and remove them once I enter the sweatbox.

Most women at the gym are there to get fit. They’re not there to compete with other women, or to make them feel bad, or to treat it like a fashion show. I love wearing brightly patterned (and sometimes obnoxious) lycra because a splash of colour can make a tough workout just a little bit more fun. But I’m sure as HELL not going to judge other women on their sartorial choices at the gym. Unlike this blithering idiot who says “It’s not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress” and then goes on to do just that. Every woman is capable of deciding which items of clothing she’s comfortable in when she’s working out, whether that’s sweat pants, tiny shorts, crop tops or anything else in between.

The Importance of Good Kit: The Sports Bra

I’ve already gone on about the importance of getting your gait analysed as a runner, and I’ll be getting mine done again soon so will blog about that in the not too distant future. But a couple of weeks ago, I saw a girl running down the street in a way that made me want to slam my brakes on, roll down the window and shout “what are you doing to yourself?!”

There was no sports bra in sight.

It made me wince and want to cross my arms over my chest and promise myself that I would never put my body through such discomfort.

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I’m not even that blessed in that department, but I would never, EVER pound the pavements/tracks/trails without my beloved Shock Absorber Run Ultimate bra. Shockingly however, only 43% of women do wear a sports bra when exercising, and 1 in 5 are self conscious of exercising because of their breasts.

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The Shock Absorber Run Ultimate bra

Did you know that breasts can move from three to eight inches up and down and left to right like a lying down figure of eight when you run? That’s a HUGE amount. That range of motion over a marathon (for example) could cause some serious premature sagging over time. The Cooper’s ligaments, which are responsible for keeping breasts “perky”, will eventually wear out over the years, but intense movement like running will make this happen even faster. Not to mention the bad back and rubbing that will come from not wearing a properly fitted sports bra.

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Don’t even get me started on this.

The thing is, anxiety about your breast size and concerns of discomfort just aren’t necessary any more. There’s a huge range of sports bras available for a range of prices. Just look at this video from The Running Bug here.

So go to your local sports shop and get kitted out. I promise your future breasts will thank you for it. Just try not to look like this when putting it on, eh?

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Inspiring more than one generation

Research carried out by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University showed that nearly 80% of adults were failing to meet government targets for physical activity.

A study by University College London researchers found that only 38% of girls were achieving the recommended hour of physical activity each day.

A 12-year study of more than 300,000 people by the University of Cambridge suggested that a lack of exercise could be killing twice as many people as obesity in Europe.

18 months after the London Olympics, the number of people playing sport once a week had increased by only 200,000.

In England, the prevalence of obesity among adults rose from 14.9% to 24.9% between 1993 and 2013.

Yikes.

Despair Gif

But hang on. In England, 75% of women said they wanted to be more active.

Hold the flipping phone. Is that a beacon of light I see upon the very bleak horizon?

Happy Tina Fey

Yes, some of these statistics make bleak reading, but it’s the last one that gives me hope. If 75% of women want to be more active, then something needs to be done to inspire them into action. The This Girl Can campaign has kickstarted something brilliant, but it will take time to see how successful it has been. The Olympics tagline was “Inspire a Generation”, but what I want to know is – why just the one?

The reason I’m writing this post is because I was inspired today. I took the last session of my Women’s Beginners’ Running Group this evening, getting five women of all different ages to run 5km around a very hot and very busy Parker’s Piece. And they all did it, pushing themselves harder than I thought they could in the conditions, and all coming in between 30 and 36 minutes, sprint finishing with serious strength and guts. I was so unbelievably proud of them, and I felt inspired by their commitment to trying something different and difficult, especially given the comedy geniuses who liked to shout tips at us, run with us, or copy our warm up. Seriously dudes, we get one of you every week. Come back when you have something unique.

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Warriors.

And so it got me thinking. It’s down to us to inspire each other. To inspire our friends, mother, siblings, daughters. I’m inspired by the women around me every day. By my Zumba instructor and friend Lucy who with her endless energy encourages dozens of women in and around Ely to dance their backsides off and not care what they look like doing it. By my incredibly talented friend Eloise who has worked so hard and dedicated so much of her life to her dancing which has led to her starring in the McQueen show. By my friend Sam who after just a couple of years of running ran the London Marathon for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in memory of her dad. By my boss Karen who pushes her mental strength to its limits by running 24 hour endurance races. By my sister.

And it’s not just the people I know. It’s people like Jessica Ennis, Jo Pavey, Paula Radcliffe, Nicola Adams, Kelly Holmes, Victoria Pendleton, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Denise Lewis, Amy Hughes, Katie McDonnell, Lucy Gossage, Chrissie Wellington, Kacy Catanzaro, the two crews who rowed on the Tideway (and therefore on an equal footing as men) in the Boat Race for the first time and people like 92-year old Harriette Thompson. And I’m barely scratching the surface here. These are just the people I’ve thought of off the top of my head.

But we need more. We need more women’s sport on TV. We need more campaigns like #WSW2015 and This Girl Can. We need to stop belittling ourselves and letting women be physical cliches. In short, we need less of this:

Bridget Bike Fail

And more of this:

Strong Runner

We need to be inspired into action and given the opportunity to try new things. And I genuinely believe that there is a sport out there for everyone. Women should be giving things a go and be encouraged to do so. How sad would it be if someone never found that sporting passion, whether it be netball, sprinting, ultimate frisbee or fencing?

I feel a bit like I’m brain dumping here and pointing out the flipping obvious. But next time you go to your bootcamp class, or see an advert for archery sessions, or decide to sign up for your first 5k like my running group girls, why not pick up the phone and tell your friend/mother/daughter/sister about it? You might end up turning a flicker of interest into an all-consuming flame and then they may go on to do the same thing, a ripple effect of igniting passions. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

This Girl Can – With or Without Makeup

To celebrate the inaugural Women’s Sport Week, I’m going to focus my posts this week on women in sport and the topics around this, starting with my thoughts on the “This Girl Can” campaign by Sport England and other partner organisations that launched back in January.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, the campaign focussed around a National TV advert that showed women of all ages, cultures, shapes and sizes giving it their all in sport. Take a look:

When it launched, I remember getting into a debate with someone on Twitter who asked “why does it have to be about how women look?” I suspect it was images like this that prompted her question:

This Girl Can 2   This Girl Can 1

And you know what? I got her point. I can see that she was trying to point out that how you look shouldn’t matter in sport, that it shouldn’t even be mentioned in this campaign – after all, would this be mentioned if the campaign were aimed at men? In a dream world, makeup and appearance wouldn’t be one of the (to be fair, many) focus points of “This Girl Can”. But the problem is, 40% of girls feel self-conscious about their bodies during PE, and 26% say they “hate the way that they look when they exercise/ play sport”. These are horrible statistics, and the fact is that too many of our girls are dropping out of sport once they leave school, and concerns with how they look is a key part of this.

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“This Girl Can” can only really tackle the problem as it stands now. If girls and women are not exercising because of concerns about how they look, then this needs to be addressed in the campaign, and their fears need to be allayed. They need to know that exercise is not synonymous with looking “bad” or “silly”. You can sweat with lipstick on if that’s what floats your boat, or you can go utterly beetroot after a run like me. How you look simply doesn’t matter, so you should do what makes you feel comfortable.

A report by the Commons Health Select Committee showed that two thirds of women do not exercise for fear of being the one “struggling at the back”. I find this to be another terrifying statistic, especially as I know that whether you’re standing at the front or the back of your Zumba or Circuits class, or whether you struggle to clap on the beat or you’re only lifting 1kg dumbbells, no one is going to care. They’re all too busy getting off on that endorphin high and wiping the sweat out of their own eyes. The fact that you’re there means you’re giving it a go, and no one worth knowing is going to judge you for that.

The thing I’ll be interested in come January 2016, is seeing what percentage of women are now taking part in sport. With more and more female sporting role models elbowing their way into male-dominated sports media and campaigns like “This Girl Can” and “Women’s Sport Week” being launched, I hope that more women will make sport as natural a part of their day as cleaning their teeth, and not give a tiny rat’s arse how they look doing it. Then maybe in five years’ time we can have campaigns with no mention of how a woman looks, because we’ll be so used to their sweaty red faces that it won’t even occur to us to mention it.

And just on a final note don’t tell me that these women right here don’t inspire you to give it a go and not once consider how you look doing it. I know they do me, sweat and all.

This Girl Can 4   This Girl Can 5