KATHRINE SWITZER

Interview March 9, 2018 Boston MA

Interview & Photography: Renata Brockmann

How has the feminist movement changed from when you first ran the marathon to now?

It was an amazing era but it was also a time of a lot of contentiousness, of women seeming to be so angry about what had happened to them. I had a hard time with it at first because to me, I didn’t understand why women wanted things that men had that didn’t matter. [When] I was a student at Syracuse University, there were a group of women who insisted in going into a place called McSorley's Bar in New York which was a really icky men’s bar. Why anybody would want to go and sit in that bar was beyond me when you could go sit in a nice lounge in a hotel and talk to your girlfriends. But they were protesting the fact that it was for men only.  I always thought, let guys have their own place that’s fine who cares. The bigger issues, and I felt very strongly about this, was birth control, child care, equal pay for equal work and equal access to education.

 

I lived in a very naive world where I guess, because  I ran and I played sports, I felt that I could achieve anything. At Syracuse I didn’t really feel deprived of anything as a student. I had total access to the journalism school. The one area that I didn't have access to was the fact that there were no women's sports.  I figured it was women’s fault, I didn’t realize it was the system that denied us. I went and trained with the mens team where I was really welcome. I wasn’t allowed to be official on the team. I understood that because I thought: well i'm not as good as they are. If I could ran as fast maybe I could be. But it was against NCAA rules. Still the negativity opened up other possibilities for me which is part of my story. It really wasn't until I ran the Boston Marathon did I sense that discrimination.

 

First you have  to understand that when I was at Syracuse running with the men's team, the men were really welcoming. That wouldn't have happened if I wanted to play on the football team or the lacrosse or basketball team. I motivated them, they motivated me. For that reason men have always be wonderful to women in running.

 

To me, especially in this age  of sexual contentiousness of #MeToo, running really stands as a beacon, it stands as a beacon of gender equality, of humanity... of peace. When we are running a marathon together i'm running with a man over here and a woman over here. I don’t know either of their orientations and I don't care. The man over here is going to be from another country and doesn’t speak english and the woman over here is from a different country and she doesn't speak english either. We all speak a different language but we all have a common language in running. I would trust these people with my life. There are 50,000 people in the NYC marathon and I could pick up any other two people and I would feel that way about them and they would feel that way about me. At the end of the race i'm going to hug that man and that woman. We are going to be sweaty and icky and horrible and it has nothing to do with sex and violence.

For that reason, where we support each other as humans and as runners, it stands as a beacon. We don’t need to beat eachother up we can resolve a lot simply by running together and speaking another common language (like music or photography).


 

Since 1967 it has been quite phenomenal. In a way we’ve also done a full cycle.I was really worried about the younger women let's say [around] 2000 up to 2015 even. It seemed they were taking so much for granted. It wasn't as if they didn’t know their history, it's just that they seemed to think that [our] history was a long time ago and long passed. It hasn't been until recent politics and recent contentiousness [that] younger women all of a sudden noticed that their rights are extremely fragile and that they have been living in many ways a dream world.

 

Here especially and in industrialized nations. Eyes [are being] opened to what's happening in terms of  very bad and tragic migration problems, homelessness, war, and the world seeming not to care of their sisters in the Middle east or north africa who have not had progress for the last thousand years. These thing are quite frightening to think that we are living on the same planet and we are only an airplane ride away from each other. What's happening now is almost a fiery retaliation against some of the injustices and that’s really good. I think we are going  back through that trial of fire again.

 

"We need a time of transition and that's happening now. Mothers are raising sons to be sensitized and daughters to be empowered"

The #MeToo movement is good on the whole, it's been too bad from another point of view. There have been people who deserve to be called out and there are other people who I felt where treated a little bit unfairly. Women themselves have to look at their own behaviours. We can’t blame everything on the other sex. We have to realize that our era is changing and that for thousands and thousands of years we held up men as the paragons, they were the alpha male they were the aggressor and suddenly you can’t expect them to be sensitive new age guys.

We need a time of transition and that's happening now. Mothers are raising sons to be sensitized and daughters to be empowered. Yet still in this country it is quite shocking how many women are fearful of making a change, I would say that I’d really like to see these women become more personally empowered so that they won't be afraid of change so that they can embrace change.

 

From my point of view from  1967 to now I think that women are taking charge of their own destinies more and finding ways not only to empower themselves but to empower other women. This on the whole is extremely good.  They are going to realize that their lives extend beyond the borders of their town, village,state and even country.

"It may only be 20 minutes in the morning but they are breaking the pattern of giving everything away"

What makes running so empowering?

The are a lot of things that make running empowering and I wish I could tell you scientifically what happens with the endorphin process. Anytime anybody  raises their endorphins they feel good about themselves and usually the people around them which is why its a peaceful movement.

 

The fact is that any time you can do something that makes you feel good about yourself it's empowering. Women who run find that the stress relief and the time alone or the time for them or the time to make themselves feel good about themselves is life changing. It may only be 20 minutes in the morning but they are breaking the pattern of giving everything away. Of giving everything to their kids and their husband and the house, their jobs, the car, the dog, the burnt toast, all of those things they do first before they take care of themselves. It's the way we are naturally, but also we’ve been conditioned for generations. When they go out for their run, its just for them, beneficial to them.

 

It's really quite amazing to see something so easy, cheap and accessible (all you need are sneakers) change your life so fundamentally. You stop any woman t out there jogging and you ask her “are you getting ready for the olympic games” and she goes “are you kidding” and then you say “are you trying to lose 5 pounds” she says “no i'm happy with my body” “why are you doing this” “ cause I feel good it makes me feel good and powerful”.

Who are you trying to reach?

If we had to narrow it down specifically I would say [that] a woman who is afraid to take the first step. Either in her life, in running or anything. She just needs a friend. We need to reach the woman who thinks she’s alone out there.

To follow Kathrine's journey visit:

http://kathrineswitzer.com

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