athletes · equality · equipment · fitness · team sports · training

A small victory in a large battle: NCAA women’s basketball tiny weight room gets bigger

These days, news travels fast and turns on a dime. Here’s an important and fast-developing story of discriminatory treatment of women athletes, from yesterday to today:

The NCAA March Madness 2021 college basketball tournament is happening this year, inside bubbles in Indianapolis (for the men) and San Antonio (for the women). They are being housed and fed, and are training in facilities set up for them. The men’s and women’s training facilities are separate. But boy are they not equal. Check out this twitter comparison pic of their weight training facilities:

Split screen of NCAA men’s weight room, large and well-stocked, vs. women’s space, consisting of one small tower of little hand weights and a few yoga mats on a table.

Some twitter users were skeptical that this was true, while others chalked it up to their beliefs that men’s teams made money, performed better and were more popular, so it didn’t matter that the women had less to work with than most of us have in our homes.

In service of settling any peripheral disputes, here are some stills from the Tiktok video feed of Sedona Prince, Oregon Ducks team member on the scene.

Of course this really made the NCAA’s face red. However, they rallied and offered this explanation:

An NCAA spokesperson told The Washington Post that officials initially thought there was not enough square footage for a weight training facilities at the convention center playing host to the women’s tournament. They later found the space, the spokesperson said.

Yeah, that’s not true. How do I know this? Because of Sedona Prince, who on Friday (the same day this story was reported) posted this picture on TikTok:

A large, empty space for the women's basketball teams at the NCAA, with nothing in it but a few chairs.
A large, empty space for the women’s basketball teams at the NCAA, with nothing in it but a few chairs.

So either the NCAA people were lying or they hadn’t bothered to check whether what they were saying was true.

After a large outcry, mainly from women professional and college athletes and coaches, the NCAA apparently found some gym and weights set ups for the women’s teams. Sedona shows it to you live:

Turns out, lack of standard weight training facilities wasn’t the only way the NCAA treated women’s basketball teams less well than the men’s teams.

Geno Auriemma, coach of the Connecticut women’s team, told reporters at a news conference Friday that his team was receiving different daily coronavirus tests than men’s teams. The rapid antigen tests given to women are faster than PCR tests given to men but “have a higher chance of missing an active infection,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The NCAA is using a cheaper and less accurate COVID test for the women than it is for the men. Again, the NCAA responded:

In a statement, the NCAA said that its medical advisory group had determined that both tests were “were equally effective models for basketball championships”…

Hmmm. Here’s a question: if they’re equally effective, then why use one test for the men and another for the women? And if it’s an issue of supply, why didn’t you plan for that at the women’s location as well as you did for the men’s location?

Again, please refer to my earlier comment about the NCAA either lying or not caring whether what they say is true.

Other documented differences between how the men’s and women’s teams are treated includes the food served (Sedona documented an especially unfortunately Salisbury Steak event here), and skimpier swag bags for the women. Seriously, NCAA? You’re leaving no stone unturned in your quest to make 100% clear your lack of respect for women’s collegiate sports.

And then there are those who are listening and following the lead of the NCAA, turning its disdain for women’s teams into threats to shut down women’s sports altogether.

A tweet (unaltered) threatening that women's sports will be shut down if women don't stop complaining about their unequal treatment. This was one of many such tweets.
A tweet (unaltered) threatening that women’s sports will be shut down if women don’t stop complaining about their unequal treatment. This was one of many such tweets.

This tweet is revealing in that it’s a common and threatening reaction to women’s sports players, coaches and advocates’ calls for more equitable treatment, in accordance with Title IX legal requirements in the US. I’m happy to say that these threats haven’t gone answered.

Dawn Staley, a championship award-winning basketball player and coach, former Olympian and current Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, said this (I’m including the whole statement here):

Statement by Dawn Staley. See links below for text.

You can read a Sports Illustrated article about her statements and a letter from the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics here and here. They’re not playing about the barriers to playing that women and girl athletes face all day, every day. Hey, NCAA president Mark Emmert– you can throw some jump ropes, treadmills and weight bench sets at the problem, and say things like “we fell short” (ya think?), but you’re not getting out of it that easily.

I’m happy that Sedona Prince, her teammates, and all the women’s NCAA basketball teams now have an actual weight room for training. And yes, it would be nice for them to get buffet meals rather than prepackaged ones (the NCAA says they’re working on it). But it’s clear that the battle for respect and equity in women’s athletics is still in its early stages.

Thank you, Sedona Prince. Thank you, Dawn Staley. Thank you, players and coaches of women’s and girls’ athletics everywhere for standing up and speaking out.

But, wouldn’t it have been nice if men’s basketball coaches, players, team owners, and athletic directors spoke up and spoke loudly in support of women’s athletics now? Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry both posted criticism of the NCAA, and both got the same scornful, dismissive pushback. But there’s strength in numbers.

Hey male players, coaches, trainers, administrators, athletic directors– where are your voices? I can’t hear you…

Readers, if you’ve seen any recent tweets or other social media posts by male sports figures (players, coaches, business, academic, children’s leagues, anything) in support of women’s sports on the occasion of this latest discriminatory debacle, post them in the comments. It’s good to know who’s on the ball and who’s dropped it. Any other thoughts or ideas you want to share? I’m listening.

covid19 · equality · vaccines

Marjorie Gets Her 2nd Dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine and Wonders About Privilege, Inequality and Scarcity

Feature photo credit: Mufid Magnun, via Unsplash

I am writing this on Sunday, and today I will receive my second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.  Previous to vaccination, I was “high risk” of serious complications if I were to become infected.  I am also White, financially comfortable, and privileged enough to have work that I can currently do from home.  I’m not convinced that I should have been prioritized.

I have multiple immune disorders.  Due to the first of them, I lived in the hospital for over 4 weeks when I was 24.  During that month, I underwent four lung surgeries.  They removed the middle lobe of my right lung because it had necrotized.  I had severe infections in the pleural space between my lung and the rest of my trunk.  My lung collapsed.  At one terrifying point, I woke up on a respirator in the ICU, choking on my own sputum, unable to speak or ask questions to clarify what was going on.  

Since these events, I have been on immunosuppressant medications off and on for years.  Prednisone, chemotherapy drugs, and others, each with their own side effects and complications.  I have been told by doctors that even off medications, I “should never assume that [I] have ever had a normal immune system.”  

In the last two decades, I have developed at least 2 other disorders with varying degrees of life-threatening implications.  I live my everyday life with the possibility that one of them will flare up and potentially do enough damage to put me back in the hospital.  Any of my body systems might become involved. Kidney or liver failure is a real possibility.  One of my conditions causes my airway to constrict more or less at random, making it difficult to swallow, and potentially, someday it may close off my ability to breathe.

I have lived with all of this threat to my life and well-being for nineteen years, and that is irregardless of COVID-19.  

COVID-19 scares me.  I’m afraid of becoming further disabled from yet another chronic condition that requires yet another round of trial and error, medications with their side-effects, and potential new limitations to my abilities.  I am afraid of piling on more uncertainty into my life.  I am terrified of waking up on a ventilator again.  My fears are justified.  I have a medical note from my doctor spelling out in stark and impersonal black and white that I am “at high risk of severe complications and hospitalization,” and therefore must be allowed to work from home for the “indefinite future.”

And still, from this perspective of fear and real danger, I wonder if I belong in this group of prioritized vaccination recipients.  After all, I can work from home, and I have the support of my physician helping make that happen.  My husband and I have enough resources to add ease and safety to our lives.  We order groceries for pick-up.  I have been able to buy and install a small gym in my garage to stay physically active.  It isn’t fun being isolated, but I know I can survive ok for a handful more months without significantly increased discomfort.  I’m not sure that is the case for many others with far less privilege than myself.

There are people whose work requires them to be in contact with the public.  People who are at higher risk for complications because they have less access to healthcare.  People of color, who are only about 20% of Oregon’s population, but are 50% of Oregon’s COVID cases.  Folks experiencing incarceration and folks in congregate care facilities, both have been the worst-hit by this pandemic.  I think these people are at least as deserving of early access to vaccines, but truly, I believe they should have been prioritized over someone like me.  

There are stories of White Americans with resources driving to smaller communities and filling up their vaccine clinics.  I suspect I know a woman who did this.  It disgusts me, the selfishness of this sort of behavior.  Those are the people that during the zombie apocalypse would throw you out of the truck in order to survive the hoard of walking dead pursuing you.  That isn’t me; I am getting my shots earlier than most because of my medical records.  I didn’t seek it out; my doctors sought me out.

I’m not saying all of this to be a hero.  I’m not trying to earn points by impressing you with my compassion.  I would love for you to ask questions, however, of your governments, to push for thoughtful leadership in a time of vaccine scarcity. I would love for all of us to sit with this discomfort and wonder what roles we play in perpetuating inqualities.  So many of us are so afraid.  It is reasonable, this fear, but fear isn’t the best place from which to make policy decisions for the greatest good. From that position, we will each do what is best for ourselves. I acknowledge, it is what I am doing. But I still recognize that what is best for me may not be what is best for us.

We have always been in this together.  The safety of each of us is interdependent upon the safety of everyone else.  We will only be able to return to “normal life,” when we have all been given the opportunity to be vaccinated.  Protecting ourselves isn’t enough to actually make us safe.  We see this as new COVID-19 variants spread around the globe.  Each unchecked population creates an opportunity for the virus to change and complicate the world’s recovery.  These results are not inevitable.  We have choices we are making, individually and at the societal level, creating them.

I will go get my second shot today.  It will be quite a relief.  I already feel safer knowing I’ve had the first round.  I’ve been told that in a month or so, I can expect to be as immune as anyone, with some caveats due to the unusual nature of the workings of my personal immune system.  I don’t know, yet, if or how this might change how I interact with the world, but I know that it will feel good to feel safer and less afraid.  I want all of you, and all of us, to enjoy that same feeling of security as soon as possible.  This period of recovery was always going to be messy and imperfect.  I hope that we all work to make it as fair and safe for as many people as possible.

Photo description: With hands in blue gloves, someone is administering a shot into someone else’s arm. Photo credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found nursing her sore arm, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.

equality · fitness · gadgets · hiking · shoes · stereotypes

Do ice grippers/traction systems really have to have genders?

Cue scene: It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’ve finished teaching for the day. I’m looking online for ice-gripper/traction thingamies for my boots. I go to the site of my favorite national outdoorsy merchant– let’s call them REYIYI– and look up popular brands. Quickly settling on two different models, I begin the consumer cogitation process. To give you a picture of this, here are some pictures.

Next step: look at reviews. Both score decently, with more expensive ones rated more highly. To be expected. But how to choose? Which one is better for ME?

Enter the promotional/instructional videos. First, the $29 model.

Please watch this. But if you don’t want to, here are the highlights:

Opening shot: intrepid little yellow-and-white flowers in early spring, off a slushy nature trail. Very subtle music playing in background. A woman is hiking, then one foot slides a little on slush. She puts on her ice traction thingamies. There’s lots of ad copy, pointing out they are packable, lightweight, with a removable strap, blah blah blah. Then, she moves confidently through ice and snow, beginning her trail run. She stops to admire nature. Yay woman! Yay $29 ice traction thingamies!

And then there’s the video for the $59 model.

Here are the highlights for this one:

Right away we hear loud music, like you might hear in this Ford F-150 truck ad. There is ad copy, featuring the words “steel”,”bite” and “aircraft grade steel”. Steel seems to be an important part of the messaging here. We see a man walking in the snow, ice traction thingamies already on. He also shovels snow while wearing them. Then he takes them off to a resounding guitar riff, his large truck in the background. Rock on, man! Rock on, $59 ice traction thingamies!

Here’s what I think.

Angry orangy-yellow face saying Grrr.

Really? All I wanted was to figure out if I wanted the base or upgraded model of the ice traction thingamies. Instead I got treated to throwback SuperBowl truck and beer ad stereotypes.

For the record, I want stability while shoveling snow, walking around my neighborhood and also hiking. It looks like both models do that, but the more expensive model has fancier and sturdier components. That was useful information. Oh, also FYI: both come in sizes that reflect the entire range that men and women wear.

But it’s not useful or nice or even accurate to gender the crap out of otherwise-unsuspecting ice traction systems through dopey and stereotyping ads.

Can advertisers and merchandisers and stores and vendors just stop?

I’d really appreciate it.

Penguin says "STAHP!"
Penguin says “STAHP!”

Readers, have you run into any seriously-gendered advertising of items lately? Care to share? Penguin and I will give them the stink eye on your behalf.

covid19 · disability · equality

No, “EVERYONE” Should Not Wear a Mask

I know some of you are already heating up the tar and plucking the feathers. I’m bracing for the hate-filled comments as I type this, but out of an abundance of optimism, I’m hoping you will continue reading and hear me out.

I am not going to debate the merits of mask-wearing. I would hope that by now I’ve established myself as a solid supporter of science and anti-pseudoscience (see evidence A, B). I agree with anyone who says all the evidence supports that wearing masks reduces the risk of infection for both the wearer and the people with which they come into contact.

However, when we say “everyone must wear a mask,” we are excluding people who cannot wear a mask due to various disabilities and personal challenges. Perhaps it would be “better” for them to wear a mask, but for whatever reason, they find it difficult or impossible to do so.

Unfortunately, this issue has been muddled by politics. For some reason, the man occupying the White House has decided that he’s anti-mask, and the 35% of the US that blindly follows his lead has taken up the cause. I understand that when we create wiggle room in mask wearing policies, we are creating space for people to decry their losses of personal autonomy in the face of interdependence. I appreciate that making a blanket statement that everyone must wear a mask, we are trying to make it clear to these people that if they want to do business, they need to do what’s right for the common good despite their personal attitudes on the subject.

And still, I remind you that truly not everyone can wear a mask, and I’m asking, what about them?

What about me?

I’m not sure why I find wearing a mask a challenge, but I can confirm with many repeated data points that it’s a problem for me. I nearly passed out at the grocery store on a couple different occasions before I realized that I was hyperventilating in my mask. On a recent outing, I put my mask up while I was running past a group of pedestrians, and according to my watch, my heart rate went from the mid 130’s up to a dangerous 189 bpm in about 10 seconds. It’s possible that this is due to my having a reduced lung capacity. The middle lobe of my right lung was removed many years ago, and on a good day, I get about 75% of the air of a 2-lunged person. It’s also possible that it is a manifestation of my PTSD. Wearing a mask may be triggering some element of my hysterectomy-related trauma (maybe it’s too much like wearing an oxygen mask during surgery?). Repeated attempts at wearing a mask have not made these responses easier over time. And when I talk about them, I’ve noticed some commonalities in how others deflect and deny the problem.

They downplay the seriousness and discredit my experience. “I know, they get really hot,” or “It takes me a few minutes to get used to it, too.”

They decide they know which choices are best for me. “Well, then you should just order groceries online.” “You’re obviously not returning to work then, right?”

They decide that they know which medical conditions are valid reasons and which ones aren’t. “Well, it’s actually not true that you’re getting less air.” “Maybe you just need to get used to it.”

And if I haven’t been given an opportunity to explain myself, most people apparently assume that they can tell by looking at someone if they have a valid reason for not wearing a mask. In these encounters, people just murmur under their breath, and a few times have yelled at me, “Wear a mask!” If I wouldn’t be risking a face-to-face argument with a stranger in a time when the air they breathe puts me at risk for yet another lifelong disability, I’d be more tempted to stop and debate the matter with them.

Equality and equity for folks with disabilities must include giving them the same opportunities and choices as everyone else. Not all disabilities are visible. You can’t tell by looking at someone if their experiences are valid. Trust us when we tell you there’s a problem. Don’t expect to be able to front-manage all the solutions–don’t ask for a list of “reasonable” challenges (defined by whom?) and then preload all your acceptable solutions. For example, don’t decide for me that I have to work from home, give me reasonable choices between certain accommodations at work versus the flexibility to work from home–trust that I can make the best decision for myself. Know that life gets messy and that challenges can be multifaceted and complex.

Mask-wearing is an act of both personal responsibility and a sign of our interdependence. We are being asked to wear masks for our own safety, and even moreso, for the safety of others. Just like getting our vaccinations, our communities benefit from as many of us as possible complying with public health recommendations. You are wearing a mask to keep yourself safe. You are also wearing a mask to keep me safe. Thank you for wearing one whenever you can; thank you for advocating that others wear them. But please, consider saying that “everyone who can, should wear a mask,” and grant me the autonomy to make the best decision for myself that I am able.

(Along those lines, if you are finding yourself about to post some mask-wearing advice to me in the comments, please take a moment to pause and consider if you are the right person to be offering it.)

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found doing her best to wear a mask as much as she can, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon.

athletes · equality · femalestrength · fitness · gender policing

Representing women in sports: we’re not there yet, but it might be getting better

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.

equality · femalestrength · fitness · Martha's Musings · martial arts

The only way to keep going is to keep getting back up

zhen-hu-674290-unsplash
Image shows two Lego minifigures, with Wonder Woman in her red and blue one piece swimsuit on the left and Wildstyle in her purple and black flight suit on the right. Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

By MarthaFitat55

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?

— MarthaFitAt55 lives in St. John’s.

cycling · equality · femalestrength · stereotypes

On being underestimated

Many of you will have heard about this already:

A female cyclist (Nicole Hanselmann) is forced to stop after nearly catching the men’s pro race that had begun 10 minutes ahead of her women’s race. Hanselmann wears black and light blue-striped kit and rides a white road bike with blue bar tape; also in the photo we see part of the peloton’s motorcycle convoy, which has stopped Hanselmann and is speaking to her on the pavement. She looks annoyed. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

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.

A female cyclist (Hanselmann), wearing her black and light blue-striped Bigla kit and helmet, leans on her right gloved hand while smiling into the camera through her cycling glasses. You can see this image on her instagram feed here.

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.

A delighted woman, circa 1950s, in white shirt-sleeves and a skirt on an upright bike, huge smile plastered on her face. The caption reads, “He said a woman’s place is in the kitchen. So I dropped him.”

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?

#deanslife · accessibility · equality · fitness · injury · racing

Stairs are not Sam’s friends

Image description:
The Girona Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona, is a Roman Catholic church located in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Girona.
Also, it has lots and lots of steps leading up to it!

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.

Image description: Yellow brick buildings flanking a narrow walkway of stairs, in the old city of Girona.
cycling · equality · gender policing

Heavy weight racing and gender


This bike jersey keeps popping up in my social media newsfeeds. I don’t mind the “heavy weight” label. It’s me. But it’s striking that the jersey only comes in men’s sizes.

There’s this phenomena I’ve noticed about gender and size and athleticism. I know men don’t always have it easy when it comes to size and body image. I’ve blogged lots about that. See here and here.

But sometimes big men get to own their size in a way that big women just don’t.

See Fat Lass at the Front? for one company’s efforts to extend that way of thinking to women cyclists.

athletes · equality

Swoon!


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.

Image result for kyrsten sinema bike

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.