Where are the women?
This is a question that has been posed a lot in the barefoot and minimalist running community over the last twelve months.
There is a perception that the female demographic in the barefoot and minimalist running community is very small.
Running barefoot is seen as a masculine activity. The whole nature of defying the norms of society – which running barefoot does in spades – gives more credence that this must be a masculine sport. Women feel intimidated and outnumbered.
There is the perception that you cannot run barefoot and be feminine. Running barefoot means dirt, mud and tough feet.
Women in this community show common characteristics. We are feisty, self-aware, confident and independent. We hold our own and we don’t care what others think of us. We are happy to break the rules and we think outside of the box.
What is also apparent is that we do all of this and remain feminine. Running skirts, artful tech clothing, foot jewelry and henna tattoo’s are some of the things we do to make ourselves look feminine as we run. We realize that being barefoot allows us to accentuate our sexuality not diminish it.
There has been much discussion on why some women are attracted to barefoot running and some are completely alienated by the idea.
Previous theories have included:
- Social stereotyping of women along with the need to comply more with social rules;
- Instinctual need to be clean and a feeling we always need to be perfectly groomed;
- That women see running as a social activity and generally many barefoot runners run alone, and;
- Women will only run in shoes that are pretty to look at.
Some of these theories have more credence than others. The fact that this issue is being debated at all just shows that there is still a perceived discrepancy in the sport.
This might not be the case.
Women are represented in the minimalist and barefoot community at the same level as they are in the running community in general. There is no hidden disparity. Women just don’t advertise the fact they run without shoes.
The Barefoot Runners Society – which I help run — sees a 60/40 split in the male/female demographics of its members. The BRS president is a woman and has at least a one-third female representation on its executive committee. I defy any big corporation in Canada to show that level of female integration.
Looking at my own collection of Facebook friends, at least half of my ‘barefoot running’ friends are women.
Female barefoot runners are out there.
As is clear from “female only” fitness clubs and the social aspect women cite as the reason to join fitness groups, there are differences in the way women perceive the role of exercise – including running – in their lives.
The majority of women who take part in a sporting activity, participate for the feeling of personal achievement and strength they experience. Participation is less to do with winning and losing, but more to do with achieving their own personal goals. This is not always the case, but it is clear women prefer the validation within themselves and the other women in their groups, than the medals they achieve.
As such, there is a growing trend of sites and blogs dedicated to women running barefoot – sites that celebrate personal strength.
Caity McCardell has a popular podcast called “Run Barefoot Girl” which has been highlighting popular female barefoot runners. If you look at her podcast list you will see a large selection of women — from vastly different walks of life — who embrace barefoot running in their lives.
Merrell has just announced it’s own dedicated site to women running barefoot. Titled “Pretty Strong”, the aim of the site is to provide information on running in minimalist shoes, but using female advocates. Everything on the site, from the videos, training techniques, to the cadence playlists are designed specifically for women. The site is aimed to make barefoot running approachable to women.
There are also a number of highly popular female bloggers who specifically highlight their journey within the barefoot running community with their own unique female take. The ones below are my personal favourites.
Angela Hotz – Barefoot Angie Bee.
Krista Cavendar – Running naked on sharp pointy stuff.
Shelly Robillard – Shoeless Shel Bell
Trisha Reeves – Barefoot Monologues
Vanessa Rodriguez – Vanessa Runs
Shelley Viggiano – Terrible twos and running shoes
It’s nice to see that big companies like Merrell are seeing the power of women in the barefoot running community. Women are beginning to gain more of a presence and I think in the midst of the facial hair, dubious running attire and hairy legs, a little female touch will not be a bad thing.