The "Girls Only Marathon" Debacle

The "Girls Only Marathon" Debacle

The Wall Street Journal has an article which is as dismaying as it is enlightening.  Not being much of a runner, myself (understatement of the year) I didn't realize that there is a lot of tension in the running world between "regular marathons" and "marathons for women." 

Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of marathons aimed at women are doing it all wrong.  Like, "forehead smacking wrong."

It makes sense to hold marathons which are aimed at women, both because they help highlight and promote the sport to women everywhere.  And because they allow women to compete against each other on an even playing ground.  (Evidently there is a lot of gender disparity in long-distance running performance, but don't quote me on that, that's just what the Wall Street Journal says.)

The problem?  Marathons can't discriminate by gender.  You can't bar women from entering in a marathon, and you can't bar men, either.

In response to this "problem," marathons aimed at women are using some pretty underhanded tricks to strongly discourage male applicants.  Some races only give out trophies to women.  Another race deliberately switched their line-up at the last minute, so that "bare-chested male firefighters" would be handing out the awards.  The marathon's organizer bragged that "We're making this race so girly that men won't want any part of it."

Oh wow.  Really? 

Naturally, some men will be compelled to enter these races.  Some want to thumb their noses at the establishment,  others are looking for an easy win.  Quoth the article, "Men who ran in the middle of a pack of guys can finish near the top of a field teeming with women."

Issues of terrible sportsmanship aside, I have to support the guys who are running these races to make a point.  (But not the guy who runs in women's marathons to "meet fit young women."  That's just gross.)  We simply cannot allow a double standard to stand, regardless of which gender it benefits.  Hypocrisy is wrong, end of story.

One interesting aspect of this story is the hyper-feminized prizes and goody bags being offered by these women's marathons.  Feather boas and tiaras?  Really? 

The contents of the goody bags handed out are up for inspection.  They include female-oriented items like "feminine-cut T-shirts, along with swag like perfume samples, chocolates and pink sandals."  Okay, I can do without the pink things, but perfume samples and chocolate are obviously just items being marketed to women.

The note about women's t-shirts is interesting, though.  T-shirts cut for men are often assumed to be unisex.  However, they are only unisex in the sense that women feel it is socially acceptable to wear men's t-shirts - and more to the point, often do not have a choice.  But men's t-shirts don't actually fit women well. 

A men's t-shirt fits a woman about as well as a woman's t-shirt fits a man.  This is a surprising thought to many people, men and women alike.  But it's true, so on that one count, I support the marathon organizers.  If you're marketing primarily to women, then I can understand having women's items in the goody bag. 

The rest of it, though… yuck.