It takes a fair bit to get me riled up, but the topic of today’s post frankly makes me mad.
My 7th grade son started cross country this fall (that doesn’t make me mad; that is amazing). I love watching him embrace running, competition and the natural camaraderie that flows from it. I can’t wait to watch this season unfold and hopefully many others to follow. But I also noticed something that really, really, really irks me.
Boys & girls race different distances.
While all 6th and 7th graders race 1.5 mile races, by 8th grade, boys race 2 miles and girls race 1.5 miles. In high school, boys race the 5k, but girls race only 2.5 miles.
What the what?
I tried to rack my brain as to WHY this may be. I am a rational person, so I always try to look to both sides to understand the situation. But I couldn’t find one justification for the disparity.
I know several of the female runners in my community. Many I know through coaching my Girls on the Run Program. In fact, I have been incredibly excited because 5 girls from my team last season were able to enter cross country in 6th grade this fall – a full year earlier than normal in my community. I felt like Santa Clause when I told them they could get in. They love to run and to push themselves. They know they can do it. Many have run for years and have several very successful 5k races under their belts. They have run 5ks since they were 8-10 years old. Other girls I know through their families in the community. They are all strong, driven, awesome girls.
And all of them can easily cover the same distances as the boys.
Sure, everyone knows boys are generally faster than girls, but it seems inherently sexist and unfair to me that girls have to run shorter races. Seriously. If 8 year olds can run a 5k; how can you tell me a 16 year-old cannot?! I did a little research and learned that there are 10 states that still have different race distances for boys and girls (cheers to the 40 that do not!). Unfortunately, my home state of Wisconsin is one of them. According to ESPN, the other states are: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma.
Maybe 40 years ago people could justify this disparity with the arguments that girls are just weaker and of course we wouldn’t want local schools to be responsible for young girls’ uteruses falling out, now would we?
But this is 2013 and this is simply outrageous to me.
Not only is it sexist, but it hurts our female competitors. 2012 Wisconsin State Champ and 2011-2012 high school Gatorade runner of the year Molly Seidel noticed the disadvantage and wrote a letter to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association and, in a sassy yet eloquent way, urged them to change their ways. It is hard for Wisconsin cross country runners to race 2.5 miles all season, then switch to 5k for the key races.
Unfortunately, the WIAA did not listen.
Instead, they argued that girls run shorter distances because schools don’t want to scare off potential participants with longer distances.
This is B.S.
Here is a copy of Molly’s letter to the WIAA (which was reprinted by ESPN in 2012):
There comes a time when every state’s sports association needs to let go of the past and move forward. Please don’t take this the wrong way, WIAA, but the 1970s ended more than 30 years ago. It was a great decade — with the BeeGees, disco and lava lamps — but it’s time to toss those bell-bottom jeans … along with certain notions left over from the flower-power days. The idea that female cross country runners should only run a four-kilometer race instead of five kilometers is one of those things.
All but 10 states have increased their girls’ races to five kilometers, the same distance the boys run. Yet a handful of states cling to a patronizing tradition that dates back to the days when many people thought that a girl simply couldn’t run as far as a boy could.
My entire life I’ve been told that a girl can do anything a guy can do, and the majority of the country’s high school cross country programs agree. We female athletes run hundreds of miles and work hard every day to train our bodies for the cross country season, dedicating just as much effort to our sport as boys do. So why aren’t we allowed to race the same distances?
What’s more, by making girls compete at a shorter distance than their peers across the country, Wisconsin is putting us at a significant disadvantage on the national level. We race more than a half-mile less than girls in other states do, and this disparity is visible at regional and national meets. For 17 years prior to the 2010 cross country season, no Wisconsin girl had qualified for the Foot Locker national championships. Some girls feel that since they don’t run the 5K all season, they shouldn’t even try to qualify in the Foot Locker regional race held in our own state. Wisconsin boasts an impressive amount of cross country talent, but no one will ever see it if our female athletes are too afraid to go to bigger races.
Like the shag carpeting glued to the floor of our home’s guest bedroom, I realize some things won’t be shed easily. Some girls simply don’t want to switch to the longer racing distance. Some even believe that they’re not fast or strong enough to handle the 5K. This is not only untrue; it’s ridiculous. Cross country is about pushing limits, and our state should be encouraging its female runners to push their own limits, not holding them back with outdated rules and regulations.
Wisconsin has become the denim-suit-clad math teacher of cross country programs; everyone knows he is hopelessly outdated — except for him. Yet no one is brave enough to tell him that he needs a makeover. Well, WIAA, I’m telling you that it’s time for an update and imploring you to take action; the girls of our state deserve the opportunity to run the 5K.
I’m a senior, so I won’t get to run a high school 5K in my home state — but I hope that some day our female runners will have the chance. So please sell that VW Beetle, shave the sideburns and let your girls compete in the 5K. It’s 2012, and our time has come.
University Lake School (Hartland, Wis.)
First, Molly is my hero.
Second, hello WIAA (and others)? Don’t your realize that your justification is also unfair? Aren’t you worried about scaring off the boys too, WIAA? Last I looked at my son’s team, there were 10 boys and 40 girls (go girls). If you are worried about scaring people, move them all down to the lower distance (no, I don’t really advocate for this). But make it equal.
As Molly Seidel pointed out, running shorter distances disadvantages girls when they enter national championships and collegiate championships where their peers are used to running .6 miles longer. Why would we do this to our up and coming talented runners?
Are you as outraged as I am about this? What can we do to make this change?