Once again the time of year has come around when, as the skies are bluer, the birds are chirpier and the excuses to avoid spring cleaning are brought out with abandon, Cancer Research UK start running their TV advertising campaign to get people to sign up to run the Race for Life to raise much needed funds.
Now before the criticism comes flooding my way, let me just say that Cancer Research UK are a fantastic charity. The work they do raises extraordinary amounts of money for a cause that is more than likely to affect all of us, in some way or another, in our lifetimes. The platform they have established allows the message to be broadcast wider than ever before and awareness is at record levels. The Race for Life is a flagship event and one which raises millions every year and Cancer Research UK must be commended for this. Anything that raises that kind of money for a good cause on a national platform must surely be lauded.
Unfortunately, however, the Race for Life is also the only overtly sexist and discriminatory charity event that I can think of. I know men who have done the night-walk wearing a bra to raise money for the fight against breast cancer. I know women who have donned a wig and a beard for the awareness raising drives for testicular cancer charities. I do not, however, know one man who has done the Race for Life, despite knowing plenty who would happily do so. That is because men are not allowed. It is, as their website proudly boasts, ‘the largest women-only fundraising event in the UK’.
The advertising campaign shows tear-jerking images of women running the race with dedications stuck to their chests. They are all running it for people they know. ‘To my Mum, the bravest and the best’. There is no way anyone can fail to be moved by those simple words and it is things like that that make me feel, even as I write, a little uneasy about criticising. But criticise I must. There are millions of men across the country who have lost loved ones to cancer and who would dearly love to run, bedecked all in pink with a silly wig, with their dedication written on their chest. Excluding men from this event is simply awful and I fail to see how, year on year, it is allowed.
I would ask how many of you would be up in arms if a men-only event was launched. If a grieving woman was prevented from taking part in an event in memory of her husband, her brother or her Dad. Women have suffered at the hands of discrimination and sexism at the hands of men for centuries and it is right that we have anti-discrimination laws in place and that attitudes are changing. What that does not mean, however, is that we now have carte blanche to exclude men, many of whom feel hurt and angry at their grief and desire to take part is seen as less important, less significant than that of women. In 2012, the barring of people taking part in an event on the grounds of sex is simply unacceptable.
Cancer does not discriminate. Nor should the Race for Life.