Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan reports that the women's world record for fastest marathon (as well as several other women's record times) are going to be invalidated because "officials from the International Association of Athletics Federations have decided that running alongside these men [male pacemakers] makes women artificially faster."
As Ryan explains, pacemakers--runners who run short bursts of the marathon path so that the marathon participants can run with them to pace themselves--are always "fresher, more well reseted, and faster than the lead pack, men or women." She goes on to explain that if using a pacemaker makes women "artificially faster," then it does the same for men, including Roger Bannister who "used pacemakers to break the four minute mile marker."
Several groups, including the World Marathon Majors and Association of International Marathoners, have come forward decrying the rule as sexist.
I think it's also an interesting metaphor for some of the gender biases we have in society as a whole. Here we have women being told that pacing themselves to men's performance is somehow akin to cheating. Women are only allowed to push themselves to their hardest when that pace is set by other women. By suggesting that a woman who can push herself hard enough to perform toe-to-toe with a man is "artificial," the rule calls to question what it is to be a woman, ultimately declaring success and womanhood as mutually exclusive, or--at best--that women's success is always lesser to men's.
Setting a standard that calls for women to only pace themselves with other women also sets an arbitrary boundary around achievements based in systems that have traditionally excluded women. By suggesting that women cannot try to compete when the standard is set by a man, whole industries and positions become off-limits.
Image credit: rodcasro