Race for Life – The Acceptable Face of Sexism

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.

5 responses to “Race for Life – The Acceptable Face of Sexism

  1. I used to be involved with Rotaract, a part of Rotary International, and even as a ‘feminist’, I couldn’t understand why there was a problem with men only Rotary clubs, so long as women could have their own clubs too.

    Inner Wheel is a women only organisation of Rotary and is mainly the home of the wives. I was always annoyed to see the push to get women into men only Rotary clubs when there was no push to get men into Inner Wheel clubs. Perhaps it was a reverse discrimination where people think it is demeaning for men to aspire to do women’s things.

    Those who complained were happy to go on hen or stag nights or nights out with the lads or girls, so I couldn’t see why they couldn’t understand that sometimes you only want to socialise with your own gender.

    I would not be able to explain away the Race for Life though, and agree that the discrimination is wrong.

  2. Completely agree – it just seems wrong to exclude half the population from doing something and to help raise millions more (other than just giving to their wifes, mums, girlfriends, sisters etc..)

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  4. Men can get breast cancer, women can get breast cancer. Men can lose someone they love to breast cancer, women can lose someone they love to breast cancer. Men can want to help raise awareness and money for an issue, so can women. I’m not seeing much difference between the two sexes so neither should the event organisers.

    What would be interesting to know is whether trans women are currently allowed to take part. Can you do an investigation job?

  5. That is an excellent question! I am sure it has already been answered though by trans gender women who have already taken part in the Race for Life. However with that said, I understand the rules of Rotary International are different in the USA than that of the UK. There are even different sets of bylaws and constitutions for Rotary International Great Britian and Ireland http://www.ribi.org/ ….and the USA: http://www.rotary.org
    What is interesting about the topic you bring up is the Inner Wheel is mainly in other countries but in the USA, clubs are to be dual gender. In 1987, the US supreme court ruled that since Rotary Clubs are not considered private clubs (mainly because members work/partner/network with their community), it is considered a broad based business service organization. To leave out a gender is a form of disenfranchisement because both genders make up the business leaders/associates in a given locality of where the club exists.

    In the USA, there is a strong emphasis to have diversity not only in the classifications or vacations of members who make up the club’s membership, but also in all other areas of diversity such as sexual orientation, race, religion, national origin etc… After all, the motto is “Service Above Self” and all helping hands are needed…and legs in my opionion for the Race for Life.

    If you follow the RI (USA board minutes) you will read in the January 2012 minutes (pages 30-40?) there is mention of RI allowing a budget of $7500 to provide a “hearing on April 10th” where a USA Rotary Club in Union City TN is being accused of excluding women in a 140 plus member club. This club was chartered 75 years ago and has refused to even submit a plan on how they plan to start inviting women into their membership…to their district Governor.

    This district’s Past District Governors as well as the new incoming District Governors mustered up the courage to go before the RI board (in Evanston Illinois on April 10th) and reveal their evidence that this club refuses to include women into their membership. Apparently there was documentation of this, plus testimony (recorded evidence).

    Bottom line, during the Bangkok RI Convention, the RI Board voted on the fate of this club. They decided to give them until June of 2013 to show good faith, (submit their plan on how they plan on inviting women into their membership), or hopefully by then have done so. At that time, a report will be handed over to the General Secretary, John Hewko.
    This past Rotary year, I was appointed Assistant Governor of a district near the heart of our USA’s National Capital. One of the 54 club’s in my district informed me by phone that they do not accept women. Nor have they for the past 89 years, or even 25 years after the supreme court ruling. What is disturbing for me is the lack of respect for club compliance for national law. The USA has no business dictating their culture to other countries, but as representatives or Rotary, we should respect our own country’s laws. In the USA, Rotary Clubs are to reflect the diversity of their community. Both men and women are in that reflection. Rotary International is spending close to a million dollars on “branding” Rotary. If something is to be a “brand” the recipe should remain the same all over the world. Product assurance is key.

    Whether we like it or not, if dues are paying for hearings, and the branding of Rotary, it is time to decide who we are. As for me, I do not feel comfortable being a Rotarian any longer. I was ordered in writing from a member of RI, that i am not allowed to talk about this, not even Rotarian to Rotarian. And he told me that he would not attempt to change, or help me change the “culture” of this male only club. Then after informing me of this, he terminated me.

    .

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