An Analysis of Myths Surrounding Women’s Running




Buell, Jane

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This thesis explores inequality for women in the sport of running. The inequality originated in myths and faulty medical beliefs. Research, cultural change, and sporting events have eroded this inequality as women have made headway in the sport, however, some disparity remains.
The historical myths held that women were physically and mentally inferior to men and should, consequently, avoid the intense exercise or competition that constituted the male sphere. Women’s inequality in running was due, in part, to the frailty myth. This myth was rooted in Victorian ideology, exacerbated by cultural norms, and exploited in medical beliefs. Women were barred from running for their protection and never received the opportunity to prove their physical capability. First, this thesis contextualizes milestones in women’s running in accord with cultural and medical beliefs. It illustrates how the frailty myth had to be physically overcome by rebellious female runners in order for changes in culture and policy to occur. Specifically, it details the road to the first women’s Olympic marathon in 1984, which provided international recognition for female physicality. Second, this research shows that the frailty myth has been reintroduced to sports with the institution of sex testing. Based on the historical disproving of the frailty myth, it can be conjectured that the same must be done with regard to sex testing to ensure equal opportunity for female runners. These findings illustrate that protections placed on women’s running often result in institutionalized inequality. Therefore, these findings suggest that removing restrictions on women’s sport will improve equality in the field of running and allow for greater achievement.


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