Anthropology teaches us that, in the animal kingdom, females of a species often exist among their own sex, separate from their male counterparts. Together, they gather food, prepare and maintain shelters and territories, and raise the group’s young. While that may seem either awful, or amazing, depending on whether your husband has recently left dirty underwear on the floor, it is, at the very least, interesting. These females have a common goal, and each member is necessary to the group. No member is shamed, belittled, or questioned regarding their abilities within the group. Members of the female-only unit do not have to justify their parenting decisions. No female gets the eye-roll treatment because she is serving crickets for dinner… again! A female animal does not hover over another female animal, asking why she is bathing her son with the grain of fur growth, instead of against the grain, which is scientifically proven to better alleviate flea-infestation and increase oxytocin-release, thus nurturing the parental bond. They don’t interview one another before playdates, or ask if any member of the family is currently affiliated with certain political parties. (OMG, she thinks the antelope deserve a 5 second head start?! What a hippie!). No, these females just support one another, without question, because it is what is best for the group. Beyond that, they defend one another to the death from intruding juvenile males, or enemy species.
This is quite the opposite of what we see amongst women of the human species. Often, we are in battle with one another from the age of 13 until death. At 13, we are in a battle for best friends and boys, and the best clothes. At 17 we are in a battle for GPAs and starting positions in athletics. Our college years find us swearing our allegiance to one another, while secretly battling for the same things as our 13 year old selves. Post-graduation, we find ourselves in a new battle over careers, real-estate, and wedding pinterest boards. With each life step, we think we are about to win, when new battles arise – conception, birth plans, epidural or not, breast is best, and organic and ergonomic everything. We judge and are judged. We are exhausted, and have no support because we have effectively alienated each other. As our final battle, we create an online life that is filled with barefoot beach pics, and Martha Stewart birthday cakes. Our Christmas cards involve a stylist, photographer, and models to replace our children who are going through an awkward phase.
Then, we put on a pink hat and pretend to be feminists. It’s exhausting to watch, and it’s exhausting to be a part of. And, it has to stop. Luckily for us, there is a place where women work together toward a common goal – the trails.
On the trails, you’ll see tall, sinewy women, with sun-baked skin. You’ll see freckled, fluffy women, who are wearing three sports bras just to survive. You’ll see moms and CEOs and hippies and women secretly carrying pistols because it’s their right and college kids and retirees. Trail running women may be organic or gluten free or vegan or live entirely on scraps left by their toddlers. They may have breastfed 5 kids for 18 months each, bottle fed their only child, or chosen to be a dog mom. You’ll see a million differences, and a million smiles. Most importantly, you’ll see one hell of a support system that is in place to barricade each other from a volatile world. In a sport that could be so competitive and cut-throat, women are coming together to build each other up.
This isn’t just true for the relaxing long runs on Saturdays with our best friends. Women all over the world are meeting for the first time at trail races. We are entering the race as strangers, and leaving as sisters. In a trail race, when you pass a woman at mile 18, looking rough, it would seem to be the natural instinct of the human female to either blow right by the slower female, or even take advantage of her weaker state for your own gain. That’s not what happens at a trail race though. What happens is that we see that suffering in one of our own, and we stop and support. We sacrifice our race to save a fellow female in need. We probably all have a race and a face in mind. Sometimes, the face that we saved ends up saving us a few miles later.
I met MyPhuong at Bandera in January of 2017. We had played leap-frog for miles. When I finally caught up to her at mile 18, she said, “Should I quit?” to which I yelled “NO” before she could finish. Turns out, she knew her care tire would be flat when she got done, and she was worried about finishing after dark and being stranded in the 15 degree weather. Still, I stood by my answer. I told her I had a husband at the finish line who would put her spare on, and she couldn’t quit (I needed her). We finished that 50K together, and my husband and another friend changed her tire. Between mile 18 and mile 31+, we shared stories of our families, and our careers, of beliefs both religious and political, of our running histories and futures. It wasn’t until a month later that I realized how much my time with this stranger meant to me. I saw her at Rocky Raccoon 50 in February. We gave a quick greeting and hug, and as we took off in opposite directions on the trail, a tear came to my eye. She hasn’t been the only woman on the trail I’ve befriended and worked with, but seeing her a second time reminded me of the bond of trail running among women. It proved to me that feminism exists on the trail in a way I wish it existed in the real world. And it made me want to be a better woman every day, and not just when I’m wearing running shoes.
What I love about my running women is that we are all different. We come from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs, and we support each other no matter what. Some of us are already moms, some hope to be moms, some choose to skip motherhood. I have running friends who are left-leaning, right-leaning, and non-political. We’d probably disagree on gun laws and federal spending. But the trail has brought us together, and given us a place to discuss our dreams. It has given us a base upon which to respect one another, so that we can respect each other in all aspects of life. Afterall, feminism means having a choice, and being in control of your own life. If we aren’t supporting each other, then we are turning feminism into a farce. Feminism has to start with us.