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family · fitness · Guest Post

Role Models (Guest post)

Waking up in my parents’ house as a child the conversation always included a discussion of the weather conditions and what physical activities were on the agenda.  Frequent reminders not to forget a swim cap or pair of tap shoes in your bag for the day were constant.  My mother had the weekly routine down to a science of lunch boxes and ballet uniforms.  On the weekends the weather discussion led directly into an appraisal of the cross-country ski conditions, or opportunity to go for a hike after breakfast (depending on the season).

Today nothing has changed.  Calls to my mother (and father) usually begin with a discussion of whether they are on their way to or back home from yoga class or some other activity.  If the weather is not good for a run on the mountain or a tennis game there will no doubt be a Zumba class as a last minute substitute.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have grown up in a household where going for a walk around the neighbourhood was a nightly routine in the summer and my parents led by example in terms of physical fitness.

I was too young to remember going to aerobics classes in a baby carrier (apparently I was happy to kick my feet to the beat of the music) or to “mommy and me” swimming classes at 6 months of age but these and all the other activities no doubt left a lasting impression on my attitudes towards physical fitness.

Physical activities were not something that you did grudgingly out of a sense of duty but the fun things that made the car rides and going out in dreary Canadian winters fun.  Some of my closest friends to this day are the ones I made at dance class at an age that I can barely remember and because are accustomed to doing activities together we still meet up for bike rides, runs and for dance workshops as our main drivers of socializing.

What, if anything, does this have to do with having an active mother?  Research shows that having a positive female role model is especially important for girls in a way that it is not for boys.  Linda Bunker has found that “Girls’ involvement in sports is largely impacted by the attitudes of parents and other role models.”  It is not clear why boys do not require the same encouragement to engage in sports (it may be that they are expected to like sports and that the pressure to conform is already a big enough driver).  Given that childhood habits are a good predictor of future involvement in sports and fitness activities, it would seem that it is extremely important for girls to have positive associations with physical activities at a young age.

My mother certainly does not think of herself as an athlete (or runner or yogi) in spite of her constant physical efforts and I am by no means an athlete myself but the fun that we had and continue to have doing physical activities is the backbone not only for a healthy lifestyle but it is also how we continue to socialize together and with other friends.  This social aspect to “activities” points to some of the reasons that I never liked going to the gym or any other activity that I thought of as “exercise”.

Most if not all of the activities that I have done over the years have had a large social element and this is one of the main drivers that has always motivated me to get out the door and go.  The activity has to be fun too, of course, but I am much more likely to push myself to do physically demanding things with my body if there is someone else doing it with me.  I am not in competition with my friend or family member but the mere fact of having someone else doing the same thing motivates me to a. Show up when I said I would and b. Push myself harder to keep up.

Running alone on a treadmill indoors does nothing to make me want to improve.  Chatting with a friend while jogging I don’t even notice the time and the kilometers passing.  Having great friends and a sense of community at my activities has been the best part of being active.  My mom is definitely my number one partner as well as role model.

Do you have fond memories of physical activities with your mother or other role model?  I am looking forward to many more bike rides, hikes, yoga retreats and dog walks with my mom.  Thanks for being an inspiration through your healthy habits and for making exercise fun!


Aviva is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario.  She is a yoga enthusiast, dancer, cyclist, foodie and animal lover.  She lives in Montreal with her Kung-Fu devotee partner and their dog and two cats.

advertising · cycling · stereotypes

Respect the ponytail? How about just respect girls and women?

I don’t know very much about this Trek ad except it keeps appearing in my Facebook newsfeed and some of my women cycling friends aren’t fond of it. On the one hand, it is an image  of women on bikes rather than men on bikes and women on podiums. (See Is it time to kiss the podium girls goodbye?) But on the other, it’s not a particularly diverse image of female fitness. The women are not racers. They aren’t wearing team kit. And not all women who ride bikes have ponytails. (Though at times I’ve been tempted to stick on a fake one! See Women cyclists, implicit bias, and helmet pigtails.)

I’m not particularly bothered or offended by the ad. It’s better than lots of the stuff one sees in the media about women cyclists.

What do you think? I’d like a more diverse range of images of women on bikes, some racing, others not. I’d also like respect on the road, whether or not I’ve got a ponytail. I’m curious to know what you think about this Trek ad campaign.

Crossfit · weight lifting

SlamPow: Sis Do You Even Lift?

Here’s a fun video blog about the images of women in CrossFit. (That’s something I’ve blogged about in my post The women of Crossfit.)

But here the SlamPow duo of Shanika and Sam also talk about CrossFit and race.

It’s short, sweet, under 3 minutes, and definitely worth watching. You can also like them on Facebook.

men · sports nutrition · training

Gonna Make You Sweat

This week we’ve had our first “extreme heat advisory” which comes along with the usual warnings about outdoor exercise and intense physical activity. Some people retreat to the gym but not me, I still like playing outside better.

On Friday I rode my bike 50 km with my daughter in the heat in part to get to church camp and in part to mark the longest day of play. I actually like riding my bike in the heat. You get a breeze and it feels lots better than walking or running in the heat. The breeze dries the sweat off quickly and you actually have to pay attention and drink lots because in dry heat (hello Arizona, hello Canberra!) you can be misled into thinking you’re not sweating at all. I also know that if I did take the car, I’d turn on the air conditioning and become part of the smog creation problem.

Sunday I had a warm, steamy row on the lake in the morning and an evening outdoor soccer game. I even threw some backyard burpees in in the middle. And as you might imagine a lot of sweat was involved and a lot of water was consumed.

As readers of this blog know, I’m an adult onset athlete. I regret that I didn’t discover my athletic self until well into my adult life. Read more about that here and also here. And so when I did start to learn to run, ride a bike, lift weights etc that was really my first encounter with serious sweat.  I also grew up on the cool East coast of Canada in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland where days above 25 Celsius were rare. I started my regular exercise routine in Chicago and Toronto, in the summer. Yikes. Heat, humidity, and sweat.

Learning to like sweat was a funny thing. It was a bit of hurdle to liking being physically active outside in this part of the world. But since I’m driven indoors midwinter by the ice and cold, I certainly didn’t want to have the heat be another limiting factor to my enjoyment of outdoor exercise.

How did I come to like sweat?

First, I did some reading. Yes, I’m an a academic and that’s what we do best. Sweating is all about thremoregulation or temperature control. We sweat, our skin gets wet, the sweat evaporates, and cooling commences.  Interesting things happen when humans move from cold to hot climates. Our bodies adapt to sweat more and the composition of sweat changes.

Second, I started to think about the connections between class and the dislike of sweat. I’ve been watching Downton Abbey lately and thinking more about the clash between ladylike values and the norms of athletic performance. There are interesting class associations with sweat and manual labour.

Third, I tried to focus on the  fun associations  many of us have with sweat. Dancing late into the night in clubs when I was younger was one such image. I have also come to love hot yoga and there’s no doing that without sweating buckets.

Fourth, I realized that sweat doesn’t actually smell that bad, fresh sweat that is. I ride my bike to and from work and keep a towel and clean clothes in my office. I don’t have quick, easy access to a shower but I do have access to a sink and private washroom. I keep antiperspirant in my office and change when I’ve cooled down after arriving at work.

Fifth, I learned through experience that I do actually feel better when I sweat lots.  Sweating it turns out is a very good thing and and as you become fit, you sweat more, not less.  Read  why athletes sweat more than unfit people here.  See also Better athletes sweat more. Also, annoyingly it turns out that men are better sweaters.  Read Men Perspire, Women Glow: Men Are More Efficient at Sweating, Study Finds.

“Women have to work harder than men in order to start sweating, while men are more effective sweaters during exercise, according to new research published in the journal Experimental Physiology.The study by Japanese scientists at Osaka International University and Kobe University looked at differences between men and women’s sweating response to changes in exercise intensity. The researchers asked four groups of subjects (trained and untrained females, trained and untrained males) to cycle continuously for an hour in a controlled climate with increasing intensity intervals.

The results showed that men are more efficient at sweating. While exercise training improves sweating in both sexes, the degree of improvement is greater in men, with the difference becoming even more pronounced as the level of exercise intensity increases. The untrained females had the worst sweating response of all requiring a higher body temperature than the other groups (or work intensity) to begin sweating. In other words, women need to get hotter than men before they get sweaty.

The study’s coordinator Yoshimitsu Inoue commented: ‘It appears that women are at a disadvantage when they need to sweat a lot during exercise, especially in hot conditions.'”

The Fit Bottomed Girls have even put together a sweat themed playlist for your workout pleasure including the song that is the title of this post, one of my favorite grad school songs to dance to. My actual favorite sweaty song is the Prince song here:


meditation · yoga

Yoga Sadhana: Deepening Our Practice, Getting Quiet, and Fostering a Sense of Community

Summer-Forest-Dark-Green-Vegetation Every summer at the Iyengar yoga studio I’ve been a student at since 2000, the senior teacher runs a sadhana. The word translates into English as “practice.” It usually thought to be a spiritual practice with a goal. In his book, Light on Life, BKS Iyengar calls sadhana “the way of accomplishing something.”

At our studio, the sadhana is a daily practice for one week. Students come from 6-7:30 a.m. every day for seven days in a row. It is always around this time of year, making it easy to get up early because it is already light outside.

The sadhana is one of my favourite events at the studio for several reasons.

  • I love how it focuses me on going to bed early and getting up early. It’s important to get enough rest during sadhana or the early morning practice is difficult to appreciate.
  • There is an experience of deepening practice during sadhana. A lot of this has to do with the time of day, but also with the way the classes are structured. Our instructor treats sadhana week as one long class.  Each day builds upon lessons from the day before, so there is a real opportunity for epiphanies of understanding.  There is also an increase in intensity during the first part of the week, with days 1 and 2 easing us into it, days 3-5 being quite intense and energetic (I can attest to that from this morning’s challenging practice!), and things easing off again on days 6 and 7.
  • During sadhana, we maintain silence in the yoga studio (other than our teacher’s instructions).  If you have never been to an Iyengar class before, there is a lot of moving of equipment (blocks, chairs, blankets, mats, straps, slanted planks, to name just a few of the props we use regularly), changing of the set-up, gathering around the instructor for demonstrations, and group work. All of this can lend itself to chatter.  The silence that we maintain during sadhana, including before class when we enter the room and after class as we put things away, promotes a focused and inward practice.
  • I love the sense of yoga community that the sadhana fosters. As with any challenge (and believe me, seven days in a row of Iyengar yoga at 6 a.m. is a challenge), a kind of bonding happens during sadhana that doesn’t happen at any other time of the yoga calendar.  We see the same people every day for one week, first thing in the morning when everyone is still feeling quiet and the day hasn’t yet gotten away from them.  Spontaneous breakfast outings happen after class.  Every other year, our instructor has a garden party to mark the end of sadana.
  • It’s a nice change of pace from my regular class, which meets weekly on Tuesday mornings at 6:30. I know everyone in that class and feel comfortable with them. During sadhana week, we get to practice with students from different classes and at different levels.  Over the years, I have come to know quite a few people just because of sadhana. Again, it expands my feelings of the community at the studio.
  • We usually take some time during sadhana to learn about yoga beyond the physical practice. This year, each morning we watch a part of a film (entitled Leap of Faith) about Iyengar and his understanding of the kosas or what are also known asthe sheaths of being.”   I doubt I’m going to have a deep grasp of the kosas after watching the film, but it’s interesting to learn about the broader system of thought behind yoga and it’s fascinating to see actual footage and hear audio of BKS Iyengar himself.  The control he has over his body and the strength he displays when he does yoga is inspiring and riveting to watch. He’s full of wisdom and has extraordinary insight and understanding about yoga and the mind-body connection.
  • Something happens to me during sadhana week every year that spills beyond my yoga practice.  I feel quieter.  I become more aware of everything and the world looks richer and crisper — greens are greener, the sky is bluer, the moon is brighter. Really. I can’t explain why but I like it.

For more on sadhana as practice, here’s a video of Dr. Geeta Iyengar, daughter of BKS Iyengar. She is an accomplished yogi herself, and probably the world’s leading expert on yoga and women’s health.

I’ve got a couple of other posts on Iyengar yoga, if you’re interested in reading more:

There’s Yoga and There’s Yoga

Yoga’s Red Tent

On Doing Less

[image credit: http://poetrycorner.freedomblogging.com/2012/06/28/all-things-green-alive-from-a-poets-eye-in-june/]

charity · cycling · Guest Post · training · traveling

Supporting each other makes us all better! (Guest post)

Joux-Verte-sign-bwSam and Tracy have asked me to contribute a few guest posts because I’m currently preparing for the biggest challenge of my career as a feminist amateur athlete. On 6 and 7 July 2013, I am going to (try my very best to) ride from London, England to Paris in just 24 hours, as part of a charity event organized by Scope. (Read about the event here; if you read my posts and get inspired to support me you can also find my team’s fundraising page here.)

I’ve been getting ready for what I call L2P24(2013) for some time now, but in the last couple of months training has kicked into high gear (figuratively and literally!). As part of our training (my husband Jarret and I are doing this event together, supporting each other at every stage along the way), Jarret and I are spending this weekend (20-23 June) on a cycle “holiday” (more on that in a minute) in Morzine, in the French alps. We are here with a UK-based company called RPM90; they provide us with food, accommodation, technical support, and support of many other, less tangible kinds. In fact, their motto is “you ride, we provide” (check them out here).

I’ve been nervous about this holiday; after all; riding about 100km a day in the mountains for two days, and then ending the weekend with the 2013 Morzine Sportive race, is relatively challenging, even for us; while there are perks at the chalet and some good food and drink, for our purposes this is a working weekend.

I’ve also been a bit worried about this holiday for another reason, one that came clearly into focus when we arrived in the Alps. Cycling is a very expensive sport – once you factor in a good bike, all the gear, and stuff like going to the Alps on a cycling holiday, you’re into the thousands of dollars/pounds, if not five figures – and I felt an immediate sense of class difference as soon as we got into our airport transfer van in Geneva. There are bankers on this trip, there are high-flying execs, and their bikes are worth, well, easily more than I make in a month. They are amateurs, but they are focused on their sport nevertheless, to the point that they seem willing to buy virtually anything (at pretty much any cost) that will help them to improve their performance. They are all decent, nice, friendly people (I gather, having known them for about 24 hours at the time of this writing), but they seem stunningly unaware of their privilege (economic as well as physical) in just being able to be here.

They are also all – with one exception plus me – men. Cycling is a very male sport in most nations where it rates; I probably don’t need to tell many of the readers of this blog how much sexism prevails in the sport (check out Sam’s recent post on podium girls, for example). So I wasn’t shocked to be surrounded by (more or less middle aged, pretty well off) men when we arrived. What did surprise me, though – and what has made all the difference to my riding experience so far (day one down!) – is that 50% of RPM90’s support team on this ride are women. And they are pros, and champions (Anja Rees Jones and Jo McRae).

This morning, starting out for our first ride, I was slightly panicked; the men in the group left a lot of testosterone on the floor during our first dinner and breakfast together (as well as in the airport van, sigh), and while I know this kind of banter is designed to be self-aggrandising and intimidating (and to cover insecurities, of course), it was, well, frankly intimidating to have to listen to. So it was a relief and also a thrill for me to get to ride quite a bit today with Jo, our female road bike pro; she put me at ease, encouraged me all along the way, made sure to note my strengths, and to remind me how strong I actually am at moments when I really needed that reminder. She also answered numerous questions and helped me to address some weaknesses: for example, I’ve never been a courageous descender, tending to brake a lot and not use my drops enough, but today she offered me observations, tips, and joined me on a couple of downhills, to the point where, by the end of the day, I was literally racing with her and Jarret down a mountain we had climbed in pretty freaking good time (this one – it’s actually slightly famous!). I felt incredibly strong, powerful, and free – and I have today’s mentorship from a really great female athlete to thank for that.

Even if the rest of the weekend turns out to be crap, I have had, thanks to Jo, an experience today that made the journey here (and all the boisterous bollocking this morning) worthwhile. It’s also an experience that I plan to pay forward. Like Sam and Tracy, I’m a teacher and researcher by profession and I write a lot about “activist” teaching on my own blog; with my larger life in mind I’ve also been broadly inspired by Jo today – reminded of how incredibly valuable positive reinforcement, coupled with useful, specific critique, and a willingness just to ride alongside, can be for students looking to up their game (and, of course, for students who don’t yet know that upping their game is their ultimate goal, or even a remote possibility). A great work lesson, a wonderful life lesson, and a fantastic sport lesson all rolled into one and wrapped in a mountain view. I feel privileged to be here, and thankful.


KIM SOLGA currently teaches theatre and performance theory and practice at Queen Mary, University of London. Catch her blog at www.theactivistclassroom.wordpress.com.

fat · fitness · Guest Post · weight loss

Count what matters and make what matters count (Guest post)

I love reading Sam & Tracy’s posts about quantifying and qualifying fitness. It makes the number crunching, nerdy part of my brain very happy. I’ve tried calorie counting, graphing my weight, logging distances swam, biked or ran but nothing makes my fit, feminist and nearly forty face smile like counting steps.

Last fall I tried logging food intake and exercise output but a part of me had a nagging suspicion that the data was out of whack. The numbers generated from apps based merely on my weight , 256 lbs, would assume any movement required a Herculean amount of energy, far more than my efficient frame required. I kept eyeballing each apple wondering, was it really 80 calories? Was it smaller? If I underestimated by only 10% I could be eating more than I intended. I started obsessing about food. I started weighing myself daily. My anxiety skyrocketed. I spouted calorie estimates on everything. That diner breakfast 1,200 calories, this beer 68. It was awful. I stopped loving food and I felt pretty crappy when my exercies and food intake didn’t hit targets. Dang.

You may have guessed by now that I have a fairly intense A type personality. I like deliverables, measures of success, quantifiable, all paired with a great story. When I was twenty and in the military I never quite measured up. I was a slow runner, always taking just a little more time than the 12 minutes alloted to complete 1.5 miles. I have asthma that is triggered at max effort so I often have to scale to 60-80% to stay below that threshold. Frustrating. And, at twenty, when I worked out for 3 hours a day, 6 days a week I was 5’4″, wore a size 12 and weighed 180 lbs. I was the embodiement of not hitting the mark on what the military said I should look like and what others thought I should weigh even though I was able to run, bike and swim like a champ.

In January 2013 I read Tracy’s post about doing less, like her I needed smaller, bite sized goals. I also wanted success. My partner, a thin, fast responder type was convinced that counting steps would be my thing.”Every step counts!” he chimed cheerfully and so began my favourite math exercise ever. I tried an app for my phone but it was inaccurate. I was gifted a pedometer, a fitbit, and I fell in love.

The first two weeks I set the goal of wearing my pedometer to get a baseline. While I was convinced I was above average for activity the data told another story. Turns out I walked  on average 8,000 steps a day, just short of the Canadian average. 

I decided I needed to increase my daily activity to the recommended 10,000 steps a day, which I could easily do if I committed to walking the 2km to work everyday and a short 3km walk with the dogs in the evening. I liked that my pedometer uploads to my computer when I walk by and gives me daily and weekly reports. I giggled the day I got a badge saying I climbed enough flights of stairs to the minimum altitude of a helicopter. My partner and I compare steps, turns out being shorter of leg I take 10% more steps over the same distance (insert evil laugh here).

Today I usually meet my daily goal of 15,000 and my best day recently was just over 21,000. I still weigh the same, I still wear the same size pants and I feel pretty rock star about walking as much as possible. I’ve decided I’m measuring success by my resting heart rate (a chill 58 bpm), how well I feel (pretty rocking!) and each step I take towards my well being. If you haven’t found out what to count for your fitness goals think about what matters to you and go for it!


Natalie is a self described  fat, fit, feminist 38 year old mother of two teenage minions who also lives with her high energy life partner of 19 years. She loves moving her body and sometimes does yoga, short distance triathlons and dances like a fool. Her next measure of success will be being happier and fitter by the end of 2013 than she was in 2012.

athletes · family · gender policing · stereotypes

Gender Policing of Girls in Children’s Sports

gender police comic

A friend of mine has an eleven year-old daughter, Maggie, who is gifted at sports. She is good at baseball, soccer, hockey, and has even played football on a boys team. Maggie also has a preference for keeping her hair short.

My friend got an email message from Maggie’s soccer coach the other day. Apparently, not once but twice recently the referees (young men) have literally STOPPED THE GAME and confronted Maggie about playing on U12 (under 12) girls team. Why? Because it’s a girls’ league, of course, and only girls are allowed to play.

My blood began to boil right then and there as my friend told me this story over lunch.

The coach was more than a little annoyed. She was writing to Maggie’s mother to let her know what had happened and how she (the coach) handled it. Instead of dealing with the referees directly, she felt strongly that the convenor should take this up with all the referees. The coach requested that the convenor send an email message to all refs outlining “appropriate conduct.” She emphasized that questions about eligibility should be directed to the coach, not the child. And the ref certainly should not stop play and confront the child in front of the entire field. The coach has players’ cards that prove eligibility and brings them to all games.

The ref was engaged in gender policing. Maggie defies gender norms and expectations for girls in two distinct ways that make people uncomfortable or even angry. First, she has short hair. It’s striking to see the team photo, where she sits among the rest of her long-haired, pony-tailed teammates. Second, she’s really, really good at sports, often ending the season as the team’s most valuable player. What conclusion do people draw from this? She must be a boy.

It’s also relevant, I think, that Maggie’s coach is a woman. Why? Because calling into question a players’ eligibility in the midst of a game also challenges the coach’s basic competence. The ref’s intervention assumes that the coach is so oblivious to the rules of the game that she doesn’t even know who is and is not eligible to play in the girls U12 league that she coaches in. Alternativelly, it is a challenge to the coach’s integrity, tantamount to accusing her of cheating by putting boys onto her team.

A more obvious inference would be that since this is a girls’ U12 league, all the players on the field must be girls under 12.

Gender policing in sport is nothing new, of course. Remember when Caster Semenya did so well on the track in 2009 that she had to undergo gender testing?

I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear that this goes on in children’s sports too, but I confess to being shocked at the behaviour of the two referees who intervened in exactly the same inappropriate manner on two separate occasions.

This kind of policing is not new to Maggie and other girls who choose to wear their hair short. Hair length is one of the most obvious markers that our society uses to tell the girls from the boys, especially during childhood when parents usually have more say over the way their children present themselves to the world than the children do.

Maggie’s parents are committed to raising empowered daughters who believe that they are allowed to make their own choices. So she gets to cut her hair short. Her sister gets to keep hers long. Maggie gets to dress in androgynous styles, while her younger sister chooses clothes more easily recognizable as “for girls.” It is not easy for children to choose androgyny given how gendered children’s clothing is. Maggie’s style choice means that people frequently “read” her as a boy.

My friend is considering putting Maggie in boys’ hockey this winter because in general she is challenged less when she is on a boys’ team, at least for the time being. This is not because the boys think she is a boy. It’s more that, at least at this age, as long as she can play they don’t care much whether she’s a boy or a girl.

Maggie is learning about gender policing at a really young age. This summer’s lessons have not been her first. Even at age nine she was challenged on more than one occasion by strangers in the women’s restroom at the mall or the movies.

This type of policing of children’s gender identities doesn’t just happen to girls. Boys who are attracted to hairstyles and styles of dress, activities, and toys that are coded as being “for girls” are also given grief, bullied, and challenged. Their sexuality is called into question. Parents and other adults will, as they do with girls who do not conform to norms of femininity, often coerce or coax or simply order them to “fall into line.”

Parents who are more permissive about their children’s need to express themselves are often reprimanded by friends, family members, and other parents for allowing their child to flout gender norms.

Here are some things that are wrong with gender policing:

1. Calling someone’s gender into question, especially in confrontational manner, assumes that it is your business. It’s not. You don’t get to monitor people and keep them under surveillance and challenge them when you think they’re doing something that’s wrong for their gender.

2. Gender policing, most sadly, drives home the point that most people are completely confused about how to deal with someone unless and until they know whether the person is a girl or a boy, a woman or a man. Why does this make so much difference? Gender determines who gets taken seriously and who doesn’t, who has power and who does not, who has authority and who does not, who is a strong competitor and who is not, who we need to sexualize and sexually harass who we do not need to, who we need to worry about having an unfair advantage (e.g. a boy on a girls team, a woman who we thought was a man), who we need to marginalize, and a whole raft of other things.

3. Gender policing reinforces a false and harmful gender binary that slots people into very restrictive categories. It has been argued that both gender and sex are not binaries, but rather continuums. We don’t just have the femmy femmes and the manly men, or the girlie girls and the rough and tumble boys, but lots of people in between. Yet we demonize and castigate people who exist on what we perceive as the wrong side of the gender binary. Why else would people say of a girl with short hair that she has “a boy’s haircut.” She has short hair for goodness sake. Since when did boys get to have a monopoly on short hair?

4. Following on that last point, gender policing assumes that everyone is male or female. But it’s not just masculinity and femininity that exist on a continuum. Not everyone identifies as either male or female. Intersex is real and many argue that it ought not be considered a “medical condition.” Anne Fausto-Sterling has done extensive work on sex differences and launched compelling arguments against received scientific views about the biology of gender and sexuality.

5. Gender policing is insensitive and offensive to trans people. Again, it assumes that everyone ought to be a cisgendered male or female, that is, that their sex and gender identities should fit with the sex they were assigned at birth and that when that is not the case, there is something normatively wrong.

It may be that children and adults who present themselves androgynously or who, even further, present as a different sex or gender than that which they have been raised as (or, as Fausto-Sterling might argue, which has been chosen for them), might sometimes be misidentified in all innocence. That’s really not the issue. The issue is more about how pervasive gender norms are and how strongly they appear to be required for ordinary interactions.

Author and performer Ivan Coyote has a wonderful piece in which she wonders whether people whom she is interacting with, such as the cashier or the bank teller or the cab driver or the barber, are wondering whether she is a “she” or a “he.” Ivan questions how much information it is necessary to tell them. Does she clarify what her anatomy is to these strangers? She lists a host of intimate facts she could tell them about herself before the completion of their casual transaction or interaction, and then concludes: “But that would definitely be an overshare.”

And she’s right. How much do we need to know about someone before we can interact with them? Not so much in theory, but in practice people are completely flummoxed when confronted with ambiguous gender. Gender’s normative force is tremendous.

Maggie knows what she is experiencing. She is learning about the normativity of gender at an early age because she is going against what is expected and getting backlash as a result. Children who do not break from what is expected have an easier time of it because they are not forced even to notice the way gender shapes them into who they are.  But having an easier time by being less aware of the social forces that operate on them isn’t such a great thing.

Having girls like Maggie in the league can go a little way to re-shaping the preconceptions of every girl around her, possibly making them reflect enough to realize that it’s not as simple as they have been led to believe and that it’s okay not to conform all the time. When the ref called Maggie on her gender, a girl on the other team said, “Hey, I like her hair!”

[comic credit: Tatuya Ishida, “Don’t Fence Me In”, 2012-08-21]


MS Bike Tour and Pride London: Conflict resolved!

For a few years now, I’ve struggled with an unfortunate conflict, between Pride London’s annual parade and festival and the MS Bike Tour.

What’s the MS Bike Tour? (I’m going to assume our readers are familiar with Pride celebrations. )

“MS Bike is the largest cycling series event in North America. MS Bike is a fun cycling event that is suitable for various fitness levels, while bringing people together for an important cause ‒ to end MS. Over 10,000 cyclists participate in 27 tours across Canada between June and September. Proceeds from MS Bike fund vital MS research and programs & services that enable those affected by MS. To participate, all you need is a bike and a passion to end MS.”

I’ve been riding for more than five years now as part of Team Western (here’s an older story about our group) riding from Grand Bend to London on Saturday and then London to Grand Bend on Sunday on the third weekend in July.

But the Pride Parade is that weekend, on Sunday and each year I’ve tried a different solution. One year I rode halfway to Grand Bend and then back to London on Sunday, so doing the full distance but also ending up in the right place for the Parade. Another year I left for Grand Bend at the crack of dawn, made it there, and then drove back fast. But fast driving is so not my style.

This year, along with another friend and work colleague, we’re going to do the full distance in 1 day, instead of 2. Our plan is to arrive by bike in Grand Bend Saturday morning, having ridden from London to Grand Bend bright and early, and then head back to London. Another fun aspect of this solution is that I’ll actually get to take advantage of the rest stops along the way. Usually they seem unneeded in a ride of that length given the speed at which road bikes travel. The first rest stop is 15 km in and this year I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to stop at all the rest stops, eat all the snacks, and enjoy talking to people.

I’m always impressed with the range of people doing this ride. Not just the lycra and spandex road bike set, there are lots of tandems, recumbents, unicycles, and Penny Farthings. Some people do it fancy dress and funny costumes. There are people who’ve never ridden that far before in their lives. The one thing we have in common is that our lives have been touched in some way by MS and that we want to raise money to help end the disease and have some fun along the way.

I only do 1 charity ride a year though the Friends for Life Rally is on my bucket list. It’s 600 km Toronto to Montreal, to raise money to support people living with HIV/AIDS. (The Friends For Life Bike Rally is the sustaining fundraiser of the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.)

If you’d like to help out with my fundraising efforts, you can sponsor me here. Please!