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.


2 thoughts on “Excuse me while I get on my soapbox…

  1. I question whether determining men’s & women’s (biologically-programmed?) interests by a quick review of trashy magazines can be considered a good-faith treatment of the subject matter.

    Especially since his little ‘survey’ reinforced society’s (and his own) pre-existing stereotypes about women and men… was he really examining the question or simply justifying personal bias and status quo?

    The same argument he uses (“women are underrepresented in sports because they lack interest”) has been used to justify sex inequity in many other areas of life: politics, business, leadership positions, academia, authorship, science & math professions, etc.

    It seems much more likely that sexism is the cause than biologically-determined lack of interest on the behalf of women. It’s suspiciously self-serving for a man to chalk inequity in any male-dominated area up to nature and wash his hands of responsibility.

  2. Pingback: Cycling’s battle of the sexes « Mastering the Uphill Shift

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