So, Saturday should have been fun. After years of failing to get a ballot place, or failing in our quest for a gold bond place, myself and Charlotte, an exceptional teacher who runs role model projects for teenage girls, have finally both got a place in the 2012 London Marathon. Remembering our unfit schoolgirl selves as we used to run to the newsagents in our stilettos and (non regulation) pencil skirts to buy 10 JPS, rather than run even half a mile of the school playing field, it seems slightly hilarious that it is us two out of all of our school friends, who have become obsessed with marathon running. ‘Look at us, we’ve come so far’ we thought, as we met at the Institute of Education on Saturday for the Virgin London Marathon ‘Meet the Experts’ day of seminars.
Come so far? Within 20 minutes I felt like an enraged, powerless schoolgirl, as I became increasingly uncomfortable with the utterly offensive sexist nonsense that was being spouted on stage, all in the name of ‘light humour’ to amuse us marathon charity runners.
I’m not usually affected by this sort of thing. I’m not overly sensitive. Or perhaps I just live in an equality bubble where I really don’t encounter casual everyday sexism. But it was utterly horrendous.
Under the guise of a Harry Potter theme, this was more Hogwash than Hogwarts, as first we were subjected to a section that should have made us all extremely proud – a slideshow on the elite runners (so far so good) was followed by one on the celebrity runners (which is where it all went horribly wrong).
What these enlightened folk at Virgin London Marathon thought would be ‘inspirational’ at this point was to show only a tiny handful of celebrities, one of which was Katie Price, who was shown three times in various states of undress. This was meant to be a big, inclusive joke. We were all meant to find this as pfnarringly funny as the dusty old geezer giving us the presentation. We were meant to be sniggering at pictures of a woman getting undressed and posing provocatively, all in the name of an inspirational talk about marathon running and charity fund raising.
I’m so unused to this kind of thing that I can’t even work out what was meant to be funny. Was it the fact that Katie Price was seen by him as a figure of fun? The fact that naked women are just something to snigger at? I sure as hell know that he wasn’t trying to make a point about how hard she trained or how much money she has raised for charity, because there weren’t any images of her as a successful marathon runner. Or of many other successful female celebrity marathon runners…
We left the marathon day soon afterwards. But I feel bad that we didn’t say more, stand up and make our voice heard. We’re educated, strong women who work within the field of empowering other women. And yet at that moment, we both, it seemed, felt too powerless to stand up against discrimination.
In a week when all talk is of Miss Representation, it seems singularly inappropriate that what should have been a hugely positive, empowering day was ruined by such blatantly reductive attitudes towards women.
So to redress the balance, I’m not only taking the MissRepresentation.org pledge, I’m also pledging that next time I hear anything that makes me and the women I’m with feel worthless, I’ll say something. What surprised me was how hard I found it at the weekend.