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)