Races for women play an important role
6 May 2019
Participating in a race for women plays an important role for women and increases self-confidence among participants. Women aim to perform as well as they can, and they place most emphasis on their physical performance, despite the organisers’ often stereotypical framing of the popular festival as something in which to indulge yourself.
That is one of the conclusions of research on races for women conducted by Karin S. Lindelöf and Annie Woube from 2011 to 2018 at the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University. The research has now been completed.
“The participants focus on and are encouraged by their physical performance. They appreciate the women’s races because they perceive them as a more equal competition and like the fact that a woman comes in first,” says Karin S. Lindelöf, ethnologist and senior lecturer at the Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University. “They do not feel that people stare at them to the same extent as in mixed races; what matters is the feeling that their bodies are functioning. The fact that a great number of women take part means that the significance of gender disappears.”
Beginning in the 1980s, races for women developed around the actual reality and responsibilities of women. Gender inequalities, such as expectations that women had and still have greater responsibility for the home, has meant that men have had more access to leisure time than women. Prevailing male athletic norms also signalled that races were not something for women.
Related side events may be problematic
Each year hundreds of thousands of people participate in some of the Swedish races for women, such as Vårruset (Spring Race) or Tjejmilen (Women’s 10-km Run). Organisers often market the competitions using terms such as solidarity, celebration and joy – without hustle and bustle – something done with colleagues or friends. Ever since the 1980s, the target audiences for the races have been based on the organisers’ perceptions of what women are interested in or want to have. The major races often have been surrounded by related side events such as shopping tents, entertainment and social activities that some participants think are problematic.
“Many participants feel a great ambivalence towards the concept of ‘girl’ (the Swedish term ‘tjej’ means girl) in this context,” says Annie Woube, ethnologist and researcher at the Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University. “Organisers frame the events with a set of preconceptions and prejudices about gender and femininity that not everyone agrees with. But the participants themselves focus on their physical performance and experience this as encouraging and confidence-building. Participants in the study repeatedly comment that sports in a single-sex context is liberating.”
A kind of modern housewife holiday
For several years Karin S. Lindelöf and Annie Woube have studied how recreational races for women work and what makes them so popular. Previously they have stated that many of the participants see trips to women’s races as an escape from everyday life – a kind of modern housewife holiday. Now they are reporting all their conclusions – their entire, fully analysed, complete materials – and conclude their research on women’s races with the book I tjejers spår – för framtids segrar: Om tjejlopp och villkor för kvinnors motionsidrottande (“In Women’s Footsteps – for Future Victories: About Women’s Races and the Context of Women’s Recreational Sports”)
The researchers have interviewed participants and have had access to accounts from more than 600 women who participated in the races called Vårruset, Tjejmilen or Tjejvasan (a ski race). Most have shared their experiences through written accounts in response to a call for submissions that the researchers issued during the 2011–2013 period in cooperation with Nordiska Museet. They also have their own autoethnographic reports from when they have participated in women’s races themselves.
Has created new ways to take part in sports
Women’s races have changed the world of exercise and created new ways to participate in sports. While both male and female racers focused on performance and competition before, now there is a large group whose exercise is moderate, inclusive and functional.
“Women’s races introduced a different perspective in which pride in performance, in executing races and being able to use the body in a functional way are more important than cutthroat competition. What started in races like Vårruset and Tjejmilen, which focused on making it easier and fun to exercise, has been followed by other races that are for everyone, including the Blodomloppet and Midnattsloppet races. “You can let go of the idea that it’s about being the best and that performance is all that is measured,” says Karin S. Lindelöf, ethnologist and senior lecturer at the Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University.
Summary of the three main findings
- Participation in women’s races is what creates encouragement and builds confidence. For the participants, taking part in the race and their own performance are the driving force, and they focus on the sport itself. Solidarity with other women and taking part in sports together in a single-sex context is also important. This is true despite the fact that races for women are portrayed as a wimpish variation and “a fun thing” for which you do not need much training.
- For many women the races serve as an introduction to a sports world they have not known or been familiar with. Women’s races often serve as an introduction to longer and mixed races.
- The races have created new ways to engage in sports, with the emphasis on using the body in a moderate and functional way. These ideas have become more widespread, leading to the emergence of several single-sex and mixed-gender races with a more inclusive context, unlike male-coded sports where winning is the only goal.
In the coming years the researchers will continue to study gender aspects of participation in extreme races, ultramarathons, the Iron Man and various types of races under extreme conditions.
Sustainable urbanisation requires collaboration
10 juni 2019
On Sunday, 30 June, six seminars on sustainability and urbanisation focusing on India and Sweden will take place in Almedalen. To find out more, we talked to Swaminathan Ramanathan, visiting research fellow, and Owe Ronström, professor of ethnolog...
Races for women play an important role
06 maj 2019
Participating in a race for women plays an important role for women and increases self-confidence among participants. Women aim to perform as well as they can, and they place most emphasis on their physical performance, despite the organisers’ oft...
Award for research and teaching on the Holocaust
11 april 2019
Tomislav Dulić, Senior Lecturer in History and Director of the Hugo Valentin Centre, has been awarded the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Award 2019.
Diplomatic wives’ political clout often overlooked
07 mars 2019
Many 20th-century accounts of international relations and diplomacy often leave out the role of women. Diplomats’ wives were not officially employed, but diplomacy was frequently based on couples working together.
Ola Larsmo awarded Martin Henriksson Holmdahl Prize
16 november 2018
The Martin Henriksson Holmdahl Prize is Uppsala University’s foremost award for efforts to promote human rights and liberty. This year’s prize is awarded to author and honorary doctor Ola Larsmo.
New light cast on Scandinavia’s most important Bronze Age site
09 oktober 2018
Håga, Scandinavia's most significant Bronze Age site, is relatively unknown. But in a new book, archaeologists at Uppsala University have brought together what is known and placed Håga in a larger context.
New study shows virus traces in historical skeletal material
06 september 2018
A new international study shows the importance of studying historical skeletal material to increase knowledge about how viruses develop.
Large-scale whaling in north Scandinavia may date back to 6th century
13 juni 2018
The intensive whaling that has pushed many species to the brink of extinction today may be several centuries older than previously assumed. This view is held by archaeologists from Uppsala and York whose findings are presented in the European Jour...
Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson to receive King’s Medal
08 juni 2018
H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf has decided to award Uppsala University’s Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson and Johan Svedjedal, Professor of Literature, H.M. The King’s Medal.
This year’s Distinguished Teaching Award winners chosen
04 juni 2018
The 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award winners at Uppsala University teach subjects related to art history, informatics and media, pharmaceutical biosciences and information technology. The free Distinguished Teaching Award was presented to Senior ...
Human diversity as a research area
29 maj 2018
Human diversity abounds in language, culture and biology. An understanding of this diversity is central to a lot of research, but it is important to address the ethical issues raised by this research. The Human Diversity Research Network takes an ...
Shared meals important for wellbeing
29 maj 2018
How, where and when we eat are key issues for human health and wellbeing. A multidisciplinary research network at Uppsala University aims to deepen knowledge about the significance of meals.
Is citizenship necessary for being part of a democracy?
26 april 2018
Nowadays, civil rights are usually connected with citizenship of a country. But how do growing globalisation and more mobility affect this?
Mobilising for research on higher education
26 april 2018
Remarkably little research is conducted on higher education in Sweden, but a large share of existing research on the subject is at Uppsala University. Through a research network for research on higher education, researchers are now mobilising to d...
Two Uppsala researchers elected at American Academy
25 april 2018
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recently elected new members. Two Uppsala researchers were elected as international honorary members.
The Well-Laden Ship: Viking exhibition soon to reach America
11 april 2018
In late April, a ship will reach New York bringing the exhibition “The Vikings Begin” which will embark on a two-year tour of the US. On display will be a selection of 1,300-year-old items from the pre-Viking Age. Usually in storage at Gustavianum...
Art historian receives award from Vitterhetsakademien
09 april 2018
Every year, Vitterhetsakademien (The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities) confers prizes for outstanding scholarly achievements. PhD Hedvig Mårdh at Uppsala University was one of the 2017 prizewinners.
New Oscar Prize winners announced
21 december 2017
Uppsala University’s Oscar Prize for young researchers has been awarded to Eric Cullhed, Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Linguistics and Philology and Oskar Karlsson, Doctor of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences.
New thesis on 21st-century Swedish crime fiction: A Market of Murders
20 december 2017
Why have Swedish detective stories become so immensely popular in our century? What murder motives and weapons are most common in the genre, and why? And is it true that Swedish crime fiction is characterised by social criticism? A new thesis from...
Collaboration for new knowledge in culture and society
09 december 2017
Uppsala University is aiming to develop new research collaborations spanning different research subjects. The newly created Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society at the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences will fac...