Men are entering and winning women's marathons — and to keep them out, the race organizers are resorting to some pretty sexist tactics.
Kevin Helliker of the Wall Street Journal (via Good Men Project) writes that new women marathons are springing up around the country, and they usually don't technically bar men from running. As a result, men sometimes enter — and a few seem to be drawn in by the prospect of an easier win. Says Hilliker, "Men who ran in the middle of a pack of guys can finish near the top of a field teeming with women." To discourage this, women's marathons have adopted strategies that range from reasonable to downright sexist — or homophobic.
Some races only give trophies to female winners — fair enough. This year's Disney Princess Half Marathon will allow only women in its first tier of runners, putting men at a disadvantage — a slightly more extreme but still legitimate step (now could they maybe change the name?). Here's where it gets weird: Hilliker writes, "goodie bags often contain feminine-cut T-shirts, along with swag like perfume samples, chocolates and pink sandals. One race is giving away feather boas and tiaras." Do race organizers really have to pretty their events up with tiaras in order to scare the men away? Doesn't that just reinforce some of the stereotypes that women's races help to break down?
Then there's this:
Ahead of its Oct. 2 inaugural half marathon, Run Like a Diva announced that finishers' medals will be awarded by bare-chested male firefighters. "We had four men signed up, but two dropped out when they heard about the firemen," says [Robert] Pozo, the race organizer. "We're making this race so girly that men won't want any part of it."
Pozo also says of women's races, "You take out the testosterone and these events are kinder, cleaner, gentler and sweeter." I can think of several female athletes who wouldn't consider their intense competitive efforts either "gentle" or "sweet," but perhaps more troubling than this sugar-and-spice stereotyping is the idea of keeping dudes away from a women's race by threatening them with The Gay. The idea that bare-chested male firefighters would be catnip to all ladies and kryptonite to all men is both heteronormative and just plain dumb.
I can understand race organizers desire to limit male participation in women's events — after all, part of the point of these events is that women are supposed to win. However, they may not need the help. Hilliker winds up his story with a pretty amusing tale of a man on whom the onslaught of pink shit had little effect:
At last November's St. Petersburg Women's Half Marathon in Florida, a 23-year-old medical student named Clayton Hofstra stood at the start recalling what a junior-high-school cross-country coach had told him: "Never let a girl beat you."
But standing nearby was Christa Benton, an older graduate of his high school who had dominated long-distance running. Sure enough, Ms. Benton finished first, followed by three other women.
Still proud of finishing 13th overall and fifth among the 138 men, Mr. Hofstra tried wearing his pink T-shirt to class the next day, only to find it was too tight. "I guess I hadn't realized that the shirts came in women's sizes," he says.
I kind of think this guy deserves a pink shirt in his size.
Interlopers Run Amok: Guys Crash Road Races For Women [WSJ]
Women's Half Marathons Dominated By Men [Good Men Project]