athletes · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · inclusiveness · racing

Gender Diversity in Cycling: Small Victories (Guest Post)

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.

cycling · equality · fitness · inclusiveness · research

Gender Diversity in Cycling: Microaggressions and Continued Work

As a woman who is new to the competitive cycling scene, I want to share a glimpse of my journey into this sport. I’ve had some incredible experiences in the cycling community and I love it more than any other hobby I’ve picked up over my lifetime. For me, there is something truly empowering (yet terrifying!) about racing bicycles at 23mph around street corners in a field of 20+ women, all while trusting and admiring each and every one of them. A year later, there is no better feeling than reflecting back on my journey and calling many of those women my new teammates and friends.

Despite how much I love racing bikes, I have experienced a number of day-to-day remarks, actions, and behaviors that reveal underlying biases and assumptions about men being the default and women being placed on the back burner in cycling. Commonly referred to as microaggressions, these experiences reflect subtle inequities, stereotypical remarks, or forms of harassment related to one or more cultural identities–including but not limited to gender. I’ve decided to share some of my experiences here and in a previous post because I want to continue the conversation that other cyclists have started for us, and I want continued progress on this important issue.

Before sharing, I want to recognize that many (but not all) of the actions I describe were likely unintentional. My goal is not to point fingers. Instead, I want to reflect on the broader culture and context. When these experiences happen time and time again by different people, I can’t help but recognize that the common denominator is the fact that I’m a woman on a bike trying to participate in a sport dominated by white cisgender men. Even if done unintentionally, such actions and subtle snubs provide preferential treatment toward men, exclude those of us who are not men, and/or focus on our physical attributes rather than our strengths as athletes. Here is some of what I’ve experienced:

  • During my second ride with a new group of men, I got a flat and fell off the back. One guy stayed back while I changed my flat, joking that he waited for me because he wanted my number. The others in the group went on without me.
  • During a cold February ride, I was in a pace line with several men working into a gnarly headwind. One of the guys shouted “Keep up the good work, fellas!” to boost morale.
  • Last fall, an acquaintance joked that I shouldn’t race in the Athena* category because no one wants to be “King of the fatties.”
  • In a recent fat bike race, two men passed me on the single track stating, “thanks, man” and “thanks, sir.”
  • At my first cyclocross race, I showed up early to get a feel for the race scene and watch the race before mine. The announcer did not announce the first place woman at the finish line, yet provided commentary on all podium spots for the men’s race occurring at the same time.
  • When commuting into work one morning for my new job, a security guard approached me to introduce himself. He proceeded to comment on my physical attractiveness.
  • During the cyclocross season, the women’s 4/5 field raced at the same time as the juniors. When course features were too challenging for 8 yr olds, the features were removed for their race. This meant that we often raced on the modified course with the juniors, rather than the course raced by all other adults.
  • After stopping at an intersection on my way home from a training ride, a car with three men pulled up alongside me. One of them stuck his head out the window and shouted, “Hey you wanna suck my dick?!”. They drove off with a car full of laughter. My morale, performance, and sense of safety immediately plummeted. I spent the rest of the ride feeling completely violated, tense, and worried they’d come back.

*Note: Athena is a cycling category for women over 160 lbs. Clydesdale is a category for men over 200 lbs.

Although the clear harassment is far and few between, and most of these acts are completely unintentional, they add up. I carry them with me on a daily basis and to each race. I use them to fuel my desire to dig deeper, to try harder, and to show women and gender diverse cyclists we belong. If we want to decrease gender gaps in this sport, we need more conversations about how to do better, as well as more feminists advocating for gender equity. Just in the past year, I have taken risks in a new community by speaking up about what I’ve seen and how I’ve felt. I will speak more about the progress in the next post, but I have only great things to say about the cycling federation, racing directors, and officials–particularly how open and receptive they’ve been. We’re seeing some really exciting changes. I think many people understand that it’s time for a culture shift, in which all cyclists are clearly valued and welcome. That being said, I can only speak to my own experience. I want to hear more voices and shine a light on the experiences of others so that we can make this conversation continue in and outside of the cycling world.

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. 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 respective 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, spouse, and cyclist. When she is not working, she trains for new cycling adventures, eats, laughs, and spends time with loved ones.

fitness

Gender Diversity in Cycling: Time For A Shift? (Guest Post)

I transitioned from triathlon to cycling about 18 months ago. I made the switch after completing an Ironman, wanting a change, and enjoying my time in the saddle more than the time spent running or swimming. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the field of triathlon working to recruit and retain more women in the sport (as evidenced by the hugely popular Facebook group, Women for Tri). I hoped for a similar dynamic with cycling, but had just moved across the country for a new job and was not sure where to find a community of rad cyclists. I started by searching for groups online, found one with similar speed and distance to fit my training, and was launched into what became a new norm for my next year: being one of the only women on a group ride surrounded by several men. I’ve generally been treated really well and I can’t thank many of them enough for making me who I am today. I’m a much stronger cyclist thanks to their challenging group rides and much of their ongoing support. But we’ve got work to do.

Reflecting back on my transition to cycling, I think I expected to find similar dynamics to triathlon—plenty of women at races, large Facebook groups for women to share advice and experiences, and plenty of group rides and teams to train with or race for without the fear of getting dropped. Unfortunately, I think I was naive and mistaken in a few ways. Field sizes for women in many of the events I’ve done are only about 15%—especially gravel, cyclocross, and fat biking. Women and gender diverse athletes are sorely underrepresented in this sport. I’ve scoured the literature to identify potential reasons for the gap. Some say it’s a lack of confidence or skill with mechanical abilities. Others say lack of time to train due to childcare and domestic responsibilities. Some note a lack of navigation skills needed for gravel or discomfort being in the middle of nowhere. Others reflect on a lack of safety, whether due to car traffic, crashing, or sexual harassment.

Many of those factors, however, are specific to one discipline or one community, have small sample sizes, are published by men, and/or completely exclude cyclists who do not identify as cisgender men or women. And while I appreciate the important work on these issues, I think the gender gaps go a lot deeper than what the literature has said thus far. I believe we need a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences of women and gender diverse cyclists in order to decrease disparities in the field. I believe it’s time to share our stories.

My experiences as a white cisgender woman in cycling over the past year have been exciting, nerve wracking, challenging, and empowering. They have also been colored by microaggressions, sexist comments, harassment, and exclusion. I love this sport and so many aspects of this community. I want to stay engaged. But I also know we can do better by stepping up our game and working hard to understand the experiences of that 15%. After identifying what has helped and hurt us over the years, we can work to shift our culture to one with more diversity and representation.

Aside from my identity as a cyclist, I am a feminist, a sport psychologist, a professor, and a researcher. As a feminist, it’s important for me to 1) own my biases that stem from my own experiences; and 2) recognize that the personal is political. I’m doing this project because of my own experiences and because I want our community to do better. The disheartening moments I’ve had over the past year have lit a fire inside of me and have motivated me to take on a piece of this puzzle.

This past week, I launched an international research project for women, trans*, femme, non-binary, genderqueer, and two spirit cyclists who have raced over the past 5 years. 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.

As an incentive, I’ve secured money to donate $2/person to charity for the first 250 participants. (It’s not much, but it’s something.) I’ll present the findings in my community, at conferences, and to anyone who wants to listen. I’ll also write up the findings for publication to help us shed some light on 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 in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story.  What has pushed you away?  What helps you to keep going strong?  I’ll share mine in a post to come.

Link to survey is as follows: https://goo.gl/BV72e7

 Erin, a dark haired woman with her hair pulled back, looks onto another spectator while wearing her cycling kit after one of her first cyclocross races. She is leaning forward on her bike. Her sunglasses are resting on top of her head, her jersey is zipped down, and her hair is wet from sweat. Photo Credit: Carlos Sabillon
Erin, a dark haired woman with her hair pulled back, looks onto another spectator while wearing her cycling kit after one of her first cyclocross races. She is leaning forward on her bike. Her sunglasses are resting on top of her head, her jersey is zipped down, and her hair is wet from sweat. Photo Credit: Carlos Sabillon

Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, spouse, and cyclist. When she is not working, she spends her time training for new cycling adventures, eating, laughing, and spending time with loved ones.