Cycling’s battle of the sexes


Tonight, I am sad. I’m sad because these past few days I have seen an enormous amount of sexism in the cycling world lately. I know that sexism exists all over society, but I don’t think I’ve ever confronted it as much as I have in the cycling world. I’m not saying that cycling is more sexist than other areas of my life that I participate in, but nothing else I’m passionate about has aroused this much ire in me. And lately this ire is turning to sadness. A sadness that so many people don’t recognize the sexism that exists in our society. Oh sure, women can vote, advance far up the career ladder, be a mom and a career woman, stay single as long as they like, etc. So what am I complaining about, you wonder? Clearly women are totally equal to men- they have all the same opportunities! Oh but it’s not about the opportunities. It’s about the deeper issues. Sure, on the surface women seem to be equal to men. And maybe with regards to opportunities, the sexes are equal. But what is not equal is how the sexes are perceived at a deeper level. Whether you realize it or not, sexism is so ingrained in our society, most people do not recognize it. Stereotypes are actually sexism disguised. Emotions, child rearing, home life, fragility= female. Strength, stoicism, the workforce, breadwinner= male. Words like “pussy,” “girly,” “sissy” are used to illustrate weakness. Expressions like “grow a pair,” “balls to the wall,” “man up” are used to illustrate strength. Notice a trend? Whether we want to admit or not, the male lists are given more weight and prestige in our society.

If you really looked into how society views men and women, can you honestly say that society sees men as exactly equal as men? Not just on the opportunities level, but on a perception level? I do my bit to counter sexism by trying to educate those I come in contact with on how they might be unintentionally sexist. And I feel I do a pretty good job. But when the Amgen Tour of California pulls stunts like making a women’s TT payouts conditional on how they preform against the men and when pro cyclists Caleb Fairly cannot see how this might be offensive or demeaning towards female cyclists, I despair at such blatant disrespect for the female sex. If ideas like this are seen as a good idea, ideas so clearly discriminatory against women, how can we even begin to tackle the ingrained sexism of our society? It’s hard work convincing someone that their knee jerk reactions and accepted truths are actually sexist stereotypes. It’s even harder to accomplish this over Twitter. It’s too easy to fall back onto sarcastic, hurtful statements, when well thought out, reasoned arguments require so much more than 140 character soundbites. In addition, because some have so many followers, they can become inundated with negative comments and become supremely defensive. This makes it impossible to have a civilized discussion.

It’s not just the ToC story that has me worked up. It’s been little things like the use of the word “girled,” the Sea Otter Classic  getting sued for having a female only day, someone using the phrase “boys will be boys.” All of these things made me mad, then I got sad. I know what I do to help people understand how sexism is rooted in our society. But I don’t know what else to do. Is that enough? Maybe. I’ll do what I can and hope it’s enough.

(I’ve written about sexism in cycling before, here)

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5 Comments

  1. Laura Kehrberg

     /  April 5, 2011

    Check out the monetary prizes given to men and women in the racing circuits. Compare them. We host a team of professional female cyclists every year for about a week in our house (Team Colavita) and more than once have had a national champion in our house. Why are they in our house? Because they can’t afford to stay anywhere other than host housing. Can’t say the same is true of the men’s teams….esp. if they have a national champion on their team. So sad….and actually annoying….to the point of really pissing you off.

    Reply
    • TheBloomingCyclist

       /  April 6, 2011

      the whole pay disparity between men and women has definitely been a topic of conversation on Twitter- it rears its ugly head once in awhile. I actually donated money to a female rider, sue butler, who was headed to cyclocross worlds but lacked the sponsorship and budget to get over there herself. It makes me angry, then it makes me really sad, that people either don’t know, or acknowledge that this type of blatant sexism exists! But i’m happy to see that you’re doing your part to help women’s cycling!

      i actually wrote another article awhile ago about inequalities in women’s cycling and who’s job it is to fix it: http://masteringtheuphillshift.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/excuse-me-while-i-get-on-my-soapbox/

      and if you like good coffee AND you want to support women’s cycling, you should order coffee thru Ciclirati.com. p He’s from SD, and i follow him on twitter- he’s a pretty awesome guy. he gives 15% of his proceeds to women’s cycling. and his coffee is always getting rave reviews on twitter. http://www.ciclirati.com/shop/#ecwid:category=561483&mode=category&offset=0&sort=normal

      Reply
      • Laura Kehrberg

         /  April 6, 2011

        I was aware of the coffee deal and almost purchased some despite the fact that I don’t actually drink coffee. I guess for now I’ll stick with being “Housemuther” ( what the team calls me)….now if he started brewing good craft beer…that might be another matter.

        Reply
  2. Interesting topic. Women and men are different, in many ways, but I get where you are coming from in terms of the labels and sexist references.

    RE: the TT purse thing. Sure, there are lots of ways to incentive performance and participation in an event – this seems odd. I don’t like it either.

    On the other hand, I like women being women and not men. Difference in people (and sexes) makes life much more interesting. Being different is normal, we all discriminate based on many factors – especially if we have to make quick-judgments about people we don’t know. That’s just human. When does it become “racist” or “sexist”? I know it when I see it, I guess.

    Thanks for the post, and don’t let the bastards grind you down.

    Reply
    • TheBloomingCyclist

       /  April 6, 2011

      it’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally grudgingly admitted that men and women are biologically different and that means that women will never be exactly like men, nor will women be able to do everything exactly equal to me. And as such, I’m okay that men and women don’t compete against each other in sports, cycling and otherwise. What I’m surely not okay with is how unequal men’s and women’s sports are. AND i’m not okay with how how things associated with females (be it biological make up, standard careers, insults) are seen as the lesser of the two options when compared with things associated with males.

      So, while I’ll say that I don’t want men and women to be exactly the same, what I do want is women to have the same amount of respect as men in society.

      Reply

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