Are Women’s Only Races a Good Thing?

Women’s only running races are getting more popular. In practice they are meant to make many women more comfortable but the whole idea might make you a little bit less comfortable.

One could make the argument that women’s only races are not inclusive because they exclude men and potentially non-binary and trans people from the event. There is a pretty good argument against holding exclusionary events based on gender is wrong at anytime but especially now.

That said our local women’s only race is tons of fun, one of my favorite race day vibes and probably my mom’s favorite race around. Sadly the email went out this week that Sole Sisters, our local women’s only race, will have its swan song this year. So if you are a Nova Scotia runner this might very well be your last chance.

Feminist ideals

Are women’s only races a feminist space or an anti-feminist space? Beyond feminism are women’s only races about equality or do they run counter to it? I actually took quite a few women’s studies courses in my undergrad as they were cross listed with Canadian studies.

Feminism can be about absolute egalitarianism or it can go well beyond just treating people totally equally too. Some feminist values aren’t at all controversial and are widely accepted as basic human rights while others can be much more extreme. What feminists believe and who is considered one can be very personal to each specific person.

I see and recognize the effects that male privilege and gaze have on the whole of society. I think we should take specific steps to rectify those problems whenever we can. Equality and equity aren’t the same thing in my opinion. 

The obvious question that comes up with women’s only races is whether men should then have their own races too. This then leads to comparisons like private men’s clubs and other men’s only spaces. I do see some scenarios where this can be indicative of and  even help to create an old boys club mentality it isn’t usually a problem in my opinion.

I think men’s only spaces can be important and productive and so can women’s only spaces as long as those spaces are gendered in the name of inclusivity rather than exclusivity. So with that in mind what do we make of women’s only races?

There’s not that many

There are many races on most locals race calendars. In any medium sized city you probably have a choice of races in driving distance on any given weekend. On that season calendar there is exactly one women’s only race per season. 

 With so many choices available it is hard to make the argument that having one gendered race in the schedule is really excluding anyone. Sadly this will be the last yer for our women’s only race around here.

These tend to be mostly ‘just for fun’

The focus of a women’t only race is certainly running but it’s also crazy outfits, tutus and silly themes. You can expect to hear ‘girls just want to have fun’ at least three times while you are out on the course too. If there is a secondary theme to the day it really is about girl power.

Lots of sports are segregated

Running races are usually mixed but lots of sports are always segregated by gender. I’m willing to bet every team sport you played was segregated by gender growing up. If you really think about it as children or playing sports casually as an adult there really isn’t a reason for us to be playing separately. 

So if we all have to play on separate soccer teams I don’t really think it’s a big deal to have a ladies only race once in a while.

We’re already separated in the results

When it comes to the results of a running race we are already all sorted by gender. You might get your overall placement but you’ll definitely get your result sorted by gender and probably age class too. 

If your race has a prize there will almost certainly have two separate prize pools, one for women and one for men. No matter what race we are in men and women are never really competing for the same top spot. We just happen to be on the streets together.

It can serve as a way to limit the field

We also have a local triathlon weekend that has a women’s only race. Often triathlons are space limited more than we think they might be. A running race can grow in numbers as it becomes more popular. Many more runners can often fit in the same space. Worse case scenario it’s pretty easy to change the course if need be.

Triathlons can run out of space in the racks pretty fast and often want to limit the number of swimmers in the water at one time. This is both for the number of lifeguards and for the comfort of the swimmers. As triathlons get bigger splitting the field by gender can be a good way for more people to participate in the event overall.

Volunteering is still an option

If you want to support your running lady in a big way on her big day you can always volunteer at a ladies only race. I’m sure the race director would be happy to have you!

Race day vibes

My verdict

I think that women’s only races are totally fine provided a few caveats are followed. There are some women who will have a lower barrier to entry for a women’s only race compared to a mixed race. The vibe on race day tends to be more silly and fun and it really is a great time. 

By the same token if the men want to have their own race with a beer, BBQ and truck theme that’s great too. Actually we have an event here called ‘a mile in her shoes’ where men compete to run the fastest mile in heels. I haven’t been but I’m willing to bet hilarity ensues. 

However, I don’t think that anyone who wants to race in a women’s only race for personal reasons should be excluded. So if someone who identifies as trans or non-binary wants to race I think that they should be allowed without having to justify their reasons to anyone. 

Overall women’s races are a lot of fun and probably something we don’t need to worry about as long as all women are included. These tend to be less serious running events overall and that alone can make them a really great thing!

Do you think that women’s only races have a place on your local race calendar? Leave it in the comments below!

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