women's march

This photo was taken at the Bellingham Women’s March 2017 and represents three generations of roaring women!  The month of March brings us Women’s History Month and, as the crocuses and daffodils  begin emerging here in the Pacific Northwest, one sure sign of spring is registration notices for the annual Ski-To-Sea race. What does this have to do with Women’s History? Read on…

Ski-To-Sea, a multi-sport relay held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, is a huge event which was first held in 1973, and attracts action seekers from around the country. The start takes place in the Cascades at the Mt. Baker Ski Area and ends miles and hours later at Marine Park in Bellingham Bay.  A week before the adults, the Junior Ski to Sea is held — a five-leg race consisting of running, Hula Hoop partner race, biking, soccer and an obstacle course. The Elementary School division of the Junior Ski to Sea is open to six member teams comprised of third, fourth and fifth graders.

On Saturday morning, May 19, 2017, I supported my nine-year-old granddaughter and her third and fourth grade teammates in their first Junior Ski to Sea race. The day was lovely, the crowd large and enthusiastic and the racers focused and smiling. All in all a wonderful experience until…

During the awards ceremony, the individual in charge peppered his remarks with insensitive, sexist comments. I grew up in the 1950s, and some of his statements were similar to those I’d heard back then. To the boys he said, “Tell the girls your favorite vegetables so they can cook them for you later.” About one girl he commented, “This girl is so fast she should be on the boys’ team.” But never had I heard anything like the comment he made about the winning girls’ team as he stood next to them on the podium. “These girls are so hot all the boys are going to want to know their names so they can call you.” He was referring to nine, ten and eleven-year-olds.

With that statement I and two other grandmothers, sharpened our elbows and made our way to the podium. Once the ceremony was over we spoke to this man. We told him how inappropriate his remarks were. He smiled and shrugged and said he was sorry. But there was no obvious remorse. He really didn’t get it.  Instead he told us he’d been announcing the results of the Junior Ski-To-Ski for years and that no one had ever complained  before about his comments. We also spoke to the representatives from organizing agency, the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce. These individuals were far more understanding, an apology was soon posted on their website, along with a statement that there would be a different announcer for the 2018 race. Perhaps a female? After all, the participants seemed to be equally split along gender lines.

All the children there that morning were injured by hearing these statements coming from a person they viewed as  an authority, someone “in charge.” So why do these statements continue to happen? I believe the problem is deeply rooted in our history. And that brings me to the importance of Women’s History month.

My granddaughter, who is now ten, can’t understand why our country has never elected a woman for president. She has  enough of a world view  to know that many countries have female leaders. But what she doesn’t understand is the significance of something like Title IX. Why would you need federal legislation to insure equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports? She doesn’t especially like football and prefers soccer and gymnastics, but she knows if she wanted to join an age group football team she could. So what’s the big deal?

That’s why she and her classmates need access to relevant information about the on-going struggle for female equality.  Can she envision a time when: her gender would have prevented her from owing property? Or registering to vote? Or becoming a medical doctor?  Or when a married woman needed to obtain her husband’s signature before getting a credit card?  Does she know that women continue to: Lag behind men in earning power? Are underrepresented in senior management positions? Still are in the minority when looking at the makeup of the Board of Directors of major U.S. companies?

Like many kids her age, my granddaughter watched a lot of the recent 2018 Winter Olympics. She may not know however that a year earlier the gold medal winning U.S. women’s ice hockey team didn’t received many of the same perks that the men’s team enjoyed. When traveling to tournaments the women flew coach, the men were seated in business class. Then men were assigned single rooms in hotels; the women got double rooms. Note: I am not saying these athletes should be entitled to these perks. But… if they are available to the men, give them to the women too. More upsetting, to me  at least, compared to the men’s program the women received fewer resources devoted to marketing for the team, and development programs for younger girls playing hockey lagged far behind those available for young boys. A threatened boycott resulted in a revised contract with USA Hockey which met many of their demands. Simply put, they persisted. Which, by the way, is the the 2018 theme for Women’s History Month according to the National Women’s History Project. Their site, full of extensive resources,  is worth a visit.

Not even my son Steve, born with Down syndrome in 1966, was immune to the insidious messages our misogynistic culture perpetuates. Well into his thirties he insisted that men couldn’t become nurses. He claimed, “Men only be doctors.” But when his youngest brother, Josh, earned his LPN degree in 2006, Steve attended his graduation and changed his mind!

I plan on attending the 2018 Junior Ski-to-Sea which will be held on Saturday May 19. I look forward to a new and improved climate and commentary during the awards ceremony. Meanwhile if you live in the Bellingham area, check out the great window display at our region’s independent bookstore, Village Books. Better yet, take your children or grandchildren to see it. There they will learn some interesting facts about persistence of local women.

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