Detour: Why Women's Races Take Feminism a Step Backwards

Before you get your Nike Tempos in a bunch remember, this is just one woman's opinion (and I'd love to hear what you have to think).


In 1967 Kathrine Switzer did something controversial and amazing- she entered the Boston Marathon as the gender-neutral K.V. Switzer during a time when women were not allowed to compete. Five years later women were finally permitted to run against men. And since then? Women have worked tirelessly to earn equality in regards to wages, politics, education, relationships, and the military.

And it is this reason I am baffled by the influx of "women's only" races that have popped up in the last few years. Zooma, Iron Girl, Dirt Girl Mud Run, Mermaid, Diva Dash, Nike Women's Half- the list goes on and on. Women have labored so hard over the years for equality and recognition, and yet they're purposefully denying themselves the chance to compete against their male counterparts? What message does that send? What are we doing to feminism?

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First of all, let's look at the overall appearance behind these races. I'd say nine out of ten are pink themed, because, naturally, all women love pink. Right? Occasionally there are some flowers sprinkled in and even the tiara/tu-tu get-up. In an industry that's supposedly about female-empowerment (we'll get there in a minute) why add to the stereotypes that are already out there? Pink t-shirts and emphasis on race "bling" is telling the world that all that's happening is a glorified, grown-up, dress-up party set along a 5k/10k/half marathon course.

Then there is the overall women's empowerment aspect- the advertisements in Runner's World for these races usually promote strength, solidarity, camaraderie, and fun. These are fine, definitely, but how strong are you really when you take out fifty percent of the population from a competition? If you win, that's great, but how victorious are you really? If women are so powerful and mighty why can't they compete against men? By not racing against them we're actually sending the message that we're weak- that we can't handle the competition and masculinity. That the very presence of men negatively impacts our ability to have fun with your girlfriends. I've run twelve (or thirteen-?) half marathons, one 10k, and three 5ks and I've never once been affected by the presence of the opposite sex.

And seriously, what about the whole segregation issue? I'm sure that many of these races would allow men to race (like the Tinkerbell Half Disney does), but what self-respecting man is going to don a pink tech-t and dodge all that silliness? Personally, this is such a key component of the issue. Women were excluded and forbidden to participate in so many aspects of society for so long and are now virtually doing the same thing. It's hypocritical. There are some men's only races, but they are far less popular and less publicized, probably due to the fact that they fear being called sexist. Ha! Frankly, there need to be more- if this trend of women's only races continue there needs to be a response from men.  

[Source and via Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-31799 DLC

I understand that some female runners want to have fun, and that women's only races are an opportunity to do so. And I know that most support good causes (as do normal coed races). Part of me completely gets this, really. But the girl in me that would have been out burning bras in the sixties thinks women's only races are a bunch of pink, frou-frou crap.


  1. I like this!! You're so right! I don't see the need for a whole separate race for women unless it is a gimmick. I also hate how pink is seen as a woman's favorite color. Lime green is obviously the best color in the world.

  2. I'm not in the running scene, but I'm curious... do coed races feel "male"? Are they predominantly guys? Are there seperate guys only races?

    1. I have only ever run coed races, and I don't think they feel "male". I enjoy them because I hang out with and cheer on my female and male friends/family.

  3. Ive run in a lot of races (6 marathons, 15 halfs, don't even remember how many 15, 10, and 5ks...but to be clear, I'm not fast). Ive purposely avoided female only races for the very reasons you listed above. However, I wouldn't begrudge another woman from entering one. Some women do like pink, enjoy the camaraderie of a female geared experience, and I say, whatever gets you off the couch on hitting the pavement. Clearly the are successful enterprises, and I think when it comes down to it, its just about the money.

    Happy running!