Yesterday around 9 000 women hit the streets and the beautiful surroundings of the lovely park Slottskogen in Gothenburg for the women’s race Vårruset. Vårruset is an annual 5 km race for women only, that tour 21 cities across Sweden during the Spring season. Five of my workmates and I participated and we had a lovely evening together, but as much fun as it is with events like these it got me thinking. Aren’t races for women only a very interesting phenomenon? Why do they even exist? How come they started and do they still have justification for existence?
In 1967 Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. During her run a race official tried to stop her from competing by ripping off her bib. She completed the race but it wasn’t until 1972 that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon officially. Back in the beginning of the 70s having women’s races were justified. Women weren’t considered fit to participate in longer races so they weren’t welcome. It was needed for someone to fight for women’s right to participate and for their right to be taken seriously.
In Sweden the first women’s only race was Ladylufsen in the beginning of the 1980s. The following ten years races like Tjejmilen (running), Tjejvasan (cross country skiing), Tjejvättern (bicycle) and Vårruset (running) were added, inspired by similar races in Denmark and in the USA.
Women’s races are often shorter than other races and they are also promoted more as events of party, joy and community than events of achievement, challenge and competitions. The events are revolving around traditional stereotype female interests such as beauty, shopping, health, family and charity. Many times the merchandise sold are in traditional “girls'” colours pink and purple.
What’s questionable about “women’s only” events like these are that, instead of being emancipatory, liberating and empowering as intended, they risk to counteract that and instead preserve traditional gender roles and make female athletes look not as serious and their achievement less important than men’s.
Tramps like us – baby we were Born to Run
For quite many years now, women at my workplace (encouraged by me) have participated in Vårruset and it has been a fun event. I’m a strong believe in gender equality and I can totally see why there once was a need for races like these. Back then women needed to be encouraged to venture taking part in races and see themselves as sports women after being treated like fragile housewives.
Now, I’m seriously questioning if there’s even is a justification for existence for races like these. Things have changed. Don’t they seem archaic and old-fashioned?
Races in the USA called: The Disney Princess Half Marathon, The Tinker Bell Half Marathon, Divas Half Marathon and the Queen Bee Half Marathon, the latter promoted like this: “the Queen Bee Marathon is designed to be a girls’ getaway with a sportswear fashion show at the Bee-u-tique expo, lipstick stations before the finish line, finisher jewelry and entertainment along the course”, strike me as caricature and are most likely counter-productive.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I become, that next year I’m going to advocate participating in a mixed race instead – like for example Blodomloppet, where everyone is welcome, to make every individual (man or woman) in my workplace feel included.