As I temporarily merged with my parents’ couch over the holidays (save for the occasional jaunt outside for a run, to the pool, or to the table to eat all the festive food), I came across an article in The Guardian entitled “Powerful photographs perfectly illustrate the rise of women’s sport”. It’s an interesting article with loads of iconic pictures from the past year. If you need a fix of badass women doing badass things, I’d encourage you to head over there right now to read it. Megan Rapinoe, Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and others, they’re all there, performing incredible feats.
This is a new thing, according to the article: in the past, sports photography focused on making women look conventionally attractive and erasing certain aspects, sports, or people by not picturing them. Progress is, admittedly, slow, as the article also points out. There was the online abuse hurled at Australian footballer Tyla Harris after a photo showing her performing an awesome kick, but also depicting her crotch area, was published. The network that originally published it first withdrew it, then put it back up apologising for giving in to the trolls. Then there was the shit storm over Megan Rapinoe and the US women’s football team’s way of celebrating their World Cup victory, which Donald Trump got involved in, because Of Course He Did. And there were many more.
So things still aren’t great, but they’re getting a bit better, slowly. In part, the Guardian article noted, this is also due to more female sports photographers being around who portray women from a female viewpoint rather than a male gaze. But there aren’t enough of them – photography, for women, is apparently just as sucky a profession as many others, rife with discrimination and unfair disadvantages. And even where things are getting better… “Getty hired two women photographers on internships who are covering the women’s game around the country”, the Guardian piece notes.
Wait, what? They hired them on internships? Could they not be arsed to give them a real job? Unfortunately the article doesn’t go further into this, but it definitely gave me pause.
Le sigh. As we head into 2020, there seems to be cause for cautious optimism, but our work here, fit feminist friends, is not done.
I went to see Captain Marvel on the weekend with my family. I enjoyed it very much. The characters were nicely developed; the story line was engaging; the writing was clever. The hero was not hyper-sexualized and there was no love story. As much as I liked Wonder Woman, I was more than ready for an action movie featuring a woman in a central role that did not require a skimpy outfit.
Captain Marvel is a woman who thinks for herself and seeks solutions. When she ends up stranded on earth, she figures out how she is going to communicate with her team. She’s not afraid of hard work nor is she afraid of training hard. Her fitness and strength are tools she uses to defeat her opponents while outsmarting them.
Like many noble warrior heroes, Marvel is challenged to find her true self. Her memory has been fragmented, but over time, the bits she has retrieved form a story. There are three pivotal moments for me in the film and they all come pretty closely together in the final quarter of the film.
The first is when Vers remembers her real name, the second when she comes into her full powers, and the third when Carol quashes her former mentor’s ego. These three moments have a lot to offer women in pursuit of fitness, strength and power in the gym.
When Vers remembers who she is, she rejects the name she was given and asserts her real name. “My name is Carol,” and she pushes back with all her strength. Women are often told they shouldn’t lift weights; that working with the bar will change their essential nature, that they will change shape and not in a good way. I’ve learned that when I walk into the gym and assume my role as power-lifter, that when I accept I am there to lift all the heavy things, then the dynamic between the bar and me is quite different.
When Carol thinks and reflects on what she is hearing, she is able to reframe what she knows. She’s been convinced for too long that she has no power except for what her oppressors have allowed her to express. She remembers all the times she fell down, the times she was taunted and told she could not do what she planned, the times she was scolded for having dreams that were too big for “normal.” Most importantly, Carol remembers all the times she got back up.
When I am at the gym, I remember all the times I got back up even though I didn’t want to. My trainer even has “Always stand up” taped to the squat cage. This winter has been hard with extra cold weather and a cranky hip. It’s surprising what strength you can find when you say those three little words.
Finally, Carol takes joy in her strength and power. She revels in what she can do — defeat bad guys, look after the good guys, and organize a plan to make change happen for the people she helps. When the bad guy tries to take credit for her skill and power, Carol tells him she has nothing to prove to him.
Indeed, if there is one thing you take away from this post (and the movie), is that the only person to whom you must be accountable is yourself. You show up, do the work, and get on with the job at hand.
How about you? Do you find inspiration from action movies?
Swiss cyclist Nicole Hanselmann was competing for her Bigla Pro team at a race in Belgium; the men’s race had a 10-minute start, and Hanselmann made that up pretty quickly after grabbing an early lead. Her race was stopped so the men could get ahead again; she was given a head start once the women’s race resumed, but the wind had left her sails by then. (UM: DUH.) She finished 74th. Later she instagrammed the incident: “awkward” was her photo caption.
Why did this happen? I’ve been looking around for an explanation for the last day or so and have no clear one to offer you. It sounds like the officials made a wrong call on the race gap: 10 minutes was not long enough. (Is this a standard gap for this type of race? I can’t tell – I haven’t been able to find this information out. If you know, please say in the comments!) It also sounds like Hanselmann had GREAT legs going into the race, and really took advantage. (There are structural reasons why this might be the case; women’s race lengths are often not long enough to capitalize on women’s peak fitness, which means early attacks happen. Go here for more.)
But “why” on this day, in this place, is not really the point; there are a lot of culturally-embedded, fairly obvious reasons why this incident is newsworthy. And if you’re a strong female cyclist, you already know the why.
We get underestimated. This is true of pretty much ALL female athletes, but it’s definitely the case for female athletes in male-dominant sports. Snoop around on our blog for lots of qualitative evidence, most recently this fantastic guest post from just a few days ago, about trying to lift around men at the gym.
I’ve been riding road bikes since 2012; I learned early (from a hugely inspiring female coach) that I was strong and suited to the sport. I drop a lot of guys. I’m faster than a lot of guys. And I love riding with folks who are faster than me, because they make me get faster.
But fast guys also tend to misunderstand what it means to have women on their ride.
(And here, let me specify: I’m talking largely about CLUB rides. When I go on organized rides with guys I know and trust and train with, we are all good and the adventure is ace. #notallmaleriders, of course. But still plenty.)
How this misunderstanding? Step one: mansplaining.
If I’m on a high-end bike that fits my body, the bike is kitted out with all the gear, and I demonstrate clear road- and club-riding skills, chances are I do not need you to tell me basic things about the sport, my bike, or anything else to do with what we are doing at the minute. Keep it to yourself, unless you see me in obvious need of assistance. And if that happens, maybe ask first if I need any.
Step two: aggressive off-showing. Yes, I’m on your ride because I’m fast enough for the posted ride pace. This should not be an invitation to you to attempt to ride significantly faster than the posted ride pace, just because you can. Or maybe you’re trying hard to show off to the other dudes on the ride? (I see this A LOT. God, it must be exhausting to be a male club rider.) At any rate, 38kph on a posted 32-34kph ride is too fast for me. You are going to drop me. And quite possibly you’ll drop the other, less fast, guys on the ride too. Is that really what you want? (And if so, ask yourself: WHY DO YOU WANT THIS?)
Step three: excessive complimenting. I pulled that pace line for two minutes and it was a strong, effective pull? We held a good pace? Yup, that’s what happens when you pull, after resting inside the pace line for a bit. I pulled the peloton with another woman at the front, and it was a strong, effective pull? Whadaya know. We have #madbikeskillz. GET OVER IT.
If you’re not going to say “hey! Great pull! Way to go!” to the guys on the ride, when you say it to me the message is clear. You didn’t think I could do it. You underestimated me. Thanks for sharing.
It’s not just guys who underestimate women riders, though. Many women I know have no idea how strong they are. Many of the women in my club think they are too slow for the two faster groups the club runs; even the amazing mountain biker I train with in winter (like, PODIUM MB-er, peeps) isn’t sure she can hold the faster lines. (Spoiler alert: she really can.)
I know these women are stronger than they let themselves think. They don’t believe it, and that’s because they have been taught, over years of aggressive gendered socialization, that women aren’t fast or good enough when it comes to sports like cycling. There’s tonnes of external reinforcement of this idea, too: just ask Hanselmann. All around us the messages normalize the notion that women can’t do it, not really, no matter what Nike says as it tries to sell us things.
I know this post sounds cranky, but I’m fed up. Being underestimated is exhausting; it makes it hard to want to go on the rides, to try to get faster, to deal with all the noise while ALSO trying to ride the ride. Cycling is hard enough work; I don’t need to be doing extra emotional labour on the damn bike, too.
What’s your experience on the bike? Do you have supportive ride-mates, or do you experience unnecessary gender blow-back on your usual club dates? Do you have race experiences you’d like to share?
Oh, old European cities. I love you. But I hate your stairs. SO MANY STAIRS.
Why do I hate stairs? They hurt my knees. It’s seriously painful even on days when I’m walking pain free. Down is way worse than up. Handrails help. I’m now a person who notices when they’re there and when they’re at the right height. I also sometimes worry that the stairs are making my knees worse.
So I turned to the Internet with my question. Dr. Google, do stairs simply hurt my arthritic knees or do they make things worse? Here’s a good a survey of the relevant literature.
“Stair climbing increases loads on the knee joints. And if we take into consideration the mechanical factor for appearing and progression of degenerative joint disease, it is clear that damage to joint cartilage increases with stair climbing. So reduced loads are beneficial for knee arthrosis.”
“Combination of stairs and weight or better loading and repetition of it is discussed as having some effect of knee joint degeneration. It is calculated that when someone is walking on plain ground he puts about 5 times the body weight or load in every step into the joint. When stairs are used or walking up or down hill the person is loading the knee up to 7 or 10 times the body weight or load according to the speed used. So repetition (circle of loading) – weight (and load) – and inclination of the ground has possibly effect of degenerative knee disease”
“The reasons why patients are advised to avoid them when OA shows up is that stairs are stress raisers, especially descending them. The point is that OA knees regardless the severity, are often unstable and in these conditions stairs may induce shear stresses on the cartilage and speed up the degenerative process. “
So I guess I should try to avoid them. I raised the issue at the knee surgery clinic on Monday when I was there for my regular appointment. Their message was clear. “You need to modify your activity. Avoid stairs when you can.”
See you on the escalator/in the elevator!
Though in these old cities there isn’t much choice.
Look, just look at Krysten Sinema getting sworn in. I’ve got some aesthetic opinions. I love her hair, that top, those glasses. But I’m not writing here just to swoon. It’s Sinmena’s athletic background that intrigues and fascinates me. She’s not just a very successful politician. She’s also a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer and an Ironman triathlete.
In our book , Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey, Tracy and I talk about all of the things one gets out of being active above the pleasure of the experience itself. Women who are athletes have more self-confidence and more resilience and that has all sorts of beneficial side effects. Athletes are over represented in leadership roles in many areas of life. So when women are denied access to the goods of physical activity, or are discouraged from taking part in sports, the costs aren’t just about health and fitness.
I was thrilled to see Krysten Sinema sworn into the US Senate. In addition to being an Ironman triathlete–have I mentioned that already?–she’s also the first openly bisexual member of the US Senate. And she has plans to continue training through her new role with a goal of qualifying for Boston this year. Clearly, there’s no slowing her down.
Back to my shallow aesthetic swooning. Just look at her pink coat!
I was also happy to read that Sinema shares our concern about the gender gap in sports participation. Here she is in a recent interview talking about how to get more women involved in triathlon. She’s got some good suggestions here.
“The first thing we did as an advisory board was a survey where we asked women who were athletic, but not necessarily triathletes, a series of questions. Do they want to tri? What are the barriers to tri? What is stopping them from tri’ing? And what things would they find most helpful? We did a recent survey, and we found the same things that we found then.
There are issues around work/life/family balance, and then there’s the water—but that’s not gender-specific; most of us are afraid of the water. Another issue that is more related to women is wanting to feel confident and have a sense of community when engaging in a new endeavor. The recipe for success is not rocket science.
What are the things that you do to overcome those barriers? You have swim clinics in a pool and then in the open water. You do tire-changing clinics. You have childcare when you are doing a seminar at night to talk about triathlon and nutrition. It’s not hard, but what is hard is changing mindsets and changing the culture. What I’m really excited about is the Women For Tri project has been so successful that we are now fielding requests from races around the world that want to partner with us because they want to increase women’s participation in triathlon. One of the new things we’re going to do is work on partnering with races that are not part of the brands that we were formed by. We were born in Ironman, and partnered with Life Time, so that’s where our early connections have been, but we’re going to expand.
First, the French Open decides one of Serena’s outfits back in June is cause to tighten up their dress code rules. I wrote about that only a few days ago in Let Women Wear What They Want. Yesterday, the U.S. Open penalized Alize Cornet for oh-so-briefly taking off her shirt during a match.
Have women’s bodies become so hyper-sexualized that we (okay, really men) can’t even see a woman’s sports bra without coming apart at the seams? Watch the video. Alize’s shirt is off for less than thirty seconds. On a break, she had changed out of a sweat-soaked dress. She accidentally put her fresh shirt on backwards. I’m in New York City. I can attest to just how blistering the heat is. Riding at 6 a.m. with a friend this morning, we felt like we needed amphibious bikes to wade through the stifling humidity. I start sweating just looking out my window at the sunshine.
We are super-saturated by media images of women in their scanties. Are you as tired of Victoria’s Secret billboard cleavages as I am? The more we sexualize women in the media, the less room there is for women to be comfortable in their bodies and in their strength.
Meanwhile, no surprise, the male tennis players are sitting around without their shirts on whenever they feel like it.
The powers-that-be blather on about respecting the sport as an excuse to sanction women. The women ARE respecting the sport. Now let’s give the women the respect they deserve!