competition · gender policing

Is a Wife Carrying Race like the Warrior Dash with Added Gender Roles?

wife carrying movesThe popularity of an unusual Nordic tradition, the wife carrying championship,  is on the upswing. So CBC news tells me.

“Wife carrying originated in Finland, where it is known as ‘eukokanto.’ The sports’ exact origins are unknown, but there are multiple folk tales that attribute its beginning to a band of thieves that stole the wives of local villagers and carried them through the woods….Several types of carrying are allowed: piggy-back, the fireman’s carry (slung over the shoulder) or what’s known as the Estonian-style carry, in which the wife hangs upside down with her legs wrapped around her husband’s shoulders. The winners take home the wife’s weight in beer (a Finnish tradition), five times her weight in cash and an automatic spot in the World Championship, held in Finland each year. “

Now it’s a bit of adventure/mud race, with wife carrying thrown in.  Wife carrying competitions are complete with log hurdles, water hazards, mud pits, and  hill challenges. Think Warrior Dash with wives.

The North American championships were held a couple of days ago, see Maine couple captures North American Wife Carrying Championship.

Four times they’ve been bridesmaids but now two people from Maine are champions of the North American Wife Carrying Championship. Jesse Wall carried Christina Arsenault over a 254-meter course Saturday that was bedeviled by log hurdles, sand traps and a “widow maker” water hazard at Sunday River ski resort to claim the crown in a time of 1 minute, 4.1 seconds.About 50 couples competed with the winners taking home Arsenault’s weight in beer and five times her weight in cash: $482.50. Unmarried couples like Wall and Arsenault can compete. The two have finished second twice and third twice. Arsenault says they’re able to do so well because she’s “wicked small” and he’s “wicked strong.” Wall and Arsenault are now qualified for the world championship next summer in Finland.

Now I love adventure/mud races like the Warrior Dash and I’m all about having fun. But I confess the gender roles and marital status stuff put me off. What about same sex couples? Or couples in which the husband is small and the wife is strong. Can she carry him?

I admit the categories might be difficult and when you add in weight and gender, it’s tough to be fair. But still….

Some of the North American competitions allow all varieties of couples.  See this from a new report about a competition in Wisconsin. “Organizer Eric Redding said the event is open to any type of coupling. The Wife Carry had its first same-sex couple last year when two women entered together, he said. “We say ‘wife’ in parentheses. We don’t discriminate,” Redding said.”

All of this prompted me to go look at the rules for the worlds–I wondered if the international competition also took such a liberal attitude towards “wife” and who counts– and that’s where things got seriously strange.


The competition is July 3-4th July 2015.

I won’t quote the whole things but it’s worth browsing the website. Here’s their advice on “How to Become a Master in Wife Carrying”:

You’ll find the wife carrying enthusiasts in Savo, Helsinki, Central Europe, Australia, North and South America, in short all over the world. They are strong men and tenacious women. Most of these easy-going people seem to be characterised by placidity and happiness. Of course, with a few more serious looking devotees among them.


The wife carrying is composed of humour and hard sport on a fifty-fifty basis. Everybody may choose what attitude to take towards the competition. The course is open for all to participate.


There are four customary styles to carry the wife: the traditional piggyback, the wife dangling upside down on the carrier’s back, thrown over on the shoulder and crosswise on the carrier’s shoulders. The style is free. You may also create a new personal style of your own.


It is preferable to wear clothes which won’t be stripped off in full speed running and which are easy to hold on to. The carrier’s belt is the only equipment allowed to help in keeping one’s grasp. Some other tools known to be beneficial are a bunch of birch switches, swimming glasses and swimming slippers.


The wife carrying is an attitude towards life. The wives and the wife carriers are not afraid of challenges or burdens. They push their way persistently forward, holding tightly, generally with a twinkle in the eyes.


You can sense the excitement in the air during the wife carrying competition. The core of the race is made of a woman, a man and their relationship. The wife carrying and eroticism have a lot in common. Intuitive understanding of the signals sent by the partner and becoming one with the partner are essential in both of them – sometimes also whipping.


According to the rules the minimum weight of the wife is 49 kilos. If it is less, the wife will be burdened with such a heavy rucksack that the total weight is 49 kilos. Generally the best wife is the wife of one’s own, all the more if she is harmonious, gentle and able to keep her balance while riding on the shoulders of her man.


The traditional track for the wife carrying consists of sand, forested terrain, a water obstacle and two log hurdles. If your style is “the wife dangling upside down”, you have better to remember that in the water pool the wife’s head is likely to go under the water.


It is of great importance to find a mutual rhythm. I the wife on the man’s back is rocking out of time, the speed slows down. When the rhythm is good, the wife and the carrier become one accompanying the motions of each other. It is advisable to practise in order to find the mutual rhythm before the competition.


It is possible to train for the wife carrying competition everywhere in the middle of the daily routines: in the bath, in the super market, in the playground or in the body building centre. The wife carrying is good for your relationship.


“The wife carrying and eroticism have a lot in common. Intuitive understanding of the signals sent by the partner and becoming one with the partner are essential in both of them – sometimes also whipping.”

Whipping? Really? Yes, you read that correctly. It’s starting to remind me of the XRated Run I blogged about last year.

Consensual whipping is one thing–in the bedroom let many flowers bloom, to each his or her own, YMMV, YKINMKBYKIOK, yada yada– but the gender roles at play here make me a little queasy.

I’m also a bit uncomfortable with the whole carrying thing. Obviously this is consensual carrying, as in bride over threshold, but lots of imagery of men carrying wives isn’t that happy. When you think of that in the context of whipping things get worse. It’s a fine line between playing with gender roles, and I get the sense from their materials that this is all very playful, and actual lived, enforced gender roles. When you add to this strong husbands and tiny wives, I start getting nervous.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s lots I love about these competitions. I love the idea of practical functional fitness. Indeed, when my family goes camping there’s often joking attempts at picking up family members of various sizes. When my mother-in-law was suffering from ALS last year, I really appreciated all the strength I’d gained at CrossFit. I could get her in and out of her wheelchair when others struggled. I like running through mud and getting dirty. And I love competitions that count physical skill, agility, balance, strength, and speed.

But wife carrying? Count me out.

I suspect in my family anyway, given our sizesa, it’d be like the tandem bike. We’re all good at carrying but no one likes to be lifted.

10 thoughts on “Is a Wife Carrying Race like the Warrior Dash with Added Gender Roles?

  1. Exerpt from the UK wife carrying competition rules:

    “Males or females carry a ‘wife’ (who must be at least 18 and can be male or female, and does not need to be the carrier’s wife). All those carried must wear a helmet.”

    So, yes, same sex couples would be just fine.

    I wonder if part of the reason this is reading slightly wrong to you is that the Germanic/Scandanavian attitude to nudity and eroticism is very different and much more open than the American one? I know in Germany I was utterly thrown by mixed sex nude showers at a sports centre and the very visible sex shop right opposite my hotel. I make no comment on the relative merits of each approach, but they are very different cultures. I think the whipping thing in particular is intended as a hearty joke rather than a comment on gender and power roles (particularly as the implication to me at least is that the wife is whipping her ‘steed’ to make him go faster).

    1. I don’t think it’s the eroticism that’s bugging me. Rather it’s the ties between the event and its alleged origins, men kidnapping women from other villages! I get that it’s playful and meant in fun but still…the women are small, the men are strong and are carried off. The small person is called “the wife” even if he’s male, not married etc etc

  2. I also find the origins and name off-putting. It’s one of those events where I know it’s supposed to be light and fun yet I have difficulty laughing, kind of like I feel when people tell even ‘mild’ sexist jokes.

    1. Same here. The connotations are pretty gross.

      On the other hand, though, I recently tried out picking up a man over my shoulder and carrying him around for a while, and it was fun and made me feel powerful. I don’t think a husband-carrying counter-tradition is needed, though.

  3. Kind of hard to see the humour in something rooted in kidnapping even if it is completely consensual now. I think the worry is that it might still connote certain attitudes – like men take and women are taken. That’s why I’m still very uncomfortable with anything even approaching S&M, even if it’s consensual and supposedly loving and based on trust, and even if it involves role reversal and all that. It’s rooted in one person taking another and enslaving them and admiittedly, I just can’t get over that. I’m willing to admit, however, that I may just not understand these things very well.

    1. That’s why I’m still very uncomfortable with anything even approaching S&M, even if it’s consensual and supposedly loving and based on trust, and even if it involves role reversal and all that.

      I feel exactly the same.

  4. Yeah. I’d be strongly tempted to participate, and carry a man, just so that the other participants could see it done, but the text you’ve quoted seriously creeps me out too.

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