Blog #111 – Men Quit, Women Don’t ???
A narrow blog, specifically for those interested in the treatment of gender in the media who have seen a recent piece in the New York Times headlined “Why Men Quit and Women Don’t,” which purports to explain why a statistical finding that the drop-out rate for women in the Boston Marathon this year is lower than for men has nothing to do with gender but simply shows that women “thrive on adversity,” in this case “the need to juggle training in non-ideal circumstances [the worst weather in decades].” The statistics are pretty shaky, and it’s not clear why such an explanation is not strongly gender related. It is worth examining because, intentionally or not, it plays into the concern with the social stereotyping that goes into the gendered attitude towards women, and tends to minimize that problem by minimizing the role of gender.
Why Men Quit and Women Don’t –
reads the headline by Lindsay Crouse in the Opinion section of the New York Times on April 20, 1018).
The story is based on the fact that men dropped out of the Boston Marathon this year and previous years at a faster rate than women did: “Men quit and women don’t,” the story announces, and tries to explain the difference by examining the correlation between various physical or psychological or social characteristics of men and women. It finds that won’t do, and ends up claiming that “the simplest explanation [for women dropping out less than men] is not based on gender at all.”
But, in fact, it is directly related to gender, the social and cultural definition of male and female rather than the biological definition of female. You might think that a writer, if concerned about gender equality, might happily display the headline above to show that the gender stereotype of women as weaker than men is false, and argue that, the headlined facts prove that the idea that men do better than women in contests of strength and endurance, as in marathons, is a false and gendered idea. In fact, the article perversely argues that gender has nothing to do with the disparate results for men and women.
Yet gender does matter. Because Marathon drop-out rates are not simply a reflection of the physical difference between men and women.
To begin with, the article is based on a flawed statistical analysis. It does not in fact show that “men quit and women don’t.” It is elementary statistical nonsense, both in its sample selection and its lack of control for other variables. I The men and women being compared are not randomly selected, 16,587 men chose to enter the Boston race, only 13,391 women entered it. The reasons for that difference need to be factored into any explanation for the different results which gender-related differences, .e.g. in income, time availability and responsibilities, status, expectations, all are llikely to play some role. The aticle itself lists some of them.
The artcle finds that finishing rates for this year’s Boston Marathon “varied significantly by gender,” and then spends the rest of its time trying to show that, contrary to that finding, women don’t in fact quit less than men. It is like arguing that women have shorter stays in hospitals than men because women are stronger than men, and it has nothing to do with the gendered treatment of women. It is, on its face, absurd, if done without controlling for why women go to hospitals in the first place, whether they can afford hospitalization as well as men, are insured as well as men, whether the hospitals are military hospitals or specialized or general care hospitals, charity hospitals or research hospitals or psychiatric hospitals whether they are admitted on an emergency basis or are long-term than men, etc.
Both proportionally and in total numbers, more men run in marathons than women do. Maybe men who run in marathons are richer than women who do, women being paid less and poorer, can less afford the time to run or train to run, so the women who do actually get to run in the Boston Marathon are exceptionally well fit compared to the men who run, more of whom are able to afford to run and do so even without special training. If men and women were exactly alike, proportionately more men would drop out than women, because the men who started were a less selective group among all men, than women were among all women? The fewer women who entered marathons had been more highly selected, i.e. healthier, more ambitious, hardier, than the average woman, but therefore proportionately also once entered in the race, proportionately dropped out less?
But then, the question is, why do not more women enter marathons?
The history of gender discrimination in marathons should not be ignored.
The population that enters marathons is in any event hardly representative of a cross section of all people, and to draw conclusions about all people from a sample that is not representative of all people, or compare two samples, e.g. men and women that are not similarly selected, are violations of the most elementary rules of statistical analysis. And to conclude that the difference between men and women in drop-out rates is not gender related after just writing that men start marathons more aggressively than women because that is in the nature of men, and that and women are often discouraged from being athletic and competitive as unwomanly, is to abandon any pretense of understanding either gender or statistics.
And not gender-related? Gender differences are of a different order than differences of sex, and require quite different approaches if equality with justice is a concern. The history of gender discrimination in running competitions and women’s active struggle to overcome it needs to be told, and helps explain the additional motivation of women holding up without quitting in marathons. Women indeed had to be more aggressive than average men if they wanted to run in a male dominated and often legally exclusively male field. The first Olympic marathon was held in 1896. It was open to men only. Women were allowed to begin competing in marathons starting in 1972.Women were excluded from participation in the Boston Olympics Marathon until 1984. The history is not well known; it is not mentioned in the article.
The article concludes:
…the simplest explanation is not based on gender at all. This Boston Marathon was ideal for people who thrive in adversity. Top spots for men and women went to amateur runners who juggle training in non-ideal circumstances around work and family… the female runners who made it in Boston had already overcome more social obstacles than men. They may simply be tougher. hardly a random selection.
And that’s not a characterization of the normal gendered role of women?!
Maybe if men had to successfully “juggle training in non-ideal circumstances around work and family,” as women disproportionately now do, which Lindsay argues makes women’s experience less likely to let them drop out than men, then men should just get more training in circumstances like those facing women, and thereby toughen up to stay the course better than they do now. And women might be provided with greater and fairer social support, economic support, status and recognition, opportunities to train and to run.Those might not be a bad ideas in any case…
“Woman who blazed a trail for equality in marathons hits London’s starting line. Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially compete in the Boston marathon, will fire the gun on the elite race,” The Guardian. reads a headlilne in the Guardian. Available at https://www.theGuardian.com/sport/2018/apr/21/kathrine-switzer-boston.
“The thousands of spectators who line marathon routes are famous for screaming encouragement, but it has not always been that way.”‘One guy shouted at me, ‘you should be back in the kitchen making dinner for your husband’.”It is one of many moments that Kathrine Switzer recounts as she talks about her memories of becoming the first woman to officially run a marathon. It was 1967 and women were not allowed to run more than 1,500 metres in sanctioned races. Marathons were for men.“https://www.telegraph.co.uk/athletics/2018/04/21/marathon-trailblazerkathrine-switzer-just-20-year-old-kid-wanted/
In 1972, women were officially allowed to run the Boston Marathon for the first time.
An excellent detailed history of the struggles needed before wwomen were evenly allowed to run in major marathons, ncluding the Olympics, is in Olympic Marathon, by Charlie Lovett, excerpted and available at “The Fight to Establish the Women’s Race” http://www.marathonguide.com/history/olympicmarathons/chapter25.cfm
 Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/opinion/boston-marathon-women-nurse.html.
 “Women and exclusion from long distance running.” Lisa Wade, PhD on April 21, 2017. Sociological Images. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2017/04/21/women-and-exclusion-from-long-distance-running/
 Before 1972, women had been barred from the most famous marathon outside the Olympics-Boston. That rule did not keep women from running, though. In 1966, Roberta Gibb hid behind a bush at the start of the Boston Marathon, sneaking into the field and finishing the race in an unofficial time of 3:21:25. She was the first woman known to complete the arduous Boston course. Gibb had been inspired to run by the return of her race entry with a note saying that women were not physically capable of running a marathon. Charlie Lovett Olympic Marathon, “The Fight to Establish the Women’s Race”, available at http://www.marathonguide.com/history/olympicmarathons/chapter25.cfm