As a runner, I subscribe to a number of running-related blogs, Facebook sites, and Twitter accounts, and what I’ve learned from these sites in the last year is that running in a simple straight line—say, from a starting line to a finish chute—is so two years ago. These days, races with names like “Warrior Dash” allow participants to jump over fire and scramble under electrical wire and maybe even gouge out an eyeball or kidney, all in the name of fun.
And then yesterday, on my Facebook feed, I saw this: The X-Rated Run, a “5 mile adult-themed obstacle run” in which participants get to run through obstacles like the G-string Crawl and the Honey Slide.
That runners are told any “overt sexual behavior” won’t be tolerated is downright laughable, especially with obstacles like the “Dominatrix Dungeon.” Almost as laughable as assuming this isn’t about objectifying women and their bodies. Oh sure, men are invited to the 5 mile run to enjoy obstacles like the Blue Balls Dash, but let’s get real: women are the real losers in this event, with mud wrestling and pole dancing as part of the after-race entertainment. You don’t really think the X-Rated Run wants doughy chicks in cotton t-shirts mucking up their mud pits, do you?
Perhaps I’m feeling especially jaded about the ways female athletes are treated because this has been a bad week for women in sports. Last weekend, at the national championships for figure skating, an Asian-American named Mirai Nagasu placed third, which should have been good enough for a spot on the Olympic squad. Instead, the U.S. Olympic committee gave that position to Ashley Wagner, who placed fourth, but who has blond hair and presumably “All-American” looks.
This year, on the 20th anniversary of the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle, Slate magazine wondered whether, had Harding had been more attractive, more patrician in looks, like Kerrigan was, her career might have been entirely different. Their conclusion: perhaps, because in women’s sports, appearance often matters far more than does athleticism. They use professional tennis as an example: Serena Williams makes about half of what Maria Sharapova makes, even though Williams has won far more grand slams, and has beaten Sharapova 14 consecutive times. Williams is African-American, muscular, strong; Sharapova blond and lithe.
Last week, too, on NPR, commentator Frank DeFord noted that the women’s professional basketball team, the L.A. Sparks, has folded because of bankruptcy. Few people noticed; no one seemed to care enough to create a plan keeping the team in business. Imagine a similar thing happening to a men’s professional team. It wouldn’t.
Whenever anyone says that we’ve conquered sexism in this country, and that in the United States, men and women are treated equally, I only need to look at the state of the very visible sporting world to know this is not true. One glance at the sports section in a newspaper, or at the differentials in athletes’ salaries, or at stadiums filled with folks willing to pay hundreds (or thousands!) to see men play ball says enough about inequity.
The X-Rated Run touts itself as something “new” and “different,” but it strikes me as more of the same old, same old: women can be athletes when they serve as “sexy entertainment.” Just being athletic? Excelling at one’s sport? Playing hard? Not a chance.