On Thursday, Ironman England posted an announcement on Facebook about the introduction of an Iron Girl race in Bolton:
It instantly garnered a lot of attention. When I last looked there were
- 700 comments
- 700 shares
- 100 likes
- 100 laughing emoji
- 400 angry emoji
There were some comments in support of the event by people who thought it was fine. These were mostly men, but there were also some women. J
I was really angry, annoyed and frustrated and instantly started drafting a blog post. However, y
What is Iron Girl?
First up, we need to acknowledge that Iron Girl is already an established subsidiary of Ironman. It’s a brand name Ironman has used worldwide since 2004. To
Ironman runs successful triathlons and running races up to half marathon distance under the Iron Girl brand. It seems to be incredibly popular in the USA. This was the first attempt to hold an Iron Girl-branded event in the UK.
Ironman’s main competitor, Challenge, also runs
- Challenge Women, the women only 5km run/walk that is held the day before Challenge Roth
- Challenge Women Paguera-Mallorca
I also find some aspects of these events deeply problematic (such as the provision of a manicure area at the event in Roth).
Is there anything positive about Ironman’s original proposal?
I think that most people agree that holding a 5km event alongside an Ironman is a good idea. It provides something for people who are not participating in the main event to do.
5km is an ideal entry-point into running. There is plenty of time for people who are currently unable to run that distance to train. There is a great demand for events at this distance (although I must acknowledge that for most people in the UK, parkrun fulfils that requirement).
The cost of the race was set at Â£10. Ironman is an expensive brand. To enter a full distance race costs around Â£450 (not including the additional costs of kit, travel and so on).
What were the negatives?
It depends on what the intention of the event was. Was it to introduce people to multisport? It’s just a running event, so perhaps a Go Tri event would be better. However, that has additional challenges as even a short triathlon requires a range of equipment. I can see both sides of this argument. Going to parkrun and running 5km was what led me to join a running club and take part in a range of races up to
Why was it over 16s only? IAAF state that it is fine for runners aged 9+ to run up to 5km in a session. Runners aged 4 upwards take part in parkruns. To restrict this race to over 16s seems odd.
Why the branding is inappropriate
Overall, the biggest problem with the event was the inappropriate branding.
The name – Iron Girl – is entirely inappropriate for an event that is not aimed at children. There are plenty of women who are not bothered by being referred to as ‘girls’. I would suggest that for some it is because they have heard the word so frequently that they have not considered its implications. Why should women be infantilised in this way? It is casual sexism.
The parody gender equality account ‘Man who has it all‘ on Facebook demonstrated the ridiculousness of the branding by suggesting an alternative event called ‘Iron Boy’. I would strongly recommend that you read the comments identifying the sexism involved in the Iron Girl event.
There are plenty of alternative names that could be used that do not patronising but make it clear that the event is linked with the Ironman brand.
A 5km fun run?
Another problem is referring to it as a 5km fun run. This suggests that no-one is taking it seriously. There will always be plenty of people who take part in a 5km event without any intention of running as fast as they can. Alongside them will be people who have trained as hard as possible with individual goals, whether to complete the distance, complete the distance without walking or to complete the distance in a particular time. This suggests that those goals are irrelevant and yet they are the same goals that people doing a full iron-distance event will have in mind.
The suggestion that the event isn’t taken seriously is compounded by the knowledge that Iron Girl t-shirts at some events have the slogan “Girls just want to have fun” printed on the back. If I had one of those t-shirts, I’d definitely have edited it. Mine would say”
GirlsÂ Women just want to have fundamental rights!!!”
As I’ve mentioned, 5km is a great entry-level race. However,by providing it as a women-only alternative to the full iron-distance race, it implies that women are incapable of taking on extreme endurance events. It’s suggesting that men can do 226km (3.8+180+42.2), whilst women can only do <3% of that distance!
The problematic logo
Next we can analyse the t-shirts and other aspects of the branding. A delicate pastel blue colour has been chosen. The Iron Girl logo is some sort of butterfly or flower. It looks similar to the kind of logo more often seen
Why women only?
It is important to acknowledge that there is a place for women-only events to encourage female participation in sport. Getting women active is a good thing. Rates of female participation in any sport are significantly lower than rates for men of the same age. The controversially named This Girl Can campaign showed women being empowered by sport, rather than not being good enough to compete with men, which is what many felt the creation of an Iron Girl event suggested.
The timing of the announcement was also particularly bad. Just the day before Iron Girl was announced, ultrarunner Jasmin Paris won the Montane Spine race. This is a gruelling 268 mile (431km) event along the Pennine Way. Not only did she beat all of the entrants of both genders, but she smashed the course record by 12 hours whilst expressing milk along the way.
Race for Life with its pink branding has been incredibly successful in encouraging women to walk or run 5km. Many people find these events being single-sex acceptable as they are raising awareness of cancers that mainly
Only 304/2087 (14.5%) of the competitors at Ironman UK in 2018 were female, so there is definitely an inequality. (This inequality follows through to the number of places that are allocated to pro females at the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Elite women have to take part in more races than men to guarantee themselves a spot at the event. This is hardly fair, but an argument for another day!) Some women feel intimidated and worry they will be unwelcome in a male-dominated sport, so an entry level event is a good thing.
However, whilst there is a time and a place for women-only events, this was not it. The event did not feel inclusive. I would argue that even the apology hasn’t really acknowledged that, as can be seen in the statement “we wanted an empowering environment for females not interested in Ironman distance”. What about the men who are not ready or interested in taking on the full distance? There will be plenty of youths and men who are supporting their partners at Ironman UK who would want to participate in an event alongside it. It could even be interpreted that Ironman
Ultimately, the provision of an Iron Girl event alongside Ironman UK seems to reflect outdated ideas. It almost suggests that we are living in an exclusively heterosexual society where men can take part in a big challenge supported by the women in their family. That may have been acceptable in the 1950s, but is intolerable now.
Ironman doesn’t always get it wrong!
I thought I’d end on a positive note about Ironman. This whole debacle shows the power of social media to give people a voice. The negativity towards the event was swiftly recognised by Ironman and the event was changed to something more palatable to the British public.
Ironman has previously recognised International Women’s Day. The message in the following video demonstrates how Ironman wants to inspire women and girls to participate in multisport.