Friday, April 29, 2011

Running Lessons: Fragile flowers, weak women and other myths

On one of my runs this week, I came upon this patch of beautiful spring blossoms which had somehow survived battering, torrential rains the night before. They reminded me that fragile-looking flowers are often much tougher than they look. Purple irises are another good example. Even before the snow is completely gone, they push skyward in search of spring warmth and sunshine, much stronger and more resilient than their soft shapes suggest.

Given that flowers aren't really all that fragile and women aren't either, it's ironic that women are so often referred to as "fragile flowers" - the implication being that they need to be cared for by the men in their lives. Why do cultures around the world continue to propagate the myth that women are inherently weaker than men - physically, emotionally and psychologically - when so clearly we're not?  The sexes may manifest their strengths in different ways but women give birth, for goodness sake. Need I say more?

I suppose it's because I'm so irritated by the myth that women's achievements in ultramarathons thrill me.  A number of interesting studies have suggested women may in fact be capable of outperforming men in such endurance events, and women like Pam Reed and Ann Trason (two accomplished ultramarathoners) are testaments to that possibility. Though fewer women than men compete in ultramarathons, they're more likely to finish and routinely place in the top 20. Not bad for a bunch of fragile flowers.

Tonight, I'm imagining a world in which girls grow up understanding just how strong they are - that they're not fragile flowers but potential ultramarathoners. I think it might look very different from the world we live in now.

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