While most of the Olympics passed me by (I can’t get excited about people who are swathed from head to toe in bad outfits), one fact did catch my eye and stuck in my brain.
This, 2014, was the first year that women were allowed to compete in the ski jump.
The reason they were precluded from participating from 1924 through 2010;
“Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view,” Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation (2005).
So, basically they thought our uterus’s were going to fall out.
“All women’s parts, tissues, and fibres were finer and more delicate than men’s, because their grace, beauty, and gentleness had to be preserved and because overly fatiguing activities tended to produce rheumatism, muscle inflammation, nervous exhaustion, and premature ageing, and worst of all, endangered their ‘peculiar function of multiplying the species,’ it was noted by Donald Walker in 1836,’women should not be encouraged to exercise’.
Now I don’t know about you but I’ve never considered the idea that women having babies ‘peculiar’ but hey, Mr Walker clearly was of the ‘ladies are but a delicate flower’ school of thought. And landing a jump from 2 meters in the air? Clearly our uterus would just fly up out of our bodies and impede our ‘peculiar functions’. Also of note, Mr Walker cautioned against ladies horse riding as it ‘deforms the lower extremities’.
I think he was confusing ‘deformity’ with ‘firm thighs’.
Which got me thinking about other sports that women weren’t supposed to do, and were actively prohibited from doing in case their lady parts were affected.
According to strength coach Michael Boyle, who penned the infamous ‘Why women shouldn’t run’ article (2010), ‘the only good runner is a women who looks like a man. Because men were made for running and women weren’t’.
Yes… let that sink it a bit.
So if you have say, breasts or hips, Mr Boyle suggests, you’re more likely to wind up in the doctors office with the result ‘likely to be hurt and saggy instead of the cute and little’.
Never mind everything that’s wrong with that statement,there’s actually a long and storied history of women being excluded from running races alongside men. And its not through lack of desire, or a fear of becoming ‘hurt and saggy’.
In the first Olympics (1000 BC) women are excluded, yet the urge to compete was such that women established their own ‘Games of Hera’, to honor the Greek goddess who ruled over women and the earth and yes, included a short foot race. Oh, and one lady decided to run the marathon (illegally) anyway and was forced to run the final lap outside the stadium as she was banned from entering. She finished in 4.5 hours.. in case you were wondering (not as fast as Oprah, but hey, the chick didn’t have shoes or a sports bra). No record was made as to whether her uterus fell out during this run, but I’m going to take a leap and say it probably didn’t.
The Olympic committee finally allowed women to run – at all- in 1928 (after the British team boycotted the 1924 event), but after witnessing ‘the exhausted state’ seen in some of the females finishing the 800m event, officials deemed distance running too stressful for women, and women were restricted to Olympic races shorter than 200 meters (half way around a regular track) until 1960 (where 800m was added back to the program). (Apparently uteri only fell out after a lap)
But it still took until 1984 before women were allowed to run the Olympic marathon. At which point, the Olympic committee finally had a women on its board who no doubt argued that no uteri would litter the track and we’d keep our ‘exhaustion’ to ourselves.
In 1921, England’s Football Association banned women from playing soccer on Football League grounds because the game was deemed “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” This ban came hot on the heels of the December 26th match between two ladies teams at Goodison Park in Liverpool in front of a crowd of 53,000 people. 10,000 people had to be locked out of the park due to overcrowding.
Clearly people were lining up to see those uterus’s flying.
Unbelievably this ban stood for 50 years and it was only in 1995 that a national women’s league was established, with a professional league following in 2001…no doubt aided by this photo (taken in 2000). Suddenly men were a whole lot less concerned about our uterus’s if sports bras were on view.
NOTE: Brandi now has kids, so we can assume her uterus remained in place and functional despite all that running around.
With the introduction of the bicycle in 1817, you’d assume we’d have had more time to make some major strides in this area, but nope.. concern about our lady parts and our modesty prevailed right from the get go.
Since the corsets and skirts of the day made cycling safely near impossible, the adoption of the ‘bloomer’ became the centerpiece of the women’s suffrage movement with the launch of the ‘Rational Dress’ movement in 1851.
“The Rational Dress society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movement of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly fitted corsets, of high-heeled or narrow toed boots and shoes; of heavily weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible.”
Women, previously limited in their movements, found a new freedom and sense of self control when riding a bike, most famously recorded in 1895 by Francis E. Willard in ‘How I learned to ride the bicycle’. (its a fascinating read if you have 20 minutes). Francis concluded that ‘all failure was from wobbling will, rather than a wobbling wheel’. She also assured fellow lady riders to the ‘healthfulness of the wheel’ noting ‘it will be delight to girls to learn that the fact of their sex, is itself, not a bar to riding a wheel’ and that ‘she is in no more danger from riding a wheel than a man’. Francis.. I salute you.
Unfortunately society’s response was less liberal and the bicycle it was argued, would ‘disrupt the delicate sphere of the family unit by allowing the woman to travel beyond her previous limits without the surveillance of a knowing husband nearby’. Younger women were ‘vulnerable to a bicycle induced lapse in morals, for it allowed her to stray farther a field with members of the opposite sex during courtship’.
Maybe this is why women weren’t allowed to ride in the Tour De France until this year (2014). In fact, the UCI, World cycling’s governing body restricts women’s stage races to eight days in length, with each stage no more than 130 kilometers.
Clearly the urge to keep women within 80 miles of their menfolk still holds some sway today. And while studies are still urging women to protect their lady parts… these days it more about ensuring you don’t damage your ability to orgasm rather than keeping that damn uterus in place.
So if the thought ever strikes you that women don’t need to keep banging on about equality and that the days of sexism are long gone…spare a thought for those lady riders who’ll get to ride a whole single stage of the TdF this July. Distance has yet to be announced.