Once again, sexism reared its head in ultra running as the issue of women not being offered equal prize money compared to men surfaced at the Glen Coe Skyline race in Scotland. It was called out for its prize structure, which awarded prize money to the top ten males, but only the top five females. The race has since been changed to an equal standing, but it once again shows that sexism is alive and kicking in ultra running.
The main proposition put forward by those supporting the line Glen Coe took, is that given men make up the majority of an ultra field (and thus fund more of it), then it’s only right they should receive more in prize money than women. After all, the mens field is funding most of the women’s, right? Wrong, the races are separate.
To present an economic issue, continues to provide an excuse for the thousands of years of sexism that exists in society – and it doesn’t just come from men. It’s similar to the discrimination in the decision made by the organisers of UTMB, who refused to let a now pregnant woman defer her entry for a year, even though if you’re injured, you can defer.
One of the main arguments put forward by those defending the decision is that people (or women in this instance) have a choice. She could choose not to get pregnant. Likewise in the case of Glen Coe, women can simply choose to race (or not), and thus ensure they provide their equal proportion of the race prize funds. This again ignores the plethora of casual sexism that exists in our society, all of which builds up to produce the situation we have today.
The issue of ‘choice’ reminds me of the baby boomer / millennial debate around housing affordability that’s a pretty high-profile issue in Australia right now. This spawned one of the most classically ignorant quotes from an MP I’ve ever heard. Apparently the solution is to simply ‘get a better job that pays more money’, if you want to afford a house. Let’s completely ignore the fact that some people are disadvantaged or lack opportunity… just go and get a better job!
If we go by the logic of this MP, and you’re a woman reading this, you should know how easy it is now to enter an ultra! You just have to do it!
Which brings us to the fundamental issue. A drastic misunderstanding of the notions of equality and equity. Many arguments put forward by those in favour of men having more prize money than women assume that in ultra running, we have a level playing field and thus we have equality. After all, no one is stopping women from entering an ultra…
Do you know that girls doing the exact same physical activity as a boy at the same age, are four times more likely to be told to ‘be careful’ than boys? It’s a million little things like that as children growing up, compound into huge barriers for women to not only participate in ultras, but to participate in all types of things cross all walks of life. The workforce is a classic example.
And then as women reach adulthood and may actually start to train for ultras, society once again sends all of the wrong messages to women about what they should or shouldn’t do. Let’s look at the life of a fictitious ultra runner called Jane. She’s 42, a mum of three kids, all slightly older now and less reliant on mum, because well, that’s what women do don’t they? Stay at home and look after the children.
Jane used to be very active, but life took a back seat when she CHOSE to have children. Of course that automatically means she shouldn’t be doing anything very active as that takes up vast amounts of time away from her family. But after her husband agreed to forgo one of his nightly visits to the pub, Jane heads out for long run at night – the only chance she gets. However her friends can’t quite understand why she’d want to do that and tell her to be CAREFUL, and that she should carry a rape alarm with her in case a man decides to have an urge to attack her. Of course, we can’t educate the man that he’s being an arsehole here, it’s the potential victim that needs to take all of the precautions.
After a while though, life just gets too busy and training becomes harder and harder. The constant reminders from her friends about potentially being raped play on her mind, plus her husband is a little miffed at having to forgo a night at the pub. So ultimately Jane chooses NOT to enter that ultra. But according to logic in society, she had the option to do so, she JUST chose not to.
Now if you haven’t noticed, the last three paragraphs have been written with a healthy dose of sarcasm. While it might not highlight the example of an experience you’ve had if you’re reading this, it will for hundreds of others. I wonder why men dominate ultra running fields?
Before we can have equality in ultra running, we need to have equity. And that starts by leveling the play field and in some cases tipping the scales more in favour of women to ensure greater participation. If you’re not following this, I’ll give you a simple example. Equality in school funding from the Government would mean that every school and pupil in that school, and across the whole country would receive the same amount of money. Regardless of location and socio-economic standing.
Now anyone with have an ounce of intelligence knows that this is a stupid way to fund schools as equity among schools and pupils doesn’t exist. We have what’s called an ‘achievement gap’. Those schools in poorer areas and where there is less opportunity clearly need more funding directed to them. Whereas those in richer areas, where there is clearly more opportunity don’t need as much – this helps to close the achievement gap, and thus helps towards providing equality.
Equality is the outcome we want – equity is how we get there.
We have some way to go until there is equality in ultra running and until then, we need to give the right messages, along with action to enable that to happen. We need to help remove those barriers and age-old stereotypes that are ingrained into our brains, to put women on an equal playing field, not just in ultra running, but in life in general. Like equal pay, like shared responsibilities in the house and with children – the list goes on.
I myself have things to learn. Just a few weeks ago I was called out for not naming the winning women’s team at the Kokoda challenge. It wasn’t because I forgot. I’d spent quite a bit of time looking for the result, but couldn’t find it anywhere and in the end, decided to name the overall winning team, which was a male outfit. My mistake was not ignoring the women’s result, but to go ahead with just naming the winning men’s team and thus be casually sexist. I’ve now made a rule for myself that if I can’t find the women’s result for a race, the race won’t get a mention.
We need to send the right messages to women across all walks of life and all facets of ultra running. If we want to push towards equality, then equal prize funds is a bloody good start. For those doing the ‘logical’ mathematical sums who want to point out that women get a higher percentage of the prize fund because less women enter ultras, therefore it’s easier for women to win money, well you’ve missed the point entirely.
This is not an economic argument. It is not about the money. It is about an equal standing. If we go back to the race in question, the Glen Coe Skyline, the difference in prize money from places 6-10 between male and female was a mere 500 Euros. Absolutely sweet FA – which is what makes the issue even more bizarre.
This is not about making it easier for women to win money in a soft field – how classically ignorant to assume that people just want to win money. All people are asking for is recognition. An equal standing to show that the women in places 6-10 matter as much as the men who place 6-10.
That sends out a message to women that they MATTER just as much as the men.
It helps us get towards equality, not just in our tiny little world of ultra running, but in society as a whole.