Women’s Focused Races: Discrimination or Good Marketing?

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.

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20 Responses to Women’s Focused Races: Discrimination or Good Marketing?

  1. Donna MacDonald says:

    Excellent commentary! I agree completely…

  2. Carol says:

    Wonderful read.. Great commentary

  3. Very true. I’ve done a few of the women-only races myself (More/Fitness Half Marathon, Princess Half Marathon, Diva’s Half Marathon) and it’s not so much that I prefer the women-only field…I just like all the goodies. I guess I’m a sucker for good marketing

  4. Interesting points. I’ve never done a women’s only race (but I’m thinking hard about Tinkerbell!) but I do think the girly girl stuff would appeal to me. I also think women tend to buy more stuff and races, just feeding the commercial aspect of a race.

  5. Nicholas says:

    Sounds like you’re getting a taste of the insanity that is the “Men’s Rights Advocates”

    • And what is “Men’s Rights Advocates” I’ve never heard of this.

      • Nicholas says:

        I can go into more detail tomorrow night at wine tasting, but basically it’s a reverse backlash against the supposed “unfairness” of feminism, usually combined with bemoaning the “emasculation of masculinity in our culture”. It mostly tends to thrive in pocket online communities, since it’s basically tantamount to claiming chauvinism and victimhood in one fell swoop, which doesn’t generally fly in the real world.

  6. Scott Osborne says:

    You provide an interesting approach to this controversy. Let me take the other side and say this is clearly on the side of discrimination. Your point of view is to justify these women’s-only races, and they are that even though men can register (you can’t win anything or even get a shirt in a men’s size), as good marketing. In fact you rationalize it as ‘giving consumers what they want’ and thus (correct me if I misunderstood) sheer economics is what is driving these organizations to deliver this product.

    If we take that approach then it would be fair to say that Title IX in college athletics can be rescinded (and this is just one example). We all know that the products (and they ARE products) that generate the most revenue (and thus are ‘what the consumers want’) in college sports are predominantly men’s athletic programs (women’s basketball being the exception). However, it was rightly determined that economics should take a back seat to progressing athletics across all genders. Imagine where we would be if we were only led by our pocket book? There are schools who are having to cancel men’s programs to meet Title IX guidelines.

    I fear that our society has been looking a blind eye to reverse-discrimination and this is just another case in point. I hear things like ‘don’t get your panties in a bunch, it’s just a race’. I, for one, would love to see women band together and say ‘ENOUGH’. Either get a men’s race or make this a race for all. Two wrongs don’t make a right. It was wrong in the 20th Century to discriminate against women and non-white races and we have come a long way thanks to efforts like the Title IX Civil Rights Act of 1969.

    Now some of your other builds to your point are only worth discussing if you agree that economics is the driver and not equality.

    I’ve said my peace but am willing to dialogue on it.

    • Assuming that I agree with your arguement that if we are going to hold women’s focused races that we also need to hold a men’s focused race, then who is going to be required to put on the race? I ask because in speaking with a nice cross section of male runners and competitive walkers (from front of the pack to back of the pack) none of them are interested in doing a men’s focused race. Thus the race organizers are going to be putting on a race that no one wants and in turn are likley to lose money. So, again I ask who is going to be required to put on a race that is going to lose money? In addition, conversely, if there is no market for men’s focused races does this mean we can’t have women’s focused races?

      • John says:

        If you read his post, it is clear that the college that sponsors the men’s athletics is responsible for providing the opportunity for the women to play. They didn’t want to do it. That’s why there’s Title IX. Obviously the sponsors of women’s races like Disney should put one on. The women’s sports foundation actually argued that economics should never be a justification for discrimination.
        I’m not even sure that it’s a case where men won’t come out. At our high schools walk-a-thons we got tremendous male turnout because of the Chicago Bears cheerleaders. I don’t golf but went to a charity golf event because the Admiral entertainers, female strippers, would clean your balls for a dollar. Now that’s marketing.

        Just so you don’t think that it’s just the presence of women that get guys out, I’ve been in many tae kwon do tournaments where I only fought men, only expected to fight men and only wanted to fight men. When races were all men there didn’t seem to be a problem with turn out. Don’t confuse no market for I don’t want to deal with the backlash.
        If you don’t believe it, start a campaign to make the Boston marathon men only. I bet there would be a huge backlash.
        I’d also bet that if you were successful, there would still be a huge turnout. People who like to run will come out and run.

  7. Tom Laux says:

    @Scott, this is Tom Laux, Colleen’s husband. (I point that out first so you know that I will be a bit biased in this discussion :-)

    As a longtime, competitive runner I find this discussion and the points of view pretty interesting. Being part of the running community I certainly have a feel for many of the opinions of both the male and female runners in our circle and haven’t really heard this great outcry of discrimination over these women oriented races. It’s actually been just the opposite as many of us guys enjoy the opportunity to go out and cheer on the girls in their events. While I found your “Title IX” argument interesting I don’t agree. Title IX was implemented to make sure that, in federally funded institutions, females were basically granted the same opportunities as their male counterparts. I.e. sports programs and scholarships had to be made available to both sexes fairly equally because before Title IX women’s opportunities were much, much less. You called these programs “products” which if we go by demand, only the mens are wanted. But you are referring to the product as the sport being sold to the public, not the opportunity being made to the athlete. Before Title IX the opportunities weren’t there for the athletes themselves. It’s their demand that Title IX addresses, not the public’s.

    Women’s focused races OTOH are the product being sold to the athlete’s themselves. They just happen to be a product oriented towards women. Men are not prohibited from buying the product, it’s just not a product designed for them. (The product may only offer awards for women or women’s shirts but that is part of the offering being made. Don’t purchase it if these are not the features you’re looking for in a race.) There are many such male oriented products on the market as well that women could buy but probably would not. (You won’t find many men buying tampons nor women jock straps, but they may.) Just because a company makes a women’s product does not mean it’s discriminatory for them not to also make a men’s version. It’s just the product they are choosing to sell. Possibly someone has already tried the idea of men’s focused races and found they couldn’t make money on it so they no longer sell it – that’s certainly a possibility.

    Anyway as a guy with nearly 70 marathons to my credit and hundreds of other races having been run as well I’ve never found a circumstance where I’ve looked to run a race and couldn’t find one because none were being offered to me. Racing is big business and business is booming.

    Great discussion.

    • Scott Osborne says:

      I beg to differ on the great outcry of discrimination. Your wife even quotes some of the comments that stemmed from this most recent case. The fact that she even had to write this column is a case in my point.

      My reality is I feel excluded in this event (especially the way it was handled with a all of the clues etc. stringing me along only to find out I don’t qualify because what is between my legs). My perception is reality and so are others who have commented that we FEEL DISCRIMINATED – and how many are there that have not? You can not make someone change how they feel.

      What we can not and should not do in society is say “come on, this is not discrimination, it’s just good business.” My examples may have not won anyone over but my emotions are still the same.

      I will close by asking you to remember the next time you feel discriminated based on your age, gender, race, political position, social status, economic status, etc. and remember what you told me – get over it, it’s just good business.

      What would make me feel better? Probably not a men’s race. But a formal note from Disney stating why they feel obligated to have another women’s race and apologize to the men for how this was handled. I would also like to see Disney or another major race event sponsor something specifically geared towards men’s health like prostate cancer or heart health.

      • Scott: I totally agree that Disney mishandled the entire process of building up to the announcement of this new race. I believe that one of the first clues should have made it very apparent that they were announcing a woman’s focused race. That they didn’t and encouraged many men to become “invested” in this new race before it was announced was simply wrong and men have every right to be frustrated and angry with the company over that aspect. But I ask, if instead of the new race being a women’s focused race it was a masters event (ala the Senior Olympics) where only those persons who were over X age were eligible for any prizes, do you think there would be the same outcry of discrimination?

        Finally, if less than 1% of the participants in a Disney race will receive any sort of overall or age group award, are the other 99% of the participants who simply are not fast enough to contend for one of the few awards really being discriminated against since they have no realistic hope of an award? As for the shirt, 90% of the races I do I receive a men’s shirt and a men’s shirt does not fit my female figure. I being discriminated against in these races because they don’t offer me (or any other female in the race) a woman’s sized shirt?

    • John says:

      I don’t have a problem with them giving only a women’s size shirt. I have a problem with them gibing it only to women. If guys didn’t feel discriminated against then why were over 5% of the runners in Disney’s half marathon men? A race geared and marketed toward women has over 1 in 20 participant’s male. Why do you think that there is no market for it. I state that there are male runners among the spectators who like to cheer the women on. Wouldn’t you suspect that they would also be in a race geared for them. I’m assuming that your wife doesn’t feel as supportive of you.

  8. Tom Laux says:

    @Scott, I can very much understand the frustration with Disney over the introduction of this new race. I didn’t follow the clue trail and try to figure it out myself (so I had no investment of time into the game) but have other male runner friends who did. And they feel the same as you do and I think I might as well had I participated. It sounds like Disney didn’t do a very good job with the introduction of this race if they’ve managed to alienate part of their customer base. So on that point I agree with you. I can also agree with and understand the frustration over Disney introducing another women’s focused race. I’m sure there are plenty of guys out there who were looking forward to another Disney event to add to their race calendar. Disney probably goofed with the introduction of this new race. (Did anyone even figure out the clues?)

    But that does not make what Disney is doing by running another women’s focused race discriminatory. They are still offering products to the public for sale, much the same as a day at one of their theme parks is a product they offer for sale. This product just happens to be slanted towards women. And yes they seem to be having more of their race race products with that same slant. But that IS a business choice they have made, I’m sure based on a lot of research that indicates where the most profit is to be made which is their obligation to the shareholders of the company. You now have the choice to purchase the product or find one that better suites your needs. (I rarely ever will run one of the 5K races at Disney for the same reason. The features I look for in a race such as official results and age group awards aren’t part of those races. The product doesn’t have the features I’m looking for so I spend my race dollars elsewhere.)

    As to your idea of gearing an event towards men’s health issues, I think that would be a great idea and could possibly gain some traction. It does seem like lots of women’s issues get high profile exposure. (The can of Diet Coke in front of me has a red dress and “The Heart Truth” logo on it with a note about supporting women’s heart health programs.) There don’t seem to be as many programs focused on men’s health issues that same way.

    But in the end none of this constitutes discrimination towards men. It simply represents choices which, understandably you are not in agreement with.

  9. Timote says:

    Well I must say I do feel kind of discriminated against here. My wife wants to do a couch to 5k for this race and she’s a total Disney fan, so I wanted to run that with her and then do the half marathon, a goal of mine. However, the way this is going makes me feel unwelcome so maybe I won’t. I think that’s a real shame. I don’t have a problem with the theming and clearly a women focused event, but I think they could make men feel welcome too without damaging that too badly. It seems that men are only barely tolerated, probably as a hedge against a lawsuit. Sucks.

    • Tom Laux says:

      @Timote, having been a spectator for my wife at each of the Disney Princess races and the Minnie race they replaced I wouldn’t say that it looked like on the race course the men were being treated any different than the women. From my vantage point it didn’t look like the women in the race were acting any different than they normally would in a race and I certainly never heard any spectators booing the men or anything like that. There just aren’t a whole lot of guys who choose to run the race so if running with mainly women makes you uncomfortable you might not enjoy it. But you sure wouldn’t be the only guy out there. (To me all the other stuff such as T-shirst, the chick goodie bags and such are just “stuff” so it wouldn’t matter much, but I run a lot of halfs and marathons so I already have a ton of this stuff my opinion might be a bit biased.)

      I’d say if you want to run the race, run it and enjoy it just knowing you won’t have many souvenirs, but unless you’re about a sub-1:20 guy I wouldn’t worry too much about the lack of AG awards. Lots of competitors and very few awards (even in the other Disney races).

    • John says:

      A marriage is give and take. Your wife really should consider your feelings, but if she really wants to go, let her go to Disney on her own this year so you don’t feel bad and go to Vegas on your own next year.

  10. John says:

    There is another issue of a place of public accommodation discriminating against a particular group. That was resolved in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That’s why men aren’t banned from the race. In my own opinion, it’s rude, mean, and dishonest to allow men to race, but actively discourage them from doing so.

  11. K.C. says:

    The hype and clue trail leading up to the official announcement of the Tinkerbell race was a joke. Disney strung the male audience along and then left us baffled when they announced a womens-focused event. Disney races, while fun to a certain group of runners, will never be on par with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. Competitor Group is a great organization and promote fairness to all athletes regardless of skill or gender. Competitor has even taken the generous step of introducing women’s-cut participant t-shirts at its’ events. Great step on their part to make the female runners happy. Competitor properly addressed female concerns, while Disney “technically” shut-out the men. I know the men can still run Tinkerbell, BUT WHY BOTHER? Women’s cut t-shirt, female-targeted swag? Disney is allowing men to run Tinkerbell for two reasons…First, to avoid a sex-discrimination lawsuit, and even more importantly, they want our (mens) money!!
    Disney did itself a huge disservice by not introducing a race at Disneyland Paris. This would have made the Disney Series truly Global!! Run Disney’s snub of Europe will be Competitor Group’s Gain. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Series is going Global next year and will keep getting bigger and better! Run Disney will never achieve the success of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I am running the Disneyland Half on Labor Day Weekend to complete the Coast-to-Coast Challenge (Not Impressed with the new finisher medal design). Afterwards, Disney will only see me again as a tourist in its parks.

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