An article was posted to BBC News today, an extremely important account of an important moment in feminist history.
Kathrine Switzer’s first hand account of how she became the first woman to complete this race is moving in its own right, but it’s also valuable in a more general way. The story of one woman and her marathon captures two extremely important aspects of any real progressive change: one, the courage and persistence of the Subaltern Challenger, the sort of person who is willing to swim upstream against the powerful current of culture; two, the fact that NO PROGRESSIVE CHANGE IS POSSIBLE without a collaboration between the Subaltern Challenger and one or more people from the Privileged Class.
Kathrine Switzer could never have successfully challenged the lie that “women can’t run” if she had not received crucial support from a male trainer, who took the time to mentor her and unleash her athletic potential. And she could not have finished this race without the timely intervention of her boyfriend, who ran beside her on this day and literally body-slammed the race steward who tried to stop her to the ground.
In A Room of One’s Own, her essay on the difficulties women face in becoming writers, Virginia Woolf pointed out many years ago that one of the greatest barriers to success to women in any field is the failure of well-established men to offer mentorship and opportunity to female proteges. But as this story demonstrates, women don’t only need teachers: they also need men who are willing to body slam the Establishment to the ground.
Being a quietly correct “Nice Guy” in your own life is not NEARLY enough to make this world a better place for the women and girls that you love. They need you to act, and act decisively, and be willing to cross the line and take genuine risks to come to their aid.
No one changes the world alone.