Saturday, April 30, 2011

What's up with Women's Races?

This had been bugging me for a few days now, so I guess I'll just throw it out there and see what people think.

It started when I read on Running Is Funny about the Disney races adding a Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland to match the women's only Disney Princess Half at Disney World. Mike also linked to an article from the with a few reactions to the announcement of the run. As he said, reactions were mixed - some  didn't like the late-January timing of the race, but most were concerned with the theme, and the fact that running a women's themed race basically excludes a large portion of the running community. And this from Disney, who prides itself on being accepting of everyone.

Now, these races ARE open to everyone. If you read the rules closely enough, you'll find that men are allowed to run them. But by their very nature, men are discouraged from running them. For example, at this year's Disney Princess Half, held on February 27th, there were 13,114 female entrants and only 683 males.

Personally, I'd have no problem strapping on a pair of fairy wings and a tutu and running a race with a bunch of of girls - in fact, I'd probably have a great time. I would wonder, though, if some of the women there would resent my presence - and that thought alone would make me think twice about entering a race like this.

A couple days after I read that, two of my favorite Bay-area running bloggers, Page and Aron (both just back from Boston - congrats) blogged about the Nike Women's Marathon. They were having a giveaway for an entry spot into the race (there's a lottery for slots, and it fills up fast.) I was tempted to enter their contests, but again, felt weird about it.

The Nike Women's Marathon also allows male runners, but again, the theme of the race - and the fact that the medal is actually a Tiffany necklace presented to you at the finish by a hunky firefighter - probably discourages most men.

I'm having trouble finding numbers on female/male entrants in this one, but have read that it's about 6% men. That's approximately the same as the Disney Princess race.

Finally, I found out that our family might be making a quick trip up to the Portland, OR area this summer, and was looking around for a race I might be able to do in the area. As luck would have it, there was a trail 10K happening in Forest Park that Sunday. And, wouldn't you know it - the Go Girl Trail Run is a Women's only race. As far as I can tell, this is one that doesn't in fact allow men to run. Which is a bummer, because I'd love to do a race in Forest Park - I've heard enough about the area on 3 Non Joggers.

There's so many different ways to look at this. Let me just put down a few of the thoughts about this floating around my head.:

Race organizers should be able to put on a race for whoever they want to. It's their race, right?
But how well would a men's only race go over? Seems like there would be outrage. What if someone decided to put on a race "Celebrating Mens Running?" That sounds ridiculous, right?

This sounds crass, but are women "entitled" to have their own events because of the subjugation they've suffered throughout history, and the sad way they've been treated in athletic circles as recently as forty years ago? (See: Katherine Switzer at Boston, Olympic Women's Marathon only since the 80's, etc...)
Well, OK, but is excluding men really the right way to go about things? Kind of "now it's our turn to exclude you?" Doesn't seem like a nice response.

I think I know more female runners than male ones. I totally support women (in fact, anyone) running - why does this bother me so much?
I don't know. I was all worked up about this, but am starting to lose steam. All I can tell you is that I get a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear about a race that I'm not allowed, or "not supposed" to do. 

I would love to hear people's thoughts on this. Not looking to get flamed here - I'm not suggesting that these events shouldn't exist, but it's been bothering me and I wanted to see what my crowd thinks.


Gretchen said...

I totally hear what you are saying Turi, and I'm not really comfortable with the idea of people being excluded from things either. But I also went to a women's college and think it was the best thing ever, so I have a few guesses as to the purpose of these races.

I haven't done any research on these races or read their mission statements or anything, but I would think that their intention is to create an environment that is less intimidating for women to race in. At race distances of marathon and up, the majority of the field is male. It might seem weird to a guy that that would be intimidating for some women, but I think it could be. An all women's race creates more of a "girl power" environment, and it might encourage more women to run who otherwise would not see themselves as "racers."

At my race next week, Miwok, only about 1/4 of the field is female. Granted, I think most marathons are closer to even these days (not sure) but maybe you can see how it's not really a sport that has come into its own for women yet.

I used to guide women's only outdoor trips (canoeing, rock climbing, that kind of thing) and I can tell you that it was a MUCH better environment for the women to learn, play and feel capable than the coed trips I guided.

Anyway, I don't know if my thoughts here are totally relevant to the purposes of these races, but I'm just guessing their purpose is to encourage more female participation in the sport.

Thanks for bringing up the topic. We can totally have a conversation about this sometime if you're still thinking about it. :)

Turi Becker said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Gretchen. I certainly have noticed that the shorter road races I do have a much higher female ratio than longer races or ultras - good point. And I do forget about the "intimidation" factor - I mean, I go running through downtown Reno in the middle of the night without thinking too much about it. Probably different kind of intimidation there, though.

SnowLeopard said...

Hm. I agree with the "women's power" mind of thinking and also the intimidation factor. I have never done an all girls race, and I have to say I prefer mixed races. I really don't enjoy getting "chicked" but I don't feel bad being passed up by a guy (either running or in the pool)- I think in my head that men are built differently- physically stronger and (mostly) much bigger than I am. So if I pass a guy I feel twice as good as if I pass a girl. I guess I'm just weird competitively that way. However, I am VERY glad that I'm not ranked with or scored next to the men, because I'd do very badly. I'm all for women feeling empowered and training hard for a race just for us, but it's not something I'd single out myself...

Anonymous said...

There are men's races, and being a woman that makes me feel a little excluded and weird, so I understand where you're coming from.

While it sucked that women weren't allowed to race not to long ago, I don't feel women are owed the right to exclude men-or some kind of reparations (afterall a lot of the barriers for women are reinforced by women themselves)

I think an easy solution to this problem is to have a women's race and a men's race, princesses and princes. It is funny to see the guys in tutus for the princess race, but less funny to see the guys winning the races b/c it's mostly women.