If you listen to my podcast, you know that I sometimes ponder the question, “why are half of marathon runners female but in a crowd of barefoot runners the ratio of men to women is about 8:1?”
One answer I’ve presented is that perhaps women think it’s dangerous, like skydiving or motocross.
But I now think that’s bullshit, and I’ll tell you why. When you skydive or go riding fast on motorcycles, you need lots of equipment. It takes planning and strategy and supplies. There are risks. You might have a fear of heights. You might crash.
Barefoot running is simple. You take off your shoes, walk out the door and place one foot in front of the other in rapid succession. Sure, it takes a little more thought than that, but THERE’S NOTHING STOPPING WOMEN FROM DOING THIS. You don’t need to find a cliff or purchase a bike. You don’t really need anything special at all.
It only takes 5 minutes of conversation with a barefoot runner to learn that we don’t get sliced by glass, we don’t usually get bitten by snakes, we don’t step on hypodermic needles. OK, so occasionally I swear when I step on something that sticks to my foot… but the benefits of running without shoes far outweigh the occasional ouchy. Those ouchies strengthen the feet, toughen me up a bit more.
I interviewed with Chris of RunRunLive for his show recently and he talked about the fact that girls weren’t given the same running opportunities boys were in school. Women weren’t encouraged to run in the 60s… they needed to be in the kitchen. I get that and I’m thrilled that times have changed.
But, again, NOTHING IS STOPPING WOMEN FROM RUNNING BAREFOOT NOW. The other day an elderly gentleman said, “wow, you strong lady!” as I ran by. He didn’t say, “hey, you should be home taking care of your children and cooking!”
So if running without shoes isn’t dangerous and our Western culture is perfectly fine with women running, why are men flocking to barefoot running and women are, as a whole, holding back?
I’m listening to the book Blink by Malcom Gladwell, which explores our subconscious thinking. We have conscious choices and ideas, but often our unconscious contradicts them. For example, men and women might say something like, “women are powerful,” but when given tests that examine unconscious beliefs, it comes out that they think of women as subservient. And that, of course, has a huge impact on relationships and behaviors.
I think women subconsciously – or consciously – think they’re not strong enough, adventurous enough, connected-with-nature enough to run without shoes.
But there’s more to it, and it’s about sex.
Women spend hours soaking at pedicure booths, spend millions on creams and potions. And to what end? Perhaps we keep our feet clean like we keep our sex clean – in hopes that we will please our partners. We must keep ourselves available… clean and fresh, just like the 50s advertisements told your mother about her house. Fresh house, fresh breath, fresh feet, fresh pussy.
Perhaps the subconscious desire to remain virgins, clean, untarnished, still exists even after Title 9, even after demanding the right to vote, even after the first cave woman said, “get your fucking hands off me!” Perhaps women subconsciously think being barefoot might interfere with our duty to stay in a box, preserving our the integrity, the smell, the cleanliness of their sex.
(If this is true, it’s ironic because shoes tend to make our feet smell really bad.)
I’m not saying that women who run barefoot have reached a place of feeling absolutely empowered and that women who run in Nikes still have work to do. I’m simply wondering when the message will reach more women – the message that running barefoot is pleasurable and that tough feet are an asset.
It takes a lot of work for an idea to become popular. Dr. Daniel Howell writes in his book The Barefoot Book that being barefoot simply hasn’t become the norm. Just you wait, he writes, people will be barefoot all the time. He points to the fact that we don’t smoke as much now, since over time it became normal not to smoke. Fashion trends change. Healthy ways of living become commonplace.
I’m waiting for a tipping point. The 100th monkey. (Barefoot Ted, aka Mono, would get a kick out of that.) All the prohibitions have disappeared… so it’s just a matter of time. The moment when all the media attention, all the hype, all the positive energy, all the education – it all just swirls around female runners and catches them all in a big massive wave of exploration and freedom. And they peel off their high heels, strip off their Nikes, and run on the earth again.
But it’ll take some work from men, too. They might say, “I want you – and your muddy, filthy feet.” Hard soles need to mean something to men… that their partners are out in the world celebrating with nature. When women feel sexy, it’s a good thing. And when they feel supported, magical things happen.
What do you think?