accessibility · disability · inclusiveness · injury · traveling · walking

Bremen, so many steps, happy tears, and academic travel

It’s summer. I’m in Europe. It’s part of the rhythm and flow of academic life. What’s new? This visit I’m here in my Dean’s role rather than as researcher/writer/philosopher. We have an exchange program with the University of Bremen, involving faculty, grad students, and undergraduates. I’m here with the former Dean to meet the people and learn all about Bremen and the Bremen Guelph connection.

It’s also the 10th anniversary of their Institute for Quebec Canadian Studies.

Just as academic life has a pattern and rhythm so too does the blog. It’s time for the annual post about how much more I’m walking in Europe. Here’s my day on Tuesday.

15,000 steps is a lot of steps given that it included a full working day.

On the one hand, I love living even temporarily in a less car reliant culture. I love being part of a community in which exercise is part of everyday life. But I also worry about access and inclusion and where this leaves people who aren’t so mobile.

I raised the worry in this blog post about walking lots while at a conference in Berne Switzerland four years ago. I blogged about it again from Sweden two years ago (see here) also Scotland and Innsbruck, Austria also two years ago.

It’s a thing I note and wonder about and enjoy all the while worrying about disability. That said, European friends tell my worries about disability are unfounded. What’s your experience? Do you use a wheelchair? Have you traveled around European cities? How did you find it, recognizing that Europe isn’t one place?

The worry, well founded or not, got personal this year traveling to Germany with my injured knee. I noted that the agenda for my campus visit to the University of Bremen included a two hour walking tour of campus. I was frightened I’d have to decline. It’s a big change in self perception and identity.

And the big day of walking was fine. Thank you knee brace. I got all teary wth relief.

(The emotional moment was likely also due to the movers who’d been signed up to do our move phoning me to say they couldn’t do it after all. It’s the busiest weekend of the year for movers, they say, and my agreement made back in April didn’t count for anything. Sigh. Luckily the company who came in second for the bid was willing to take it on.)

But I have wondered how I would have coped had my knee not been in good shape. I’m going to have to learn to advocate for my mobility needs. Lots to learn. I also had an experience in the airport with airport security as my knee brace sets off alarms. I told them it would hurt to take it off and send it through security and they didn’t insist.

The one thing that did hurt was my feet. I haven’t been walking so much in sandals and the weather was warm.I ended up with blisters. The next day I swapped for running shoes and ended up looking very much like a North American tourist. The German women faculty members would have appreciated my Fluevogs. They wear great shoes but I’m not sure how they manage to combine the funky footwear with walking so much.

What do you wear when walking lots, when you’re in urban environments (not hiking) and want to look both stylish and comfortable?

accessibility · inclusiveness · injury

Three stories about my knee brace

Story 1. I met a woman at the university in the Starbucks line with a bright red knee brace. I thought of my friend and co-blogger Martha Muzychka who said she’d get a bright red one if she had to have one. We chatted about the relief of knee pain, surgical alternatives, and joint replacement. She’d already had hip replacement and sounded like she wanted to avoid more surgery for awhile. She talked about lifting weights and we shared stories of leg strengthening exercises that leave the knee out of it.

Story 2. I’m still wondering why people are aghast at the knee brace and instantly see it as a bad thing. I now have some inkling of how people with wheleechairs feel about that reaction. I’ve had some many versions of this conversation.

Other person: OMG you’re wearing a knee brace. That’s horrible. When can you stop wearing it?

Me: Look at my terrific knee brace. I’ve got zero knee pain when wearing it. Watch me hop on the injured leg.

Other person: Oh.

Story 3. I was walking to the CBC the other day asking Front Street in Toronto and had to navigate my way through a crowd of baseball fans. A very happy young male Blue Jays fan says “Hey lady with the knee brace. I got one too. Up top. High five.”

Such polite sports fans. #Bluejays
What’s the brace about anyway?

Samantha Brennan's photo.

fitness · inclusiveness · stereotypes

Changing stereotypes of women, one photo at a time

Image description: Upper body back shot of Tracy, short blond hair in a striped halter bikini top, flexing her right bicep, facing towards a turquoise sea, light surf and partly cloudy sky.
Image description: Upper body back shot of Tracy, short blond hair in a striped halter bikini top, flexing her right bicep, facing towards a turquoise sea, light surf and partly cloudy sky.

A few weeks ago I posted about selfies and self-portraits as tools of empowerment. I argued that they are empowering because they allow us some control over our self-representation.  Of course we can’t always control the uptake, but at least they enable us to put ourselves out there in the way we choose to.

I’ve lately discovered an intense passion for photography, and my reflections on selfies and self-portraits are just one direction in which that has taken me. Photographic images of women have a great deal of power, offering possibility, and both perpetuating and busting stereotypes.

Yesterday Sam posted this incredibly gripping (to me) analysis from Dawn Airey, CEO of Getty Images, of the way Getty Images search data has demonstrated the transformational impact #metoo has had on the world (see my thoughts on #metoo while we were still in the early days of it: here). Getty Images is a stock photo site where you can go to buy visual images.

Her article documents a slightly wider timeframe than #metoo, showing a dramatic shift in the searches over the past five years:

The good news is that more dynamic and inclusive images of women have been in demand for years now. Five years ago, we predicted the visual trend of Female Rising in our annual forecasting report, highlighting a need for trailblazing images of women and stereotype-defying girls. Since then, we have seen this come to fruition in exponential ways. In 2016, we saw searches on our stock-photo platforms that indicated a deep desire to see women in fields where they were traditionally underrepresented. We saw searches for terms like “women in STEM” and “women in technology” shoot up 526% and 111%, respectively. That same year, searches for “female empowerment” went up an impressive 722%.

After giving these heartening stats, she goes on to say how important it is for her organization and anyone who uses images to think about the images we choose:

At Getty Images, we feel a responsibility to ensure accurate and authentic visual representation of diversity in the world, gendered and otherwise. People need to see themselves reflected in the images around them. We are working to make that a reality.

Stereotypes and socialized misogyny have played foundational roles in maintaining the structures that have empowered the abusers of the world. The entertainment, marketing, and advertising industries have helped to perpetuate them. In a positive sign, last summer, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority banned ads that reinforced harmful gender stereotypes. This should behoove us all (and especially those of us in the media and advertising industries) to take stock of the ways in which we may perpetuate tired narratives through the images we commission and share.

The onus is on all of us to ensure we’re more mindful of the images we choose—wherever we use them. In order to provoke change, we must choose more diverse and inclusive imagery. It cannot be the only way that we’re working toward equality, but it is a powerful place to begin.

In keeping with this positive trend towards diverse imagery that challenges stereotypes and promotes inclusivity and equality, I’d like to give an additional shout out to photographer Alex Rotas.  Her website, Alex Rotas, is engaged in an active project of “redefining later life.” As she says, “60 is the new 60.” We don’t need to subtract from our age to talk about how amazing people at that age are. 60 is fine just the way it is.

She has committed herself to photographing older athletes, and has published a book of photos called Growing Old Competitively. As a retired academic and competitive tennis player, she started to notice the absence of vibrant depictions of older adults while she was doing her PhD research in 2006. Since then, she has made it her goal to create a new ageing narrative through her images and speaking tours.

Since the very outset of the blog, Sam and I have embraced and promoted the idea of inclusive fitness. As did Alex Rotas, we noticed the lack of images of older people as athletes. It was also challenging to find images of women in sport that celebrated their athleticism without also tapping into their sexuality or at least their femininity. The Getty Images search term analysis and Alex Rotas efforts to promote a new narrative both bring welcome news to the project of shifting to an inclusive fitness culture.

Have you seen noticeable changes in the types of messages and images you’re exposed to over the past five years?

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

Gender Diversity in Cycling: Small Victories (Guest Post)

Over the past two weeks, I’ve shared posts regarding my transition into cycling as a woman, as well as some of the day-to-day microaggressions I’ve experienced over the past 18 months. I know other cyclists have been in this sport far longer than I have, and I thank them for paving the way for women such as myself to join the ranks and to continue this important discussion on gender disparities.

Although the prevalence of women in cycling differs by country, the pattern is the same: we need a more diverse field, whether it pertains to commuting via bicycle or racing competitively. The percentage of cyclists registered with USA Cycling who identify as woman is only 15% as of March 2018. Triathlon fares a bit better, with 38% of members identifying as women based on USA Triathlon’s 2015 report. If we want to shift that dial to 50%, we have a lot of work ahead of us. I can only speak to my own experience as a white cisgender female, but I imagine women of color, gender diverse athletes, those with limited financial means, and those with other marginalized identities will continue to experience even more setbacks than I have over the past 18 months–and many of them may not be as subtle as what I’ve experienced.

If our community wants to address gender disparities in cycling, I think we need to have some difficult conversations and figure out what women and gender diverse athletes experience on a daily basis. Furthermore, we need to recognize that we are all susceptible to also engaging in some of these behaviors due to our own biases, assumptions, and cultural identities. Cycling is a very white and very binary sport with very little racial or gender diversity. We need to listen to each other and practice cultural humility in order to make room for others. Those of us who are truly passionate about diversity in the field can and will also make mistakes and will engage in microaggressions. And when we do, we need to own our actions, take responsibility for them, learn from them, and work to do better. In other words, our work is never over and it is essential for us to continue to learn from one another in order to create the shift that is needed. As Ayesha McGowan notes, “representation matters.”

In addition to the crappy experiences, we need to remember the good times. The good times have kept me here, and I have no intention of leaving this field anytime soon. Here are some of the wins I’ve seen, all of which mean more to me than any spot on the podium:

  • The feeling of teammates and other really strong cyclists supporting and mentoring me over the past 18 months has been irreplaceable.
  • We have announcers who give it their all by showing their enthusiasm for cyclists every weekend in season, and by remembering as many athlete names as possible. One of my favorite rivalries this year was with a Clydesdale* athlete of a similar ability to me, and listening to the announcer provide commentary as the two of us raced each other was one of the most fun and entertaining races I’ve had.
  • We have officials who respond to late night emails with questions as promptly as possible.
  • We have race teams and organizations that put on events specifically for trans*, femme, and women competitors.
  • We have events like Dirty Kanza that launch initiatives such as #200Women200Miles, and prioritize women entrants to increase field sizes.
  • Race registrations are beginning to appear with registration options other than “male” or “female.”
  • Just last week, I received an email from the president of our cycling federation asking for feedback on the timing and placement of the women’s Athena* division for next year’s cyclocross season. The email was so well thought out, and they expressed genuine interest and enthusiasm in recruiting more Athenas for races next season. As a result of the discussion, the federation will be providing an Athena division held in the same field as the beginner (category 4/5) women, allowing women a field to themselves.

*Athena/Clydesdale is a cycling category for women over 160 lbs and men over 200 lbs.

These are the experiences that keep me going, that show progress, that motivate me to be a stronger woman, role model, and cyclist. So thanks to all of you out there who support us. Despite these little victories, my greatest fear is that other women and/or gender diverse cyclists have experienced similar constraints that I have, have felt the same way, and have left the sport in an effort to find support, community, and inclusion elsewhere. And if that’s the case, I truly hope they’ve found it. But I want us to stay. We belong. And by staying, we can work fiercely to support one another and build each other up. Whether it be high fives or fist bumps, standing up for others who receive degrading or objectifying comments, sticking with each other during the most difficult of events, inviting one another to rides, hosting free community cycling clinics, or providing a simple “You’re not alone,” I think we can all make a difference to show another human they belong. The work’s not over. We’ve got plenty to do.

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

If you are a woman and/or a gender diverse cyclist who has raced bikes in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story. The link to the 20 minute survey is as follows: https://goo.gl/BV72e7

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

cycling · equality · fitness · inclusiveness · research

Gender Diversity in Cycling: Microaggressions and Continued Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are a woman and/or a gender diverse cyclist who has raced bikes in the last 5 yrs, I’d love to hear your story. The link to the 20 minute survey is as follows: https://goo.gl/BV72e7

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

athletes · competition · fitness · inclusiveness · running · training · triathalon

By the way, fat people also aren’t lying about exercise either

Earlier this week, I talked about the lack of credibility given to fat people when it comes to what we eat. You can tell people, if you’re me, that you’re a non drinking, non fast food eating, vegetarian but people don’t really believe you.

But it’s also true that no one believes what we do when it comes to activity either.

This week Ragen Chastain appeared in People Magazine as the heaviest woman to ever complete a marathon. She’s actually completed two because the first time she didn’t know it would put her in the Guinness book of records and she didn’t notify them.

She’s not alone as a larger endurance athlete. See my post (Updated) Plus sized endurance athletes, we exist!

What gets me about Ragen is not what she’s done, though that’s remarkable at any size, it’s the lengths people will go to deny it. Tracy blogged about it here, When “pathetic” loses its irony. It’s a post about a Facebook group she was in that allowed a lot of Ragen trolling, bashing, and skepicism to go unchecked.

You can follow Ragen’s journey to Ironman here at her blog IronFat.

The Ragen haters have their own blog IronFacts, which is a debunking blog which supposedly tells the truth about Ragen and details her lies. It was last updated in May 2017. Since presumably People magazine has its own fact checkers maybe that’s shut them up. I don’t know. I find the whole thing puzzling.

Like, why would you even doubt that she’s telling the truth?

There are medals, race finishing photos, pictures of completion times. She’s never claimed to run the whole thing. Instead Ragen like lots of amateur athletes runs and walks her marathons. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

To me it can only be explained by a kind of prejudice against larger bodies, that those of us who have them can’t be trusted and shouldn’t be believed. We set out to lie and to cheat people. I’m not sure why people believe this but they seem to.

What do you think? Do you also find out puzzling?

The sun setting over Mo’orea, an island in French Polynesia
accessibility · aging · athletes · cane · disability · inclusiveness · injury · Uncategorized

Sam learns a new trick, walking with a cane, and worries about her own ageism and ableism

Wizard with long white hair and beard, stern expression, side view, holding wooden walking staff

I resisted it at first. When the physiotherapist helping me with my injured knee first suggested walking with a cane, I shrugged him off. “It’s not that bad.” But the truth was, it hurt. I just didn’t want to use a cane.

What exactly was I afraid of? Being seen as old, frail, weak? But that’s not what I think when I see other people walking with canes. Or is it?

Clearly I needed to confront some internalized ableism and ageism here!

A week went by. A friend who’s just had hip replacement surgeries, first one, and then the other, offered me her cane. She’s a fitness instructor at GoodLife. We chatted a bit about rehab and recovery and bonded over “being good at it.” We’re both compliant sorts. We do all the exercises, ice all the things. So why not the cane?

I took it to physio and asked for instructions. I already knew the counter intuitive thing. You use it with opposite arm to the injured knee. That makes sense since that arm swings with that leg.

I still wasn’t entirely at peace with it. I posted on Facebook that I probably chose a bad month to let more of my grey and silver hair show! The cane and the silver seem a bit much. I’m still struggling a bit with self-image here.

I’m channeling Marion whose birthday it would have been last week. She called her cane “nuisance.” Mostly she used it to direct people around and point at things. Could I work at being a bossy cane user? Probably not.

But the thing is it, it helps. I can walk further without knee pain. I’m slowly healing. Also, people are super helpful when they see the cane. I was worried that strangers would start engaging me in conversation about my injured knee but so far, people have just been super smiley and helpful.

The other day I even did a search for stylish canes! The two sets of cane imagery that resonate with me are wizards and their staffs (see above) as well as top hats and canes (see below)

How about you? Have you had experience walking with a cane? Love it or hate it?

A model, front view, on the runway. She's wearing a black suit with turtleneck and a top hat. Posing with hand in pocket holding a silver cane