Women’s 10km race in China offers hair, make-up, cupcakes and male models

  • Candyfloss and hot chocolate, beauty services at the finish line and handsome men, but it’s not an Abercrombie and Fitch store opening
  • Organisers of the event in Shanghai say they want to ‘cultivate’ more women runners
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 9:23pm

The organisers of an all-women’s 10km run in Shanghai want to give women their own platform to take part in the sport – and they want them to look pretty afterwards.

All volunteers and judges at the 2018 Shanghai International Women’s Elite 10K Race will be male, there will be hair and make-up services at the finish line, and a food area serving cupcakes, candyfloss and hot chocolate – all the things “women love”, according to the organisers.

But it doesn’t end there. To motivate women to take part, everyone who finishes the race will be given specially designed “completion” necklaces – instead of medals – by male models, so that they can “have a queenlike experience”, the organisers say.

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“It’s really just so ridiculous,” said Leta Hong Fincher, author of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China. But it was consistent with the Chinese government’s propaganda promoting traditional gender norms over the last few years, she added.

“They’re presenting an image of the correct kind of woman in China, somebody who just loves to [wear] make-up and pretty jewellery,” Hong Fincher said.

The race has been organised by the Chinese Athletic Association and the Shanghai Sports Federation, along with the Changning district government and Donghao Lansheng Event Management, which is sponsored by the municipal authorities. It will take place on December 2.

According to Zhou Jin, general manager of the events company, the race is part of an effort to “cultivate” more women runners.

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Hong Fincher said she found it suspicious that the organisers had chosen to hire all male staff, saying there could be a mass matchmaking element to the event as well.

“The government has been trying to push, particularly, educated urban women into getting married and having babies,” Hong Fincher said, adding that this was part of a drive to combat the falling birth rate and ageing population in China.

Mass matchmaking events are common for young singles – and their anxious parents trying to find partners on their behalf – across China. The Communist Party Youth League says its events are attended by thousands of people.

Everyday sexism is considered rife in China. This week, sexist attitudes surfaced when social media users attacked women drivers after a fatal bus crash in southwest China, which a witness said had been caused by a woman in heels driving in the wrong direction. Many commenters on microblogging platform Weibo wrote messages such as, “The traffic management authorities should just ban women from driving.” It was later reported that the woman had been driving normally.

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A recent Human Rights Watch report on gender discrimination in employment in the country found widespread prejudice in recruitment advertisements, such as ads that say “beautiful girls needed”. China’s gender parity ranking, meanwhile, fell from 57 in 2008 to 100 in 2017, according to the World Economic Forum. A smaller proportion of Chinese women are working today and the gender pay gap is widening.

But educated young Chinese women have been pushing back against gender stereotypes and conventional societal expectations. They no longer want to marry young and resent their objectification, Hong Fincher said.

“They recognise sexism for what it is. I think what may happen is a lot of women just want to run and they’re not going to fall for all the other propaganda elements,” she said.