Thoughts about fitness, consent, and pleasure

*Trigger warning: this post discusses issues around sexual violence and consent.

Regular readers of FFI know I’m an avid cyclist and sometime internet dater; what you may or may not know is that in my work life I’m a theatre scholar – I teach, write about, and regularly attend live shows of all kinds. It’s a huge privilege to be able to say, as I did on a recent Friday afternoon, “I have to leave my desk and take the train into town to see a play!”

That particular play is called Asking For It; is a piece of “verbatim” theatre – that is, theatre composed of interview material gathered, with full consent of participants, by the author and star of the show, Ellie Moon. Its jumping-off point was the media storm surrounding the now-disgraced CBC Radio host and popular member of Toronto’s arts community, Jian Ghomeshi, who between 2014 and 2016 was tried both in a court of law, and in the court of public opinion, for physical violence against women during sexual encounters. (I won’t go over the details of the case here, except to say that it turned out to be a textbook example of how the law treats women in situations like this one; if I had to send you to some sources for a primer, I would choose this one, and this one.)

hr_AskingforIt-hero-duotone

The promotional image for Asking For It, by Ellie Moon (Nightwood Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest in Toronto). The image shows a white woman (Ellie), both alluring and fierce, looking into the camera. Her long hair blows gently in the wind. Her neck bears a tattoo that reads “shocking to some”. The background is a sepia tone.

Moon was living in England when the scandal around Ghomeshi broke, but she was back in Canada as a jobbing actor when he went to trial. She found herself, as a result of the issues in the air, wondering about her own sexual preferences, those of others, and why we are not good at talking openly with one another about either sexual pleasure or sexual consent. The show asks: “How do we convey, and experience, sexual consent in 2017?” Using her interview material, transcripts from social media, and her own reflections (as a sexually active woman and a performer in the show) Moon creates a complex image of the ambiguities and ambivalences that shadow what we do and do not want to happen in private sexual encounters, and what we do and do not want to talk about afterward.

It’s a superb show, but why am I talking about it here?

For me, fitness isn’t just about building muscle, climbing hills on my bike, or stretching my aching hamstrings in yoga. It’s not only about eating yummy green things (and yummy chocolate things), getting proper sleep, and trying to drink less. It’s also about feeling safe, feeling joy, and feeling cared for in bed, when I’m not in bed alone. So while, as a theatre scholar, I was struck by the skill evident in Moon’s production and her adept use of the verbatim genre, as a woman interested in fitness and wellness (my own and that of others), I found the show struck some deeper chords.

Social messages these days try to make consent appear very clear-cut: no means no. And it absolutely does. But feeling consent, conveying consent, and expressing the shift from consent to non-consent when you’re deep into it can be a great deal more murky than the prevailing winds want to suggest – which can lead in turn to feelings of confusion and shame for men, women, and those who identify as non-binary alike. This is a large part of what Moon and her co-performers get into during Asking For It, and I found the labour of their honest reflection useful, moving, and also a bit of a relief.

Logo_ConsentIsSexy

A pink button against a denim jacket reads: “Ask First. Make it Sexy. Consent is sexy. consentissexy.net.”

What happens, for example, when we’ve having loads of fun, but then suddenly, for one partner, something shifts? Whose responsibility is it to stop? How do we stop and not make things “weird”? Why do some of us (usually, women) feel such a need to keep things “light” (rather than “weird”) – and at what cost?

I had this experience not too long ago: I found myself crying into my pillow while my partner was behind me. We had been having fun, and then, suddenly, I was not. I felt such shame; the tears followed. He was unaware of the tears; I was fighting them because I didn’t know whether or not I was still consenting to what was going on, and that was making me even more anxious. (Note: he did not do anything for which he did not have my permission.) I cared about his experience and I didn’t want to hurt him; I also knew he didn’t want to hurt me. Eventually I told him to stop and went into the bathroom; when I returned, we sat and talked it through. After that, everything was absolutely fine.

This is an example of consensual sex working very well indeed – we talked it through; everything was absolutely fine – but it’s also an example of the complexities consent always presents in the moment-to-moment-ness of sexual encounters in the real world. Was it my job to tell him to stop? His to check in with me? Mine to give him signs that problems were surfacing? I have no solid answers to these questions. I think ideally he would have checked when I stopped being responsive, and I would have demonstrated more openly that I was starting to experience discomfort. But I know for certain that neither of us wanted to hurt the other – both of us wanted to consent to pleasure in one another, and we had / we did.

I also have no doubt that I was able to express my growing non-consent, eventually though imperfectly, because I am in my 40s and I now have a strong sense of myself as an independent sexual subject. Had I been in my 20s, and especially myself in my 20s, I’m pretty sure it would not have gone as well.

Which makes me worry a lot about my students.

Then there’s the question of where each partner’s responsibility lies in the acts of asking for, giving, and receiving consent before we even get going. Yes, in heterosexual situations men typically hold the balance of power, and so should always ask to make sure consent is intended (rather than simply assumed on their part). After all, violence in relation to sex is about power: social, historical, and physical.

But power does not always break down along expected gender lines, even in heterosexual situations.

In the sexual relationship I have with the man in the anecdote above, power is surprisingly balanced; we weigh similar amounts and are similarly strong, and our personal identifications (based on gender, ethnicity, race, and class) mean that in some key ways I am culturally more privileged than he is. Further, I initiate our sexual encounters at least as often, if not more often, than he does. Given these factors, I consider it my responsibility to ask his consent before I move too far forward; we do this playfully, thanks to a rapport built up over time (and thanks to our mutually compatible senses of humour).

About three quarters of the way through Asking For It, Moon and fellow actor Christine Horne recreate, for the audience, an encounter from Moon’s research between her and a friend: after a boozy dinner they are on a Toronto bus. Horne’s character tells Moon she should be approaching strangers as well as friends for her project of collecting material for the play, and so Moon goes over (rather reluctantly, and bashfully) to the only other passenger on the bus, a man played by Steve McCarthy. She asks him to talk into her phone about his experiences of asking for and receiving consent; he asks her if she is coming onto him. She says no; she explains the play project and asks again for his feedback. He becomes angry, though not hostile; he is obviously frustrated and feels blindsided. Moon then admits she’s “a little bit drunk”, and he says, “can you imagine if the situations were reversed?” If he approached her on the bus, asked to talk about sex, and admitted to being tipsy? Moon is taken aback; she gets it – that image represents the opposite of the safe situation they are currently in, and they both know it – but she also, at least a little bit, gets the difference. “But I asked you,” she says quietly.

She opened with a request for consent.

I find myself thinking about these issues as a 43-year-old woman who wants to enjoy sex but also to stay safe and healthy and happy in my sexual life. I also find myself thinking about these issues as a feminist, and as a feminist teacher.

I am often asked to explain feminism to others; I don’t mind doing it, because I’ve had a lot of practice. To me, feminism means appreciating and recognizing the privilege our sex and gender identities afford in relation to others, and in conjunction with other forms of privilege or non-privilege our bodies bear.

For me, as for Moon, “feminism” is a word that means “equality”‘; sadly, “equality” is a complex concept, and we seem to be living in a moment that jettisons complexity, too frequently, in favour of the superficial. A lot of the talk around consent is actually fairly superficial: no means no, dammit! Just follow that mantra and you’ll be fine. A lot of the men in Moon’s play know this mantra, but are struggling: they think that checking in, or making sure to ask, is the sum total of their responsibility. OR, they are angry and frustrated that, in the consent game, girls seem to be getting all the joy and none of the struggle.

Yes, no means no. But can everyone say no, really?

What these guys (and, frankly, what a lot of us) miss is that it’s really not that easy, for any of us. Understanding consent as more than a word or two – understanding it as a factor of power imbalances, historical privilege, and the challenges and joys that have arisen as women have become more culturally and economically powerful players in the public sphere – means coming to grips with consent as something that needs to be constantly negotiated between sexual partners, and something that needs to be fulsomely (not superficially) expressed by both parties.

It means recognizing that some of us have more vocal power than others. That some of us feel more free than others to express what it is we want. That some of us fear speaking out, ever, about sexual feeling, because the consequences can be catastrophic.

It means talking through power and privilege, even as we talk about consent.

 

Taking the Lane: Gender and Cycling in Toronto (A Panel Discussion)

On Thursday, June 15, I get to talk about my favourite topic in cycling. Something I like better than debating wheel size on mountain bikes, frame materials for road bikes, or what type of shifters to use on a touring bike. I’ll be chatting about gender and cycling with four excellent people of a diversity of backgrounds. Joining me at the Parkdale Library will be Katie Whitman, Community Cycling Champion and researcher; Lavinia Tanzim of Bad Girls Bike Club; and Sivia Vijenthira of Spacing Magazine, with moderation by Tammy Thorne of Dandyhorse Magazine.

For some of you, this will be an obvious topic of conversation. “Of course that’s still relevant!”, you’ll say, “Why would anyone disagree?”

But I know I get a lot of questions about why we can’t just talk about getting more butts on bikes generally. “Just shut up and ride your bike” is a comment we get all of the time in the advocacy world, whether it’s about centering conversations on women and gender nonconforming (GNC) people, or attempting to convince people not to ride trails when they’re wet.

Why do we need to have this conversation?  I have worked in retail bike spaces, as a ride leader and as a mechanic for the past decade.  And the overwhelming drone in the background has always been cis-male* voices.  If you make a bike event open to all genders, take a look around the room. The gender diversity is likely to be pretty limited, with the bulk of your attendees identifying as male. If you brand your event as women-only, you’re still very likely to end up with a cis-dude* or two attempting to gain access These interlopers will at times be very understanding, having missed the fine (or bold) print, and will at other times be dismissive, derisive, or downright aggressive. That’s cool, we can (and do) deal.

(*cis-gendered = someone whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were born with)

The Good

So why am I so excited about this panel and these spaces? What’s the difference at events intentionally directed at women and GNC people? For me, it’s all about the energy and a willingness to ask questions. As a mechanic, the most refreshing thing has always been a woman coming in with her bike and asking questions or talking about her experiences. Events or drop-in hours where women and GNC folks are the sole audience have a lot more chatting, laughing, whooping, and questions than all gender events. There are a lot of generalizations and assumptions about why this happens, and we’re going to unpack the heck out of that in the panel.

The Bad

Note that I never said women and cycling, I said gender and cycling. How many of you jumped right to thinking this was a conversation about women and bikes? One of the aspects I find most difficult in organizing programs for not-cis-men, is making “women’s” events open and accepting of the trans* and GNC community. All of the events that I run are GNC-friendly. They have to be, because I identify as GNC. But I struggle constantly with the thought that my events are still exclusionary, as they’re often labeled as women’s events. If it’s a women-only event, does that mean our trans* and GNC friends aren’t allowed?  Women and GNC events often get read as queer events. Does that mean straight, cis women aren’t allowed?  There’s a barrier no matter what we do. My employers may not go for me labeling events as Women and Gender-Non-Conforming. It’s wordy, which is a hard pill to swallow when you’re trying to make a catchy and easily communicable event. If you write your event as Women and GNC, you may scare some women away who don’t know what that acronym means and feel this event isn’t for them. Throw an asterisk in there? People don’t read things. The complications and variations are endless.

So What’s the Question?

We know we need infrastructure changes and programs geared towards lower income people and newcomers to Canada, so that people have a safe and supportive way into bike commuting. But recreational riding, my main squeeze? How do we make these spaces accepting of all incomes, gender identities, and sexual orientations? Can we do it with one club, or do we need multiple clubs to make sure everyone has space?

 

What do you think, Toronto? Who wants to talk about this with me? See you on Thursday, June 15th at 6pm at the Parkdale Library!

 

If gender identity is not your most important question, never fear. We’re going to talk about loads of things, including how to make streets safer from an infrastructure level, the importance of programs for youth and newcomers to Toronto, how to tie the suburbs into this conversation, and what the research says about all of these things.

 

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Event Info:

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/643794175823092/?active_tab=about


Join us on June 15 for TAKING THE LANE: GENDER AND CYCLING IN TORONTO! Pop by the 
Parkdale Library from 6-7:30pm for an a-one panel. The event seeks to unpack our city’s cycling past, where we need to go, and who is missing from the conversation? But at the end of the day the question is: how do we get more women and girls cycling?

There is a serious lack of conversation and action around intersectionality and cycling in Toronto. This event aims to highlight that many women and GNC people in the city do not feel comfortable cycling due to unsafe streets (a lack of infrastructure) coupled with a lack of outreach.


Alex has been working in the Toronto cycling community for the last nine years. A certified CAN-Bike, Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association, and bike repair instructor, Alex would be so happy to take you for a bike ride. In addition to their role with Charlie’s FreeWheels, a charity dedicated to teaching youth how to build and ride bikes in Regent Park, Alex coordinates group rides and clinics with Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop and leads women’s cycling programs as a rider for Trek’s Women’s Advocacy program. You can usually find them with a posse of rad women and non-binary folks in the Don Valley mountain bike trails.

Follow Alex @legslegum on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

 

 

 

We will keep running, cycling, walking and swimming. But alone?

Mirna Valerio running down a trail.

This week has been one of upheaval and dramatic change in the US in ways that will affect the global community in short and long-term ways. We members of the Fit is a Feminist Issue community come from many regions and countries, and I love how we can connect and support each other around fitness, feminism and well-being in our varied and similar lives all over the world.

About 60 million people voted for Donald Trump, which may include some readers of this blog.  It is, however, widely reported that the immediate effects of the election have included attacks on women, people of color, Muslims and LGBTQ people.  Many people in the US are rightly afraid– concerned for their safety and uncertain about how to conduct their daily lives.

For blog readers (and women in general), these feelings and this reality are what we navigate on a daily basis.  In an August 2016 article in Runner’s World, Meghan Kita wrote about women running alone in an environment of sexism and sexual harassment and violence:

You can run, but you can’t escape sexism. Women’s running has come a long way from the days of doctors saying, “You can’t do that; your uterus will fall out of your body.” Women now make up 57 percent of race finishers annually, per the latest Running USA statistics. More than half of our readers are women.

And yet people still suggest that women simply shouldn’t run alone. I once took a self-defense class for women at a local martial arts academy. The (male) instructor spent approximately half the class stressing the importance of one simple safety rule: Women should never do anything or go anywhere alone.

If you think women don’t know that it’s safer to run with other people than to run alone, think again. Every kid grew up using the buddy system. Everyone has heard the trope, “There’s safety in numbers.”

But suggesting that a woman coordinate a group for every single run she does is ridiculous, especially when you’d never give such advice to a man. Some women—just like some men—simply enjoy running alone.

That was then.  But this is now.

Events of this week made me think about long-distance runner Mirna Valerio, who writes the Fat Girl Running blog and also for other media.  In Runner’s World there was a long profile about her, including how she encounters people who are surprised and sometimes suspicious of an African-American woman trail-running in rural Georgia.  She tells this story:

“I’m running along and a police cruiser pulls up beside me,” she continues. “The deputy looks at me, but he doesn’t say anything. We go on like that for maybe a minute, but it felt like an hour. Finally, he just eased away.”

She also tells stories about diffusing suspicion and building communication with local residents.  It’s clear that Valierio enjoys being outdoors, alone, running and enjoying life.  She hasn’t written about any changes in her habits after the election, but then again, she’s not a political blogger.  Her views and concerns are her own.

Which leads me to ask the question:  readers, how are you feeling about engaging in physical activity outside, alone?  Has this week changed your views about safety and comfort?  We’d like to hear from you.

 

 

Liberation, two nipples at a time (Guest post)

When all the fashion magazines featured women with hands (their own or others’) covering their breasts, a thought flickered that hands are much more comfortable than the average bra. Hiding women’s breasts, one way or the other, is standard media fare, and of course in some places women aren’t allowed to go topless in public, a clear gender disparity.

Fashion in the last few decades has even come to erase to nipple that might protrude from a shirt — again only for women like Serena Williams, not for men like Andy Murray.

It’s become really hard to find a non-padded bra, even for sports. Yet it’s seriously unpleasant to exercise with sweaty padding. Does anyone really believe in “breathable padding”? Sorry Victoria’s Secret, but my skepticism was well placed.

However, in recent years fashion has shown glimpses of the saucy braless 70s, including the bralette and bandeaus, all pleasant options for small-breasted women. The news even declares that bralessness is in fashion.

Many of us may sneer “how nice for you!” Bralessness and even lightweight bra alternatives are not realistic choices. Many heavy breasted women are simply not comfortable and even experience back pain without support from a bra. Sizes small, medium, and large rarely do the work we need them to do either. Sports bras tend to be sized that way and create a special kind of hell. We end up pinched and unsupported on top of being sweaty.

So I suggest the new move away from bras and padded bras may be good for all women. It marks a greater diversity in the types of breast support and sports tops available for women. The less women are expected to hide our breasts the easier it will be for us to demand comfortable functional support.

Who are you calling superhuman?

Feminist friends, hello! This is my first regular post for the blog, although I’ve been guesting for Sam and Tracy for a while now. I’m honoured to have been asked to join the community, and will be contributing on the last Friday of every month.

(I also write weekly at The Activist Classroom, my own teaching blog. If you are a teacher, if you’re a performer, or if you’re just interested in issues in higher education, please check it out!)

For today’s inaugural post I’ve been inspired by the debate ongoing on the blog this week about disabled and non-disabled experiences in relation to fitness and wellness. Tracy shared some thoughts on this on Tuesday, and invited responses to the question of whether or not this blog, fitness-forward, is inherently biased toward non-disabled bodies. A range of compelling commentary has emerged.

I am a non-disabled amateur athlete (cycling and rowing) and professional theatre scholar at Western University; for me, the overlap between work and sport happens when I think critically and politically about how bodies perform, are received, and are expected to behave in social space. (Sport is, after all, a form of spectacle, a kind of performance!) So when performance work related to sport crosses my desktop or TV screen, I get especially excited, and I want to share my thoughts about it.

This week, serendipitously, exactly such a performance appeared in my Facebook feed: it’s Channel 4’s trailer for Team GB (Great Britain) ahead of the Rio Paralympics, titled “We’re The Superhumans.” Here it is:

 

I was living in London during the 2012 Olympics when the first “Superhumans” campaign emerged; for that year’s Paralympics, the slogan was “Meet the Superhumans”. (Channel 4 was the official broadcaster of the 2012 games and the agency 4creative was the marketing brain behind the campaign.) This earlier campaign was designed to address, head on, the ablest stereotype that disabled bodies are “freaks of nature”; here is a description of the project’s ethic, which comes from a case study of the campaign prepared by the advertising association D&AD (the campaign won an award from D&AD):

In August 2010, two years before London 2012, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary called ‘Inside Incredible Athletes’ – its first Paralympic-themed programming. This was supported by a marketing campaigned called ‘Freaks of Nature’ designed to challenge perceptions of disability in sport and encourage viewers to question their own prejudices.

“The intention was to change people’s attitudes and to do that we needed to take them on a journey,” Walker says. “‘Freaks of Nature’ was intended to challenge by turning the meaning of the phrase on its head. The idea was that if great athletes are considered exceptional and different, why not apply the same standard to Paralympians?”

The concept and the attitude it encapsulated provided an important part of the foundation for the campaign that would become ‘Meet the Superhumans.’

I remember feeling incredibly ambivalent about “Meet the Superhumans”, billboards for which were plastered all over London during the summer of 2012. (Although, notably, they didn’t start appearing in full force until the “main” Olympics had closed.) On the one hand: what a great idea, to reclaim the idea of the “freak” and rebrand it with the kinds of superlatives we reserve for only the most powerful among us. On the other: to call someone “superhuman” is necessarily to imply that, on some level, they are not entirely human. It’s a double-edged sword – especially for those who have historically battled the gross prejudice that they are indeed not quite human.

Meet the Superhumans

A still from the original “Meet the Superhumans” campaign, 2012.

Obviously, the first campaign had its heart in the right place, and I salute it for that reason. But I am also glad Channel 4 didn’t stand still when it returned to the “superhuman” handle for 2016, and instead chose to rethink some of the first campaign’s assumptions.

What do I like about the new campaign? A couple of things.

First, I love that it’s jazzy, warm, enormously fun. (Damn, it makes me want to dance!) Singer Tony Dee belts out the Sammy Davis Jr. song “Yes I Can” with tongue in cheek and twinkle in eye as 140 disabled people, athletes and not, pass across the screen, dancing their way through life, sport, art, and more. In case you thought you might want to pity these folks, well, don’t. Don’t gasp in awe, either! They know that’s your impulse, and they have no time for it. They are too busy swinging and grooving – and getting on with doing stuff.

Second, I appreciate that the emphasis in the new trailer is not only on exceptional sports figures, but on humans of all kinds doing ordinary human things, from brushing teeth to flying a plane to bouncing a baby. The affection the camera produces for these quotidian acts isn’t sentimental, either: the pace and the cheek (lots of winking!) of the music balances a certain amount of awe with plenty of “whatever”. (As a non-disabled person, I’m astonished to see a disabled person fly a plane – just because I never have before. Now I know!) In fact, the music yanks us quickly from “awe” to “whatever” and back again deliberately, as it punctuates the shifts with pauses and percussion, drawing attention to them. That call-and-response style has the effect of reminding us to stop being so awed already, and instead to regard all the stuff we see in the trailer as, well… pretty normal for the people on the screen – who are all pretty rocking human, after all.

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Tony Dee grooves it out. Channel 4 spotted him on Youtube!

What doesn’t work so well for me? I would really like to see a couple of vignettes in the trailer that include both disabled and non-disabled bodies working together. The trailer rightly makes disabled bodies its focus, but it doesn’t take the opportunity to show collaboration across bodily difference, which is a shame. (The only non-disabled body in the piece, as far as I can see, is the cranky headmaster who tells the young wheelchair athlete he “can’t” – only to be proven definitively wrong, of course.) If we are to think more globally about access to and opportunities in social space for all human bodies in the future, representing cross-ability collaboration is essential. It gives the firm impression that all human bodies count equally, and helps to demonstrate that equal access doesn’t mean “the same thing for all of us”, but rather “different stuff according to our needs that lets us all do the same things to the best of our abilities”.

There’s a “fait accompli” feel to the trailer that is, of course, part of its jazzy, groovy feel, but that also covers up access issues in troubling ways. It’s reasonable to argue that it’s not Channel 4’s job to show us the complexity of ability politics in a trailer that is designed to get a predominantly non-disabled population to regard bodies with other abilities more positively and fairly; one thing at a time. But it’s also reasonable to argue that it *is* their responsibility not to make disabled lives seem somehow “naturally” easy in a world biased toward non-disabled subjects and their bodily experiences. Because that just ain’t true.

So that’s my verdict on “We’re the Superhumans”: better than last time, inspiring and loads of fun, but not perfect – and more work remains to be done. (Luckily, the 2020 Paralympics are just around the corner!)

I offer this reading in full awareness that, as a non-disabled woman, I’m part of the demographic Channel 4 is targeting and trying to warm-and-fuzzy, and that my embodiment makes my position as a reader partial and imperfect in any case. Which is, of course, why I’d love to hear YOUR take on the trailer, too. Please share in the comments below!

Kim

Bicycle Racing is Expensive! (Guest Post)

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)

Hi there! This is my first fitisafeministissue post, so let me introduce myself. My name’s Rachel. I’m also a Canadian philosopher (who lives and works in the US), a feminist, and a life-long competitive athlete. My primary competitive sport used to be badminton, but since moving to Charleston, South Carolina, I’ve taken to bike racing. In my first season, I won the NC/SC combined state championship, along with a bunch of other regional races. I took to bike racing like a fish to water, one could say.

I have a few big goals. First, I’m aspiring to a professional cycling contract. Now, I won’t quit my day job! Hardly! Women’s professional cycling doesn’t pay well—if it pays at all!  Second, I want to win the 2017 Canadian Road and Criterium Championships (I’ll happily substitute an ‘or’ for the ‘and’). Third, I want to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics.

But here’s the rub: bike racing ain’t cheap. I don’t think that’s really a surprise to anyone, but the costs don’t stop at our bikes. There’s maintenance costs (tires, tubes, chains, brake pads—although, as someone who likes to go fast, I try not to brake much!), race entry fees, travel costs (food, gas, rental cars, hotels—if one is lucky, one can arrange a ‘homestay’ where a family graciously offers room and board, or at least a couch to surf), clothing, and replacement costs for broken equipment when (not if, when) we crash. And that’s just for racing: there are also training costs, such as monthly coaching fees, training camps, and so on. These costs add up, and that’s after the ‘start up’ costs of a race-quality bike, helmet, shoes, wheels, and so on. I added it up my annual costs for a full race schedule, it’s $6000-9000 (USD). Per year.

Like I said, it ain’t cheap. As an amateur cyclist, nearly all of those costs fall on my shoulders. Sure, I’m on a local racing team, but that involves only a partial reimbursement of clothing costs (up to $265, which doesn’t go very far) and race entry fees (up to $400, where a single week-long series costs that much). We receive free or reduced-cost maintenance, as well as equipment discounts, by the local bike shop that sponsors us. But there’s no cash. There’s no free gear (except four team water bottles—don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them!). So it’s hard to get by.

You might wonder: Rachel, you win lots of races, can’t you just pay for your trips from the race payouts? Well, women certainly can’t. Payouts for women’s fields are typically a tiny fraction of men’s races—quite often 10-20%. We are a long way from equality. There’s a great documentary by Kathryn Bertine on this: Half the Road. Also, since our fields are often much smaller, we may not make the ‘field minimum’ for a full payout, and they may cut our payouts in half. And we don’t know whether the field will meet the minimum generally until we toe the line for the start. In some cases, I’ve been in big races where we didn’t meet the field minimum, so they cut our payouts by 50%. OK, I think that sucks (because if you want to grow women’s cycling, then offering good payouts is a great way to attract more racers next time), but at least that was on the race flyer. But they went one step further: they also cut the number of places paid out by half, which effectively reduced the total race payouts for the women field by 75%. If a race costs ~$40 to enter, women’s payouts are often only 2-3x the race entry fee: $80-120. And that’s if you win. Payouts for second or worse often barely cover the race entry fee (usually payouts off the podium don’t cover the entry fee).

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)A

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)A

In the top fields, populated by the best pro teams, the winner might make $1000, but it’s extremely difficult to win those races as a solo amateur (I’m generally the only women from my team in any given race). The race I won last weekend, for example, was an exception in that for a $30 race entry, the women’s payout was $100. I don’t own a car, so I have to arrange rides (which is extremely difficult when I’m the only woman racing from my team, because that means arranging with guys who might race at radically different times from me), or rent a car. The average rental costs about $35 (by going through a discount site), plus $40-60 in gas (depending on how far the race is), and the race entry fee. My expenses for that race were $27 in gas, $33 in race entry, $35 for the rental car: $95. Winning the race brought in $100. So include post-race lunch, and it’s a wash.

That’s a GOOD race situation. It was a close race (3hr drive), with a relatively decent payout, and I won. Most races don’t even come close to covering expenses, especially the bigger races, farther away. For example, I’m trying to plan to do the Northstar Grand Prix stage race in Minnesota in June. Renting a car and driving the 20hrs, doing the week of races, and driving back (including gas, stopping somewhere to sleep once each way) is a minimum of $500. The entry fee is $145, and I either need to find a homestay, or a week worth of hotels. Expensive trip! The alternative is to fly, which requires purchasing a sturdy bike box (upwards of $350) and a return ticket (probably in the $500 range).

So why this post? Well. Being an amateur bike racer is AWESOME. But it’s also very expensive. I was bemoaning this fact on Facebook, and reached out for suggestions on how possibly to raise money to help with reaching my goals. Someone suggested some crowdsourcing platforms, but ultimately it seemed best just to make a paypal.me account and start asking people to consider contributing to it. I haven’t quite planned out how to make this most effective. I post race videos on YouTube, and I’m active on Instagram and Twitter, particularly with an eye towards service towards my sponsors. One thought is to start including ‘Special Thank Yous to…’ additions to my posts for anyone who contributes and helps me fund a racing trip. Sam graciously asked me to write this post, explain a bit what costs are involved in committing to being an elite bike racer, and possibly get some traffic to my paypal. So…here it is: www.paypal.me/rachelvmckinnon. I would certainly appreciate any help y’all would be willing to give.

I do want to give a little love to those who support women’s cycling. Often our events don’t get the prime time slot, we don’t get media coverage, and we often don’t even have professional photographers covering our races. And not having good photos makes it hard to make sponsors happy, or to show people just how cool women who race are! So first a special thank you to Valerie Leggett (and Bruce Fuller!), who took me into her (their) home for a homestay for some recent races in the Tampa area, but she also took some kick-ass photos of the women’s races. You can find her on instagram at www.instagram.com/valeriedleggett Special people like her make women’s racing possible. I also want to give a shout-out to Weldon Weaver (I’ve included a couple of his photos from this past weekend). He takes professional photos of the women’s field (and the men’s, of course). He also clearly cares about supporting women’s cycling.

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Weldon Weaver (Instagram: @fotowvr; Website: http://www.weldonweaver.com)

 

Fighting Violence Against Women in India With Self-Defence (Guest Post)

Today we are probably living in one the most women conscious decade in Indian women’s history because of the all-time high number of cases of domestic violence against women. From domestic violence to rape we hear cases being reported every day by prominent national and international media organizations. No government, NGO or any other relevant organisation have until now delivered a viable solution to stop this widespread problem in India.

If you are a woman who has a weak heart, you may likely experience the problem and become a cold statistics. Here is my personal experience.

It was a just another night, I was walking back home with my family after a party. We were all chatting and laughing. All of sudden I realized that my grandmother was missing, my heart literally skipped a heartbeat. Although she is old by age but she looks relatively young and something might have happened in between our laughter’s noise. Next second I scanned the road and there she was walking ahead of all of us already reached the end of the road. I quickly communicated to my grandfather to hurry up and what he said changed my outlook of the so-called “women empowerment”.

And he said “Do you think anybody can even touch her; she can herself beat four men at a time”

These were simple words, but they were uncommon to define a woman. I myself fear to walk alone on a deadly deserted road even in daylight. I am younger than her, have travelled half of the country by myself, but still got nothing in comparison to her.

At that moment, I learned a new thing, may be a secret for a lifetime.

The secret was the confidence she had in herself. So I spend a few days studying her days and getting to understand the source of this confidence and there it was loud and clear. She has a lifestyle which has defined her health and lead to a fit body even in her 60s. She has been forever active, carry out most of the household task herself. She has a mindset to take up the challenges and hunt them down.

It was getting wild for me as the intrigued about the subject more because I needed a solution for myself and for every girl (especially in Delhi) who was haunted by the recent women related crime around the country. Her time was different; the world was typically safer, healthier, easier and different in terms of lifestyle as it is today. So the search began for an answer, a face which has a parallel confidence like my grandmother but can deal and work out for modern scenarios. The answer was right in front of me. My YouTube account linked me to a video of Mary Kom. There she was speaking, portraying and living as a feminist we all might need to grow to. She has won in a men’s game in a world where very few girls want to go in and fewer than them succeed. On one particular interview, she gave a very strong comment “I have been confident about myself”. As I read more and more about her she calmed me down and seems to have a way out. There was this fire and self-belief which was common in both of these women.

And so the answer was her trick self-defence.

Now just hold up the thought and consider this, if all the young girls get an opportunity to be trained to some basic level like Mary Kom, if we make them ready with self-defence training, and if we do that for an elongated time stamp, then we might be able to hit them hard and change their psychic. Let they redefine their world and take charge of their life. So next time when she want to go out she may not need her father or uncle or her boyfriend to go with her. The story of domestic violence which resides inside those closed doors may also rest in peace because our girls will be ready to face it and kill the beast in his face and stay as happy as possible.

So I immediately reached out Google “my best friend”, and to my surprise when I checked Justdial for a self-defence training there were more than 85+ options available just in Delhi. I was in a shock, it was going all around and I seemed to be among the last few to know.

I soon came out of my panic attack, as they say in Hindi ”Der aye durust aye” i.e. better late than never. I signed up for a Karate course and will be soon receiving my completion certificate.

The moment has not come yet for me to use my skill, but now when I walk on the road alone my heartbeat do not shoot up with every passing by car or a noisy bike rider. This training, of course have not killed all my fear but certainly it has given me a confidence to give a tough fight, to stay calm even in crisis and above everything this created a belief in me that I can do it. So I am now a permanent devotee to this religion of “Self-Defence” because it has completely changed my outlook towards the social fear and at some level it has also changed the perception of the people around me. Many of my friends have already followed my footstep and are really happy with the choice they made. Try it girls, you will feel the difference.

We have a tendency to delay things till it finally hurt us. But is not our safety our first priority?

If you were waiting for a wake-up call, this is it! There are enormous options in the market. Get out of your comfort zone today, see what suits you and join thousands of others who have realised this solution and have already taken their first step to a safe future.

Hey Lady!! You know what YOU can do it! Cheers!

About the Author:

Shivangi Bansal is an avid writer and self-defence advocate against violence against women in New Delhi. She shares fitness tips through her fitness blog and helps girls access the best gym in Delhi for self-defence training.