Today Disney announced a new half marathon for 2012: the Tinkerbell Half Marathon. Like their Princess Half Marathon, the new race is being marketed to women and will have a women’s theme/focus.
The announcement seems to have set off a fire storm of comments on several different internet boards, including Disney’s RunDisney Facebook page, criticizing Disney for choosing yet another female-themed race; one that “excludes” men. It should be noted, however that while men are not the target audience for this race, they are not prohibited from registering or running the race. They are not, however, eligible for overall or age group awards, and presumably the race swag, including the race shirt, will be female.
The Tinkerbell Half, however, seems to be yet another in the growing number of women’s only or women’s focused races cropping up across the country. As the number of these types of races grow, so do the criticism of them grow. Most of the criticism I have personally seen are from men who feel discriminated against, but some women are also coming out against them as well.
Some of the comments concerning the new Disney race include:
“Sexism is sexism…it’s just socially acceptable to exclude men.”
“In the year 2011 it should be just as unacceptable to have a women-only race as it would be to have a men-only race or a white-only race.”
“Disappointed. I wouldn’t care if you want to make it a Tinkerbell race and have a Tinkerbell medal, but to exclude me from this activity because I am not a women I think is just wrong. Again disappointed, I would have loved to run this with my girlfriend.”
“Males can’t win any awards, No overall, no age group. It’s a women’s race plain and simple. The only reason they let guys sign up is because they’d be sued all the way to Pixie Hollow if they said only females could race. If Disney made a race where only males got awards this would already be on CNN.”
So all of this seems to beg the underlying question, are women’s focused race discrimination or just good marketing?
It is my opinion that the recent proliferation of women’s focused races are just good marketing: giving consumers what they want. I recently read that over 60% of the finishers in half marathons were women. In addition, women have traditionally been a strong consumer segment. Likewise the number of new half and full marathons continue to increase each. This leaves race organizers looking for a marketing angle that will set their race apart from all the others from which runners can choose. Thus, if there was not a strong market for female oriented races, their numbers would not continue to increase; instead they would be decreasing.
One reason, I believe, is that women like to get together with other women and share mutual experiences. This is why scrapbook crops, spa weekends, and girl’s night out are so popular. It’s really nothing more than the grown up version of the slumber parties we used to go to. An excuse to hang out with our girls friends, talk about the things we like to talk about, and do the girly girl things. It’s not that we don’t like men, it’s that we want to spend time with the girls; share with the girls; bond with the girls. Besides, my husband tells me that men like girls weekend because when we go out, they get to have guy’s weekend!
For me, I don’t seek out women’s only races, but their marketing appeals to me. I love that the finisher’s medals for the Women’s Running Magazine Half Marathon can be turned into a necklace that I can wear again. I like the pink boas that the Diva races give out. These races know how to market to me. If a gender neutral race offered the same type of amenities to me, they would have the same appeal as the women’s races.
As for the argument that having something predominantly for women is discrimination, I would argue that just because a product (and a half marathon IS a product) is marketed to a specific demographic does not make it per se discriminatory. Products are markets to one sex over another all the time: from personal hygiene products, to vehicles, to magazines, to television shows.
I wonder if the runners complaining about the handful of women’s only or women’s focused races complain that there are girl’s softball leagues, men’s leagues, and co-ed leagues? as for the argument that everyone would be up in arms over a men’s only half marathon or a Caucasian only marathon, I would counter that the reason you don’t see them is there is no market for them. Even the men who are complaining about the women’s only races admit that a men’s only race holds no appeal to them. I would suggest that if a race director could figure out how to make money marketing a race just to men, we’d see such an animal. However, the market just isn’t there. So why should it be suggested that because women want a women’s focused race that this is discriminatory? I say that it’s just good marketing.