by Kristin Miller
Just in time for Women’s History Month, the MSUM women’s and gender studies department is kicking off an initiative to promote physical fitness and power as key components in feminism and the advancement of women’s rights.
Last Thursday, President Anne Blackhurst spoke to a group of assembled students and faculty about how physical empowerment through exercise and activity can lead to empowerment in other aspects of life. The talk, titled “The Power of Potential,” was the first event held for the “Women and Physical Power” initiative, which takes place throughout the semester.
“We’re promoting physical power as a feminist value,” said women’s studies faculty member Claudia Murphy in her introduction of Blackhurst and the initiative.
Blackhurst, a long-time runner who completed her first marathon right around her 50th birthday, and who has gone on to complete eight subsequent marathons, said the lessons she’s learned through her training have carried over into her personal and professional life.
“I’ve learned that I can do much more than I believed possible,” Blackhurst said, adding that “running has meant so many things to me.”
For stress relief, physical health, friendship and developing problem-solving skills, she discussed the various ways “the process started to be about more than running.”
Another result of her running was her strengthened ability to break goals into manageable tasks, making the impossible seem possible, she said.
“As you get closer and closer to your potential, you have to keep pushing your goal,” she added.
For Blackhurst, pushing her goal meant qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which will become her 10th marathon run. After several failed attempts, she made the qualifying time in last spring’s Fargo Marathon.
In keeping with the initiative’s goal of empowering women through physical strength in particular, Blackhurst discussed the ways women are often taught to view their bodies negatively and see strength as detrimental to womanhood and the feminine ideal.
Running, she said, “helped me see my body as something more than ornamental.”
Blackhurst said young women are often influenced to view their bodies in a certain way, adding that while she was growing up “it was all about trying to make ourselves physically attractive.”
It wasn’t until later, she said, after finding sports and running, that she realized strength could be about more than physical beauty.
As a leader both for campus and the community as a whole, Blackhurst said her claiming of physical strength helped her achieve power in her professional life as well.
“It helped me reframe power as something positive and affirming,” she said.
Blackhurst said while she self-identifies as a feminist, she wouldn’t consider herself “radical” in that belief. Rather, she has decided to focus more on herself than the opinions of others, or if she receives different treatment because of her gender.
“I’ve just stopped worrying about what people think,” she said.
She added it’s more important “to accept that women are comfortable with having power.”
“Taking your own significance seriously,” Murphy added, is one of the best ways to live feminist ideals and is a way for women to begin to live more comfortably in their own skin.
At the event’s conclusion, students in the audience were encouraged to pledge their own fitness goals for the month of March.
To help further support the initiative, the women’s and gender studies department in MA 175 invites all students to stop by during the month and pledge a fitness goal. Additionally, they will be hosting bring-your-own brown bag lunches every Thursday at noon in the Women’s Center (Bridges 154) for students to discuss goals and support each other.