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Do Women Really Need Separate (Pink) Races?

Posted Mar 18 2012 11:18pm

Air out your shoes! Get your bike out of the garage! Locate that tri suit that you got on a great sale and then felt too pretentious in it to wear it in a real race and so now you have guilt every time you look at it! ‘Tis the beginning of race season! While I’ve mostly sworn off of exercises I have to pay extra for (sorely limited budget + workout ADHD = drastic measures) there is a new race on the roster that caught my eye: The Women Rock Minnesota marathon/half/10k.  Sure I like the timing (September is perfect running season here) and the choices of distances is nice (I love me a good half) but what really caught my eye? The race bling. Winners get a pink women’s cut* jacket and a pink diamond pendant for a finisher’s medal! Squeeee! (*This is a big deal since the last race I ran assumed that women = children and gave everyone who ordered a “woman’s sweatshirt” a youth XL. I look like I have monkey arms in that thing the sleeves are so short.)

Women Rock certainly isn’t the first ladies race – the Disney Princess Half Marathon and t he Danskin Womens-Only Triathlon Series are staples on many must-run lists – but it is the first one I am seriously considering doing. Which makes me simultaneously excited and wary, igniting my natural cynicism of course. This race ain’t cheap – is this just another low appeal to my girliness in order to sell me something for more than I’d normally pay? (Case in point: pink women’s weight lifting gloves cost $5 more than the black “unisex” pair that is otherwise identical.) Moreover, I’m not sure how I feel about running a race that specifically excludes dudes. With the plethora of races on the calendar do we really need a “girly” race?

Girliness is a hot topic among women because – ready for your flashback to theorems in Geometry? – merely being in possession of lady bits does not make you girly. And thanks to Ru Paul I think I can also say that neither does being girly require a muscle that is only doing its assigned duty for 0.02% of its life and the rest of the time just makes you miserable on a 28-day cycle. (Is it too late to decide I want to be a Drag Queen?) You wouldn’t think that being a girl would be such a contentious issue and yet:

“PINK?! You want me to wear pink? I hate pink! It’s so… froo-froo!” – my 16-year-old sister (Yes, I have one! We’re 17 years apart and no my parents aren’t pretending to raise her because she’s really mine. We look alike because we’re sisters.)

“I’m not into this whole ‘girl power’ thing. If I want to do something a man does I’m just going to do it and I don’t need a pink parade to feel good about it.” – paraphrased from two of my girl friends

“I AM NOT A GIRLY GIRL.” – my college roommate, replying to a male neighbor who asked her why her new car wasn’t pink.

Ah, it all comes back to pink. There’s a reason that Victoria’s Secret has a whole line of clothing and undies named “PINK.” You can buy football team jerseys in pink for any team, regardless of the real team colors. And there’s even a new shade christened (by marketers) as “breast cancer pink” thanks to all the awareness merch on the market.  Pink is supposed to epitomize the doe-eyed innocent cuteness of girlhood. What’s more girly than panties and boobs?!

But is pink weak? Given the previous examples it certainly can be infantalizing. Yet I’m guessing P!nk the singer did not choose her stage name because she secretly wants to walk in the Victoria’s Secret show. There is also serious strength in the community of breast cancer survivors under their pink umbrella. And hey, remember the pink Power Ranger? She kicked butt.

I happen to really like pink. (Hot pink or fuscia, please, I look rancid in pastels.) I wear a lot of running/tennis skirts to work out in. I own a lot of shoes. I love dressing up. I have at least 10 different lip glosses. I own a push-up bra. I specifically picked my wedding dress because it made me feel like a princess. I do self-identify as a girly girl.  On the other hand I also like getting really sweaty. I don’t care if my makeup runs ( or even if I’m wearing any) . I’m not dainty. My husband has seen me poop. And – am I allowed to admit this? – while I love running with my girls I also like running races with men . I push myself harder to pace with them. I get kind of a thrill when I pass one.

Honestly it feels a little sexist to exclude them. (Is there such a thing as a men-only race? If there is, they certainly don’t advertise it as such.) In the past people have explained it to me that women-only races give women who might normally avoid racing a less intimidating place to start. I can understand this. This is why Curves exists, right? But in my mind racing is already a safer place for women than, say, the weight floor. While I can cite numerous examples of women getting harassed at the gym (just happened last Tuesday night actually), I have never once seen that kind of behavior in a race. But maybe I’m sheltered?

So where do women-only races – often defined by their pink swag – fit onto the “girly” spectrum? Do they honor our differences or highlight our insecurities? Does giving us a no-boys-allowed club segregate or empower us? Marketing ploy or girl power? I’m still not sure.

How do you feel about pink? Have you ever done a girls-only race? Why? Should I try this one? Have any of you seen bad behavior in a mixed gender race? Does pink swag entice you or repel you? Men – are you bothered by women-only events? Has your significant other seen you do a #2? (I know. SO MANY QUESTIONS. I’m sorry, I can’t help myself.)

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