Running for Freedom: Women's Fight for True Equality
By Bella Mendoza
On March 19th, I will be running my first marathon, something I’ve been wanting to do my whole life. Running has always been a huge aspect of my life. In elementary school, it was an outlet my parents used to tire me out. In high school, it became my social life. In college, it allowed me to survive the pandemic lock down- my daily runs became my excuse to venture out of my house. Now, in post grad, it has become my favorite hobby. My morning runs and long run post breakfasts are the highlight of my week. However, despite the amount of joy this sport gives me, I have to remind myself that only within the last 50 years have women been permitted to feel the joy and accomplishment of running a marathon.
Prior to 1972, women were forbidden to sign up for a marathon. Doctors, politicians, and scientists claimed “that long distance running could cause infertility”. The modern perception was that women were not physically and psychologically capable of running a marathon. The strain on their bodies would be too much, leading them to break down physically and emotionally. These ideas followed women around, discouraging long distance running. Despite this, a handful of women led protests and proved society wrong, showing that women are not only capable of running a marathon, but, at times, some even exceed at it.
In 1967, Katherine Switzer registered for the Boston Marathon under the name “KV Switzer” and became the first woman to officially run it. Despite being ridiculed by the crowd and physically attacked by a race director, she paved a way for women worldwide. Switzer proved to the world that their misconceptions about women were rooted in hate, instead of science. After this, slowly, the world started to change. In 1972, women were officially allowed to compete in the Boston Marathon, and finally, by 1984 the women's marathon became an official event in the Olympics, recognizing the event worldwide.
Photo of Katherine Switzer being assaulted by race officials. (Getty Images)
Time and time again, women are forced to overcome hardships and fight for inherit freedoms. I like to argue that running is the ultimate form of freedom in a physical sense. The freedom to explore your own route, the freedom to go anywhere your legs can take you, the freedom to stop and reflect in nature, and most importantly, the freedom of autonomy. Although society has come a long way, we are still far from true equality and true autonomy for all women. Women are still burdened with proving themselves. Time and time again, they are faced with changing the narrative that they are weaker than men and overcome struggles to obtain the true privileges men are inherently born with. Politicians continue to dictate and make assumptions about women, putting their health and happiness in jeopardy.
Through my hundreds of hours of training, I know that women are capable of doing anything. So, on March 19th, when I cross that finish line I will be paying homage to the women before me who fought a relentless fight to be able to obtain the privilege of racing.