This weekend I watched the “Dirty Dozen” relay running team come over the finish line in Seward on Saturday afternoon. Each of the team members had run 3 legs of the 180 mile course starting Friday afternoon and running through the night. Although I was there to support my son-in-law, Brandon, who was on the team, nine of the twelve were women, most of them with children and active professional lives. As they milled around the fire at our campsite after the race, talking about their times and lack of sleep and what they would do differently next year, I was impressed with their confidence and resolve. They were all members of Crossfit, a gym program that focuses on strength training, and many of the women didn’t have the usual runner physiques. My daughter, Karrie, reported that some of them didn’t run much at all. She said in an almost casual aside to me, “Strong is the new skinny.”
I felt some relief wash over me with that simple statement. Sometimes it seemed that this next generation had forgotten about the fact that women got the vote only in 1920, that I still had to have a man “sponsor” me when I wanted to get a credit card or open a bank account in 1977. I worried they were taking for granted all the ways women of my generation worked to change the narrative of what it means to walk or work as a woman other than as a nurse, teacher or secretary—my supposed options when I went to college, all to prepare me as well for motherhood. I sometimes thought they had forgotten why women burned bras and sang “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.” And sexual harassment in the work place was tolerated to keep the job while “boys will be boys.”
But I should have never forgotten the deep sisterhood and the new feminine spirit arising. They are doing it their way, rising up in all professions, taking hammers to the glass ceiling, no longer silent about harassment and abuse. “Me too” but no more.
There is a long way to go before the balance of the masculine and feminine arrives. but I know the next generation hasn’t forgotten, that it is including women from all over the world and they will create their own initiatives so their daughters know better equality and respect. While many of my generation tried to gain power by becoming more like men, wearing our version of suits to work, this generation are becoming more like real women. The girls on the team wore brightly colored sequined short skirts to run their race! And they aren’t burning their bras but letting those bra straps show, something my mother taught me was bordering on wonton.
They have taken the baton from us (although we keep running alongside) and continuing this relay to uncover, explore and celebrate being female. And the males on the team like my son-in-law, are running with them too, also working to be men in a new way in a world that expects them to be strong but not vulnerable. That’s a tough race for them too. but let it be noted that the men on that team were wearing sequined head bands too! It is one where we need to support them as they support us, not ourselves falling back to the old stereotypes of what we thing men should be. Brandon said he was teased by his women teammates about ‘not losing to a girl’ in jest, of course, yet it highlights an old way of thinking by women too and we need to listen for that.
And then there is the new race of what it means to be transexual and bisexual that is has just crossed the starting line and getting its running legs. But from yesterday, it is my daughter’s quote that sings to me.
“Strong is the new skinny.” I’m going to start lifting more weights.