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)

Races and their Radios

Argh, okay I know I said I wouldn’t write about the race radio ban (at least on Twitter I did!), but having just read this article on VeloNews, I now can’t help myself! (For background, catch up with this, this, and this.)

I genuinely do not care whether or not the peloton uses radios. I’m writing this post because I think both sides are being ridiculous and want to call them out on it.

Firstly, yeesh, has no one ever heard of compromise? Both sides are of the “my way or the highway” mentality, with neither side willing to back down. This doesn’t seem like the best way to solve this situation!

The UCI seems to have decided to implement their decision for no other reason than because they want to. While they say they “analyzed” all the arguments, I’m interested to know what all the arguments were. In addition, they also site “scientific data” which shows the dangers of using two-way radios. I’d also be interested to know what that scientific data is. And I’m not really sure I believe it when they claim to have listened to everyone in the sport, including “riders, organizers, national federations, media, fans and sponsors,” as they chose to vote on the ban before even having a meeting with many of those they claim to have listened to (article here). So really, they just seem like a bunch of grumpy old men whining about “kids these days.”

As for those who want to keep the radios in their current format, let’s not kid ourselves-you want to keep the radios because it gives you tactical advantage. Yes, there is a safety issue and it helps protect riders. But if you were really interested in keeping the radios for the riders’ safety, you’d be open and proposing a limited use radio.

As someone who’s only started to watch racing this year, I’ve never known racing without radios. However, I wouldn’t say radios made those races boring! For me, in the end, racing is about those on the bike- their endurance and strength. The DS can say whatever he wants on the radio, but if the rider doesn’t have the strength or legs, it’s not gonna matter. There is also the matter of the things beyond human control. Sure, people like Jonathan Vaughters want the race to be “fair” and won by the strongest rider or team, and see radios as the way to do that. But when has cycling ever been fair? On stage 2 of the Tour this year, when a moto slide out on an oil slick in Spa, causing a huge pile up, was that fair? Or when Fränk Schleck crashed on the cobbles, could that have been prevented by radios? And we certainly can’t forget (or at least I can’t!) Andy’s dropped chain, Alberto’s attack, and a road too small to allow a close following support car. Those things certainly weren’t prevented by radios, and they certainly all affected the outcome of the race.

And another thing- I don’t feel like the “test” days in the 2009 Tour, or even the 2010 Worlds are a good litmus test as to how it would work without radios. Most of these guys have spent the last 15 years or so using race radios. You can’t just go from radios to no radios in one day and expect everything to be the same! They need to re-learn how to ride without radios. So don’t use a couple of one-off days to judge whether or not going radio-less is a good idea.

I understand the desire to “go back to the way things were”- I’m a historian, I get it! But you can’t make a 180 degree turn back to the past after being in the very technical present for ages. You can maybe make a 90 degree turn, but you can never go back to exactly the way it was. This is why I think, like others, a good compromise would be to have an open channel, one-way radio. This way riders can be made aware of dangers/accidents/obstacles ahead on the road, gives the DS’s a purpose in their cars, and forces the riders to use their heads AND their feet.

Both sides are acting irrational, not offering any sort of feasible solutions to the problem, and are only hurting the riders who get caught in the middle. The fate of cycling is not in the hand of the race radios- let’s spend more time focusing on how to deal with dopers.

I don’t use radios, but I do use Twitter. Follow me here.

Excuse me while I get on my soapbox…

While this post is a bit of a departure from the usual cycling-related inanities, it was something which struck a nerve with me and does actually relate to cycling in a big-picture way! So, my apologies, but I promise it’s still a good read!

A blog post appeared on the VeloNation website overnight written by Benji Greenwood. Greenwood rides for Rapha Condor-Sharp, a UCI Continental team and periodically blogs for VeloNation. I’ve enjoyed reading Greenwood’s blog, as it is blog about riding in the middle of the peloton- he’s not the best, but he’s not the worst and he loves what he does. It is a personal blog, which is clear from the lack of editing by a higher up. Not really a problem, as he’s a decent writer- his blogs are readable, which is more than I can say for some! In this particular post he attempts to explain the disparity between men’s and women’s sports (with an emphasis on cycling) and what women can do about it. This post struck a nerve with a lot of people, myself included. And okay, I can admit that after reading it I was a bit upset. However, I’ve calmed down now and can look at it all rational and stuff.

I will be the first to admit two things: I didn’t even realize women’s cycling was separate from men’s cycling until watching the Tour de France this year and I don’t really follow women’s cycling.

To the first point: During the Tour, it suddenly struck me that there were no women. After some research I found that women have their own Tour, the Route de France Féminine, as well as their own Giro d’Italia, the Giro Donne, and their own races, such as the Tour de L’Aude. While I would like women to be equal and compete equally with the men, I reluctantly accept that women’s biological makeup and build make it an unfair fight. So I’m grudgingly okay with this.

To the second point: The main reason I don’t follow women’s cycling is because I’m not invested in the female cycling personalities like I am the male cycling personalities. This is probably a direct result of the lack of coverage of women’s cycling. More on that later.

A response, if I may

His post. My response:

(I will preface all of this by saying based on the “conversation” I had with Greenwood over Twitter regarding his post, I think his heart is in the right place. It’s just his delivery that needs some work.)

I absolutely do not disagree with the point he was trying to make, which he maintains is to promote women’s cycling and encourage women to not only take more notice of the sport, but also fight for its equality. I mainly disagree with how he made his point.

First he posits that sports are more male-centric for just that reason- it’s a sport and “men like sports more than women.” This is illustrated by showing how women’s magazines are filled with celebrities, fashion, diets tips and not sports.From these magazines it’s clear: “women are not as keen on sport. They prefer fashion and gossip.” Not only are women not as interested in sports as men, but they also don’t idolize sports stars as much. And this is their problem. As he says, “how can they expect to be treated as equals when it’s women themselves that don’t seem interested by sport?”

So, if I’m reading this right, he’s basically blaming women for the lack of interest in women’s sports. Because the females aren’t interested in women’s cycling, it’s got no chance. This is what he sees as the main problem contributing to the lack of coverage and interest in women’s cycling. Greenwood feels that instead of “moaning” about the lack of coverage, top female riders should actually do something. To this end, he suggest that women stop with the “scantily clad photo-shoots” (such as the Cyclepassion calendar! And my opinions on that are best saved for another post), which he equates with being slutty. This will help female cyclist to gain respect from women and become their role model, thus increasing their interest and dedication, which will in turn encourage males to support female cycling as well. To be good role models, female cyclists need to keep their clothes on, have cute hair and wear the latest fashion. His other suggestion is for more female cyclist to write blogs so their female public can connect more with them.

My question is…

…why is just up to the women to do something to change the status quo?

Just because I’m a woman I should be obligated to follow women’s cycling? While I support women in sports, I don’t follow women’s sports. Does this make me a bad women? No. I probably don’t follow women’s cycling because there is no coverage of it. Would I follow if there was coverage? Maybe. Who knows. The point is is that it is not just up to women to change the status of women’s sports/cycling. It’s a two sex society and it takes both sides to make change. This means writing an article which supports women’s cycling without gender stereotypes (men like boobs! women like fashion! sexy is always slutty!). This means really looking at why women’s sports do not enjoy the same support as men’s sports and what can be done to change it, as men and women. And if you can figure out how to solve the gender inequalities in women’s cycling, then we can finally figure out how to solve the gender inequalities of society!

So while Greenwood writes his blog with the best of intentions, his overall good message is lost amid old stereotypes and not- great suggestions. It is clear from the reaction on Twitter that there were other women who also failed to see his good intentions through all the gendered stereotypes and those who were. In the flurry of Twitter reactions that followed, Greenwood was very good about responding to tweets, defending/explaining the intent of his post. It was during these ensuing conversations where Greenwood clarified his intentions and even offered up some good, non-gendered suggestions for increasing female cycling’s exposure. On the one hand, I admire him for taking this topic on. On the other, this topic doesn’t have to be controversial-most people agree there is a huge disparity between coverage of women’s sports and men’s sports. He just made it controversial by using the same tired stereotypes to make his point, not really looking at why the inequality between men and women exist, and not offering any practical solutions to the situation. Keep blogging, Benji, but let’s be a little more thoughtful next time, mmm’kay?

Follow me on Twitter and check out my articles on US Pro Cycling News.

A Human is a Human

I just wanted to write a quick note about the hit-and-run that happened in Vail. Brief recap: Dr. Steven Milo was hit from behind by Martin Erziger near Vail, Colorado. Erziger did not stop to help Milo, but did call 6 miles down the road for help for his damaged Mercedes. During the trial process, the DA decided to reduce the charges to two misdemeanor counts instead of a felony, citing the possible job loss and subsequent loss of income as justification. And this last fact was what got the Twitter-verse up in arms, and as the story spread through the cycling community, it got picked up by the mainstream press, such as the Huffington Post and the Daily Mail. To get even more detailed information on the legal side of this issues (since my grasp on that is slim!), Bob Mionske has a great blog post over on Bicycling.com which not only summarizes what happened, but the legal proceedings as well.

So there are two things which are really sticking in the craw of the cycling community. The first is the obvious lack of worth placed on a cyclist’s life. The second is how the socio-economic standing of Erzinger influenced the decision of the DA to file lesser charges against him.

(more…)

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