Over the past two weeks, I’ve shared posts regarding my transition into cycling as a woman, as well as some of the day-to-day microaggressions I’ve experienced over the past 18 months. I know other cyclists have been in this sport far longer than I have, and I thank them for paving the way for women such as myself to join the ranks and to continue this important discussion on gender disparities.
Although the prevalence of women in cycling differs by country, the pattern is the same: we need a more diverse field, whether it pertains to commuting via bicycle or racing competitively. The percentage of cyclists registered with USA Cycling who identify as woman is only 15% as of March 2018. Triathlon fares a bit better, with 38% of members identifying as women based on USA Triathlon’s 2015 report. If we want to shift that dial to 50%, we have a lot of work ahead of us. I can only speak to my own experience as a white cisgender female, but I imagine women of color, gender diverse athletes, those with limited financial means, and those with other marginalized identities will continue to experience even more setbacks than I have over the past 18 months–and many of them may not be as subtle as what I’ve experienced.
If our community wants to address gender disparities in cycling, I think we need to have some difficult conversations and figure out what women and gender diverse athletes experience on a daily basis. Furthermore, we need to recognize that we are all susceptible to also engaging in some of these behaviors due to our own biases, assumptions, and cultural identities. Cycling is a very white and very binary sport with very little racial or gender diversity. We need to listen to each other and practice cultural humility in order to make room for others. Those of us who are truly passionate about diversity in the field can and will also make mistakes and will engage in microaggressions. And when we do, we need to own our actions, take responsibility for them, learn from them, and work to do better. In other words, our work is never over and it is essential for us to continue to learn from one another in order to create the shift that is needed. As Ayesha McGowan notes, “representation matters.”
In addition to the crappy experiences, we need to remember the good times. The good times have kept me here, and I have no intention of leaving this field anytime soon. Here are some of the wins I’ve seen, all of which mean more to me than any spot on the podium:
- The feeling of teammates and other really strong cyclists supporting and mentoring me over the past 18 months has been irreplaceable.
- We have announcers who give it their all by showing their enthusiasm for cyclists every weekend in season, and by remembering as many athlete names as possible. One of my favorite rivalries this year was with a Clydesdale* athlete of a similar ability to me, and listening to the announcer provide commentary as the two of us raced each other was one of the most fun and entertaining races I’ve had.
- We have officials who respond to late night emails with questions as promptly as possible.
- We have race teams and organizations that put on events specifically for trans*, femme, and women competitors.
- We have events like Dirty Kanza that launch initiatives such as #200Women200Miles, and prioritize women entrants to increase field sizes.
- Race registrations are beginning to appear with registration options other than “male” or “female.”
- Just last week, I received an email from the president of our cycling federation asking for feedback on the timing and placement of the women’s Athena* division for next year’s cyclocross season. The email was so well thought out, and they expressed genuine interest and enthusiasm in recruiting more Athenas for races next season. As a result of the discussion, the federation will be providing an Athena division held in the same field as the beginner (category 4/5) women, allowing women a field to themselves.
*Athena/Clydesdale is a cycling category for women over 160 lbs and men over 200 lbs.
These are the experiences that keep me going, that show progress, that motivate me to be a stronger woman, role model, and cyclist. So thanks to all of you out there who support us. Despite these little victories, my greatest fear is that other women and/or gender diverse cyclists have experienced similar constraints that I have, have felt the same way, and have left the sport in an effort to find support, community, and inclusion elsewhere. And if that’s the case, I truly hope they’ve found it. But I want us to stay. We belong. And by staying, we can work fiercely to support one another and build each other up. Whether it be high fives or fist bumps, standing up for others who receive degrading or objectifying comments, sticking with each other during the most difficult of events, inviting one another to rides, hosting free community cycling clinics, or providing a simple “You’re not alone,” I think we can all make a difference to show another human they belong. The work’s not over. We’ve got plenty to do.
This month, I launched an international research project for women (cis and trans) and gender diverse cyclists (including but not limited to non-binary, gender queer, & two spirit folks) who have raced over the past 5 years. Through this research, I will be able to shine a light on the experiences of athletes who are typically underrepresented in competitive cycling. The survey asks about factors that have increased and decreased participation in competitive cycling, as well as motivations and experiences in daily living. I ask for stories of exclusion, harassment, and sexism—in addition to times cyclists have felt valued and included in their cycling communities. After recruiting 250 participants, I’ll donate $500 to a non-profit organization (Cycles for Change) that works toward gender equity and accessibility in cycling. Findings will be presented in the community and submitted as empirical journal articles. Ultimately, my goal is to better understand the gender gaps and increase retention of women and gender diverse cyclists throughout the world.
If you are a woman and/or a gender diverse cyclist who has raced bikes in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story. The link to the 20 minute survey is as follows: https://goo.gl/BV72e7
Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, wife, and cyclist. When she is not working, she trains for new cycling adventures, eats, laughs, and spends time with loved ones.