Sunday, 8 February 2009

Congratulations, but...

Warm congratulations to Jennifer Figge, an American woman who has swum from the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa to Trinidad in 24 days.

You note that I refuse to give her the title the BBC has given her, which is that of first woman to cross the Atlantic.

That's because, if you look at the map, she hasn't.

It is an awesome feat, no question, but it is not trans-Atlantic. When she started at Cape Verde, she got a 375 mile head start. Trinidad is only 7 miles off the Venezuelan coast; I'm not going to quibble about that right now.

But 375 miles, or 625 km, is a pretty big omission. So, not a winner in my book.

And of course, as a feminist, I wanted her to do the same distance as the man, Benoit Lecomte, who swam land point (Hyannis) to land point (Quiberon) - or 3,716 miles.

Now I understand that 'transatlantic' distances will differ, depending on your points of departure and arrival, but I really believe that if someone has already done it, to qualify for the same title, you have to do at least the same distance. Whatever your gender.

Just like if you're a woman who wants to be a fireman - if the boys have to carry 100 lbs on their backs during the physical test, so do you.

And that means that swimming 2,100 miles to Benoit's 3,716 - a shortfall of 1,616 miles, and not even major landmass to major landmass - is a huge accomplishment, but doesn't give you the right to be called first woman to swim the Atlantic.

Women have been told often enough that they get more for less: Wimbledon champ for 2/3 sets rather than 3/5 and so on. We're already seen as falling short. And that's unfair, because most of us run twice as far to be considered half as good.

Swimming 56.5% of the distance a man did, then wanting the same title, is just going to make it worse for the rest of us.

It is however, a huge accomplishment and for that, many congratulations and all the best for the future.

Should you actually swim coast to coast across the Atlantic in the future, in a comparable distance to Mr Lecomte, no one will be happier than I to crown you first woman to cross the Atlantic.

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