cycling · equality · fitness · inclusiveness · research

Gender Diversity in Cycling: Microaggressions and Continued Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

This month, I launched an international research project for women (cis and trans) and gender diverse cyclists (including but not limited to non-binary, gender queer, & two spirit folks) who have raced over the past 5 years. The survey asks about factors that have increased and decreased participation in competitive cycling, as well as motivations and experiences in daily living. I ask for stories of exclusion, harassment, and sexism—in addition to times cyclists have felt valued and included in their respective communities. After recruiting 250 participants, I’ll donate $500 to a non-profit organization (Cycles for Change) that works toward gender equity and accessibility in cycling. Findings will be presented in the community and submitted as empirical journal articles. Ultimately, my goal is to better understand the gender gaps and increase retention of women and gender diverse cyclists throughout the world.

If you are a woman and/or a gender diverse cyclist who has raced bikes in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story. The link to the 20 minute survey is as follows:

Erin is a professor, psychologist, researcher, feminist, spouse, and cyclist. When she is not working, she trains for new cycling adventures, eats, laughs, and spends time with loved ones.

equality · martial arts · training

The Limits of Self-Defense Training

I have been in several conversations about the nature of self-defense training in the past few months and as a result I have been puzzling about how to address women’s real needs when it comes to self-defense.

(Please note: I have not included any self-defense photos in this post so I could avoid potential triggers for people. There is a video from 1933 posted at the end but the still image is staged so it seems unlikely to be a trigger. Proceed with caution.)

With my second degree black belt in Taekwondo I feel pretty confident about my ability to defend myself in a fight. I have a fair amount of self-defense training and I’m a pretty skilled kicker and puncher. If someone outright attacked me, I could likely deal with it.

The problem is, of course, that for most women, the ‘stranger in a dark alley’ is the dangerous scenario they are least likely to encounter. We’re much more likely to have to deal with someone we know or sort-of-know in a situation that goes from normal to needing-a-defense-strategy all of a sudden.

If my life was in actual danger, I know I could act.  If the situation was unclear? I’m not sure that my instincts would be sharp enough. I fear that my social conditioning to ‘be nice’ would override my instincts, especially if it was someone I know. And I would be reluctant to cause them any real harm until I was sure they meant to hurt me, and then it might be too late to use what I know.

The author, a white woman in your mid-forties with dark blonde hair, is wearing a martial arts uniform and holding a sign that says 'the push for equality takes many hands #WhyIMarch' She is wearing glasses. The background is grey cloth.
I included this because I am in my dobok and because I think the push for equality – in this case, equality in personal safety – will take a lot of us working together. Yes, I often smirk in selfies.

I know that the big picture solution involves the social change all of us fit feminists are working toward but what’s the solution for while that change is in development?

How do we help women deal with the people who take advantage of the fact that we are trained to be ‘nice’ and agreeable? How do we get them past the fear of hurting someone they know but who is willing to hurt them?

It’s a huge issue, I realize that. In thinking about it, though, I have been tying together bits and pieces of my experiences and conversations with experts so I can start working on at least a piece of the problem.


A few years before I started Taekwondo my friends and I took this one time only self-defense class offered by a local martial arts school (not my current one). I learned lots of great moves and I enjoyed practicing them on people in full body armor. I felt like something was missing though.


The instructors gave us good skills but there was little or no mention of when and how to tap into our instincts. And the instructor did not seem to understand that as women in their thirties and forties we couldn’t necessarily follow the same rules for walking down the street safely as as he could as an advanced black belt male in his 50s. Basically, the class was great but limited. The instructor was missing the cultural and social context of when and how most women would need to use these skills.


The author, a white woman in her mid forties, wearing sunglasses and a red tshirt that reads 'patriarchy got me drove' Grey siding is visible in the background.
My local women’s centre was selling these great shirts this past summer. I think ‘patriarchy got me drove’ sums up the basic issue here.

One of my TKD instructors is working on this issue already. She has lots of great self defense skills to teach but it is really hard to teach women to defend themselves in the sort of situation they’re most likely to encounter. It gets into that grey area where you need to teach skills beyond the physical.

After all, how do you learn to defend yourself against someone whose nose you don’t want to break or against someone that you’re going to see again (and probably not in a court of law)?

Last week I was talking to a friend of mine who teaches women’s self-defense and again she was concerned with that same gap. Her practice is able to address it a little more directly but since every student has individual things to overcome, it’s tricky to address in a wholesale way.


This is one of those situations where physical fitness and training will help. After all, both of those things bring confidence and give you physical leverage. However, the problem is broader than being confident and physically capable.


How do we teach women to further develop their instincts, to trust them and to act on them?


How do we find ways for women to defend themselves when causing physical harm will have additional social repercussions? (I know that defending yourself should be your first priority and the repercussions should be your last concern but that social conditioning to be a ‘good girl’ will get in the way.)


How do we help other women (and ourselves) to recognize that a threat is a threat, no matter who it comes from? That the harm that comes from someone we know is as bad as harm from a stranger? To recognize that we should be allowed to protect ourselves,  no matter who is hurting us?


It’s hard enough to learn that it is okay to say no.  And to understand, on a fundamental level, that we have the right not to be harmed in anyway. How do we help women to reinforce that no without creating further danger for them?


How do we address the fundamental changes in thinking (and in social  indoctrination) that all of this requires?


I know that the answer lies in the social change we talked about. I know that it is really men that need the lesson about doing no harm and taking responsibility for their actions. And there are tons of changes above needed above and beyond that.

But those are long-term changes and waiting for things to get better is not a viable option.

I want women to be equipped to deal with the things they have to face now. I want them to have the skills they need and the confidence to use them. I know a lot of people are working on it, I just want to be part of that working group, too.




The embedded video below shows a Women’s Self-Defence Tutorial from 1933. It is in black and white and features May Whitley demonstrating jiu-jitsu.

equality · fitness · Martha's Musings · swimming · weight lifting

On making and taking space

Female figure alone in an infinity pool looks towards the ocean in the distance
Female figure alone in an infinity pool looks towards the ocean in the distance

By MarthaFitat55

I started swimming because I wanted to do something different that would complement my current fitness routine (weight training twice a week and trail walking once a week) along with walking and stairclimbing through the day.

I quickly found swimming served as a form of meditation. I like doing laps even though I am not an especially fast or strong swimmer. Since August, I have been going at least twice a week, and sometimes I have managed even three or four times.

In many respects, swimming is my reset button.

The last swim of 2017 was interesting. The pool’s fast lane had been taken over by a swim team, leaving the triathalon trainees no choice but to take over the leisure swim area. We all (athletes and leisure swimmers alike) ended up staggering our departures from the shallow end, although it quickly became apparent why I am a leisure swimmer and not a tri candidate.

My first clue came from the waves generated by so many swimmers in one place. I haven’t seen waves like that since the last time I went pond swimming close to 30 years ago. My second clue was realizing they were lapping me easily. They were like Energizer bunnies, one after the other after the other, cleaving the pool with their arms and legs pumping rapidly like pistons.

By the time I started my third lap, I was feeling more frazzled instead of my usually relaxed state. In fact, I rather felt like a cat whose owner was rubbing its fur the wrong way.

As I made my way through the waves, I thought about leaving the leisure side and going to the therapy pool. I was feeling overwhelmed by the volume and the quality of swimmers, and more than a little uncomfortable, but I stayed and completed my usual set of laps. It wasn’t my best time and I was not in my usual state of zen post swim, but I did it.

I stayed because I knew I had the same right to access as anyone else. I might have been the slowest person in the pool, and I definitely had the weakest form, but I had made a promise to myself to go swimming and I wanted to keep it. So I made space for myself, and like the wonderful Dory from Finding Nemo, I just kept swimming.

I didn’t always think this way. I was one of those people who would join a gym in January and slink away in February or March. As I mix up right and left on a regular basis, aerobics classes (later replaced by zumba) were usually mortifying experiences requiring multiple apologies to participants for bumping into them. As a result, I was pretty self conscious about anything I did in a gym where there were other people.

After four years of weight training, I have not only built muscles, I have also increased my confidence. Weight training is all about competing with yourself as opposed to others. It’s also about recognizing everyone has a place in the gym and you learn to accomodate and respect where people are.

While I may be slow in the pool, just as I am on the running trail, it is good to remember I am always steady and persistent. Rather than get stressed out by what others are doing, or trying to guess what they are thinking about me in that shared space, I know that what really matters is setting and meeting my own pace every time I hit the gym or the pool. It didn’t feel like it initially, but on reflection, it was a good way to kick off the new year.


— Martha is looking forward to 2018 and making good on her big goals.


accessibility · cycling · equality · fitness

Sports and the public good

A couple of days ago Sam sent me a Facebook message with a link in it. The link was to an advert from Pinarello, the high-end Italian bike manufacturer, for its new motorized road bike. In the ad, a conventionally gorgeous white woman appears in portrait orientation, smiling slightly; she is identified as Emma, 24 years old, a “couple rider”. The text beside her image reads:

“I’ve always wanted to go cycling with my boyfriend but it seemed impossible. Soon everything will become possible.”

I rolled my eyes. I may have laughed at first, though I was pissed off pretty much immediately, for all the reasons readers of this blog can easily anticipate. But I also thought the ad was more or less sexism-as-usual.

A sporting goods company doing something sorta douchy? Shocked. I was shocked, I tell you.

Sam said: “you should blog about this!!” Sigh. Probably I should, I thought. Except I’d already planned my post for this Friday (though not yet written it). And except that I couldn’t think of anything I could say about this issue that wasn’t already being said, loudly and well, from all corners of the public sphere.

TBH, even thinking about it made me feel tired: sexism-induced narcolepsy. Yup.

I hummed and hawed.

Then, while I was in the shower after what I can only describe as a very, very cold late autumn training ride (because, Pinarello: I’m pretty fast for a reason), I realized that the two pieces – my original topic, and the annoying Pinarello story – actually shared an important point of convergence. I could write about them both, making the post about that point.

So here goes.

(This image includes the male and female ads, and the twitter feeds attached to them. Both the man and the woman in the images are white, young looking, and fit looking. Which provokes the question: why do they need an e-bike to “keep up”?) 

The Pinarello advert (which also includes a disparaging “male” version, in which the guy in the image claims he has no time for training rides but wants to keep up with friends at the weekend) is grounded in some pretty basic and also very, very wrong assumptions about women.

First, that women aren’t fast. Second, that women only want to ride because their boyfriends do. (Also: um, paging heteronormativity? Pinarello def doesn’t want the lucrative lesbian market, then…) Third, that women who ride wouldn’t want to, like, train to get faster; because that never happens, in any cycling club or women’s pro team, ever.

All of this is stupid and infuriating. But, for me, what’s most infuriating is that this grade-A sexist bullshit is coming from a bike company with a massive public profile, and whose bikes are ridden by BOTH pro men’s AND pro women’s teams on the World Tour circuit. For lots of people, Pinarello, like Castelli, or Cervelo, or Trek, IS high-level cycling; it represents in its brand not just its products, but a world of sports aspiration that criss-crosses gender lines.

With that kind of high profile in the cycling community comes, I believe, some public responsibility.

With this ad, though, Pinarello made pretty clear where its priorities lie – and it’s not with helping to promote cycling as a sport in which people of all genders (and colours) are welcome and respected for their talent and determination.

Quite apart from being RIDICULOUSLY retrograde in its representation of women and (older?) men, then, this ad works against the public good, where sports and fitness is concerned.

I’m not a philosopher like Sam and Tracy, but in this case I’m defining “the public good” as a set of values that support inclusivity and access for all, and that encourage the removal of barriers to access and inclusion, whether those are physical, emotional, financial, or otherwise. (It’s worth noting here that the Pinarello Nytro ain’t exactly cheap. No Pinarello bike is. Put a motor in one, and guess what?)

So Pinarello gave us this week a textbook example of working against the public good.

What might it look like, though, for an organization to promote sports and fitness as matters of the public good, and to get it, if not perfect, a great deal more right?

I’ve recently moved to Hamilton, Ontario, a city about 50km from Toronto (and 50km from Niagara Falls) at the western edge of Lake Ontario. The area is blessed with immense natural beauty, in the form of the Niagara Escarpment, and all kinds of woodland trails, rail trails, and mountain bike routes snake around and through the city.

Hamilton is in general incredibly green; there are parks everywhere, and the grounds of local heritage buildings are often free to access too.

Lately I’ve been noticing not just how pleasant all this well-cared-for green space is, but also how many subtle measures the city has put in place to help encourage citizens to get fitter and feel better while they are out and about in them.

For example, my local park, just up the street, features: a public swimming pool (a year-long pass to ALL Hamilton pools, all-you-can-swim, is just CDN$106, a massive bargain), tennis and badminton courts that are free to use, a bunch of outdoor, public access fitness equipment (again, free to use, and popular with the older residents of the area), a baseball diamond (you guessed it), plus well paved and maintained walking paths that are sympathetically laid out and are all wheelchair accessible. There’s a playground for the kids, a “paradise” butterfly garden maintained by students at the local elementary school, as well as a community garden – for a small fee local residents can rent a plot or garden table for their own use, or they can volunteer to assist with the butterfly garden if they’d prefer not taking on a larger garden project. (Ours is just one of many community gardens dotted around Hamilton.)

I can’t get over what an asset this space is; the community gets together here. There are always kids in the playground, folks on the fitness equipment, courts in use, and gardeners at their plots. Not to mention dog walkers.

Further up the road, about 1.5km away, my neighbourhood runs into the Niagara Escarpment, and access points for the (to central Canadians, anyway) famous Bruce Trail. Here, a radial trail for walkers and joggers links the mountainside trails, several sets of stairs up to Hamilton “mountain” (about 300 stairs each, and popular with cross-fit types and those looking for cross-training), a public golf course (through which we are invited to walk, while signs ask that golfers be aware of pedestrians!), and a bunch of signed stations where those jogging or otherwise exercising are invited to stop for squats, push-ups, lunges, etc along the route.


(These fours images feature the Dundurn, Chedoke, and Wentworth stairs from the top of Hamilton mountain. Two are from fall/winter, and two from summer. The two summer images include City of Hamilton statistics about the stairs’ annual use: the Chedoke stairs, wider than most and popular for exercise, log over 2300 trips a day, and more than 871,000 a year, according to the 2013-14 data.)

I’ve been going to the Chedoke and Dundurn stairs for about four weeks now, and they are a real pleasure. I realize they are not accessible to those without good lower body mobility, of course, but for anyone looking for cardio or leg-strength training at a bargain, they are a gift indeed. Safe, sturdy, and well lit (you can see the lit-up staircases from the freeway!), I would not hesitate to use them after dark, especially because both are very well used and are attached to well-lit traffic areas at their bottoms (a parking lot, and a bus loop).

Now, the City of Hamilton is not the same as Pinarello in any way. Its job is to support citizen well being by plowing the streets and paying the firefighters; Pinarello’s job is to sell expensive bikes and bike stuff to MAMILS (mostly). Hamilton is a not-for-profit civic organization that funnels income back into city costs and services. Pinarello is a successful capitalist, featuring the requisite bit of philanthropy on the side. Apples and apples this is not.

Still, what I want to emphasize here is how easy it is to act in the public interest, even when you don’t have to. Hamilton does not need to maintain a butterfly garden in my local park, where kids can get outside, play, breathe, and learn; it does not need to groom hundreds of kilometres of walking trails or keep thousands of mountainside steps safe in winter, so that even the poorest of our neighbours can get exercise and fresh air. It could just pay the firefighters and the cops and say the rest is too expensive; I’ve lived in plenty of places where that happens.

Similarly, Pinarello does not need to play the old “my boyfriend is so strong and fast!” card. Dozens of fantastic athletes ride their amazing machines every year; why not get a range of those people to promote the e-bike, de-stygmatizing it in the process?

That advert could have been easy, classy, and smile-inducing rather than tiny, shitty, and cringe-inducing. All it needed was some forethought about genuine inclusivity and diversity. In the name of the public good.

equality · fitness · sex · weight lifting

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.)


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.


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

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.


accessibility · athletes · cycling · equality · feminism · fitness · gender policing · Guest Post · inclusiveness · stereotypes

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.




Event Info:

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




equality · fitness

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

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.