This middle aged woman can

How’s that for a catchy slogan? There are a proliferation of annoying hashtags all about empowering women to take up sport and exercise. Alongside this are an increasing number of events branded as women (or more usually ‘girls’) only, Pretty Muddy, Iron girls, Great women’s 10k etc etc #thisgirlcan.

I understand the sentiment behind this movement but for me it seems more divisive than inclusive. It’s an unassailable fact that men and women are physiologically different but this isn’t news. Men have a higher ratio of muscle mass to body weight, so they will generally always be faster or stronger than women. There will always be exceptions but this is just simple biology, no point getting upset about it. What I will get upset about is the perception that women are somehow capable of less and really need their own pink and fluffy events. Giving us our own little events to level the playing field actually marginalises women rather than including women. I’m not talking about elite competition or team sports here, common sense dictates that separation is needed in those environments. I’m talking about recreational running and gym activities. Why do we need our own 5ks when parkrun welcomes everyone regardless of gender, ability or age?

The message I get from the glittery pink events is “you can do this little event, no big nasty boys to upset you and make you feel inferior”. The problem is that I don’t feel inferior, but now these type of events are telling me that maybe I should. I’ve been running for a long time and I’ve done every type of event imaginable, I’ve never been worried about the performance of anyone else so why does it matter who else is participating? I’m no elite, I’m a middle aged woman who relishes the challenge of what I do. I’ve recently done my first ultra marathon, nobody ever told me I couldn’t do it. In fact I did it because someone told me I could! So we’re all susceptible to believing what we’re told, why not tell ‘girls’ that they can take part in events as equals?

The same applies in the gym, as a woman in my mid 40s I don’t expect to be as strong as an equivalent man. Why should that bother me? Well, it doesn’t. I’m interested in being the best I can be, no good will come from comparisons. Let the women train with the men and each do our own best. We have our own goals and our own measures of improvement.

Giving women our own events and sessions is well intentioned but ultimately gives us another glass ceiling. Who wants an artificially level playing field with an imposed barrier? Give me a field of lumps and bumps where the sky is the limit. There will be obstacles and tumbles along the way but the potential to achieve is infinite. There are enough battles still to be fought without creating new ones that don’t need to exist. Just because you’re female doesn’t mean you can’t be sporty, conversely not all people who lack confidence to join in sporting events are female. Let’s encourage those who want to join in regardless of gender or stereotype.

The road to strength and fitness is not paved with pink glitter, unicorns or empowering hashtags. Take the first step, join in and see where it leads to. Parkrun or ultramarathon, male or female, first place or last place, we’re all doing the same thing. There’s a Latin phrase which translates as “strength rejoices in the challenge”, how about that for an empowering hashtag?