Are Women the Weaker Sex?

In “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” Mika mentions that for a long period of time, women had little participation in sports due to societies, “beliefs about their weakness and physical vulnerability,” which still exist, “to some extent today.”  Being a female student athlete myself and having trained in the past with a mixed gender team, I know that this is true.  My male teammates can easily outperform me in any situation, running faster, lifting more, etc.  While women are no longer considered to only be of importance to cook, clean, and have babies, they still are not regarded entirely as being as capable as men.  Women remain stereotyped as the “weaker sex” in society today but are slowly making steps to becoming equivalent to men in the field of athletics with changes like Title IX and the increase of women in athletics.

But I was recently reading the book “Born To Run,” by Chris McDougall the other day.  He starts the book looking on how to solve his nagging injury but then delves into research of how people, specifically the Tarahumara Indians that remain separate from society in the mountains in Mexico, are able to run extremely long distances.  What I found most interesting from his book was his talk about the runner Ann Trason.  In one of the most exciting parts of the book, the Tarahumara Indians are taken from their secluded tribes in Mexico to race at the premier ultra running event, the Leadville 100, “The race where legends are created and limits are tested. One hundred miles of extreme Colorado Rockies terrain — from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet.”  AKA, probably the most difficult race ever since you are running for at minimum 16 hours up and downhill with half of it overnight. 

In the race, Ann was the fiercest competition against the incredibly fast and persevering Tarahumara.  The Tarahumara ended up winning the race after going back and forth with Ann over hours of racing but she put up a challenge for them.

McDougall highlighted other races that Ann had won or held the course record for, which surprised me because I would not expect a woman to be the fastest at these races.  He interviewed her telling about one of her first races, where the men all passed her on the downhills, but she easily breezed past them on the uphill and ended up being one of the top finishers.  On a profile of her online there is a story that, “At the Way Too cool 50K one year, Ann came upon fast ultrarunner Dave Scott not too far from the finish and asked him if he wanted to tie. Dave realized this was Ann’s polite way of saying, ‘Do you want to run in hard together or do you want me to beat you?’ The pair finished together.”  Clearly, she is not only one of the best female ultra runners but one of the best ultra runners.

And it is not just Ann that is beating men.  Race organizer Tracy Sudlun said, ““The differences as you probe farther into the ultradistances seem to indicate men and women are competing more on an even plane.”  New studies back up this claim: “Recently, thanks in part to increasing numbers of women ultra-athletes and the times they’re turning in, have we begun to suspect women may be more efficient at using that body fat early in a race and saving the glycogen for the long haul.”

So what if we have been looking at sports all wrong?  We limit ourselves to looking at only the small frame of sports that exist today.  Games and races are usually more popular if they are decently short, which makes them easier to train for and compete in.  In Born to Run, McDougall explains that earlier civilizations ran for survival and would actually run down their prey until they passed out, which usually required twenty plus miles to do.  Running is difficult, but I would guarantee most people would pick a four mile run over a 100 mile run.  Sure, a lot of guys row faster than me (I can beat a lot of them though!), but what if we made a sport more difficult by increasing its distance.  Perhaps if we rowed for 24 hours or played basketball for extreme lengths of time then girls would be succeeding more than men then and would no longer be the “weaker sex.”

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4 comments

  1. abklee · November 11, 2014

    I really like this blog! I was not familiar with the sport of ultra-running before reading this but it is very interesting. It is nice to see a sport where women are excelling and beating men in a completely equal playing field. I also admire Ann for offering the man the opportunity to finish in a tie, instead of beating him. She clearly could have beaten him and won all the fame and recognition, especially being a woman beating a man. She could have done this and no one would have criticized her. Instead, she won in a pair and shared the recognition with another person. This speaks volumes to her character and shows that she’s not only an outstanding athlete but an outstanding human as well

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  2. lauraucros · November 11, 2014

    I am a female athlete as well and unfortunately I have also been outperformed by men in practices I had years ago. At least in tennis (which is the sport I play), it is very hard for a woman to beat a man because the tennis sport men and women play are completely different; and men have “physical advantage” to put it in some way. Men serve harder, are faster, come to the net more often and have longer rallies. Women’s tennis has less spin and more winners and unforced errors.
    The thing I like about your blog post is that you give the readers the opportunity to broaden their perspective on women’s sports. Maybe the general idea that men are better than women at sports only applies to some popular sports; but as you proved in the post this is not always the case. As abklee, this was my first time hearing about ultra-running as well and I got very engaged while reading it because it gives women an optimistic view on their standing when compared to men in sports.

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  3. rplamp · November 12, 2014

    I really appreciate the alternative view that your blog gave to the gender discussion. In my high school our best runner was a girl and she became a state champion. She was also our schools best swimmer and could out race any guy on our swim team. I feel that some people focus too much on the biological advantages that males have and don’t always focus on the advanced skills that females could have that would give them the advantage over their male counterparts. The blog brings up interesting points with the fact that females can outperform males in many aspects even if they are still perceived as the weaker sex. For me I feel that this mind set is changing to show that the common myth about males just being better at physical sports is changing as more females are advancing farther in their sports and winning large titles.

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  4. caitstew12 · November 13, 2014

    Ignoring the gender capability controversy that you address since its already been discussed in earlier comments, I loved this blog even without that. The notion that sports are limited in our understanding right now I knew on some subconscious level but had never truly appreciated. We are so limited to our athleticism by our culture and pre-set normalities of modern day society. Getting up and chasing down any wild beast to me sounds impossible. But, perhaps one day our future generations will have sport matches more like ultra-sports where the sports are based more on survival and extremes than specific capabilities such as throwing a spiral.

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