I wrote this #tbt post during the 2016 Olympics, when sexist media coverage was happening almost every day. I was reminded of it last night when I was at an amazing documentary that tells the incredible story of Tracy Edwards and her all-woman crew on the sailing vessel Maiden, the first all-woman crew in the Whitbread Around the World sailing race (in 1989-90 — it takes nine months). One of the ongoing themes in that film is the sexist media coverage (endlessly so) and how demoralizing it was for these women, who were engaged in a difficult and dangerous undertaking that took skill and courage. They were expected to fail. And when they actually turned out to be competitive, they were “sailing like men.” Read on about why sexist sports coverage matters.
USA women’s gymnastics team in Rio, with their team gold medals. Photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX
We’ve all heard it before: more money and attention go to men’s sport because men’s sports are more popular. For women who are athletes, it’s a constant battle to be taken seriously for their accomplishments. On one front, the women need to work hard to keep the focus on their athletic achievement (as opposed to their looks, who they want to date, or what they post on social media). On another front, they struggle to get their share of media coverage.
Just ask Canadian tennis player, Eugenie Bouchard, who was once famously asked “to twirl” in an on-court interview and also, on a different occasion, asked who her ideal date would be. More recently, CBC sportscaster, Adam Kreek, blamed her Olympics singles loss on what she does on social media. He said:
“Uh oh,” says Strava. “You just lost your QOM.” I’m not driving back to London, or in the case of this afternoon’s “uh oh” email to Kincardine, to keep them. You can’t expect to keep QOMs forever but still it’s been bugging me. I don’t like to have an empty Strava trophy cabinet! Pout.
Time to start focusing on some Guelph Strava segments I think!
(Oh, are you reading this and wondering what I’m talking about? What’s Strava? What’s a QOM? Look here and here.)
Back to my search for a Guelph QOM.
Here’s a likely candidate Vic to Ring. That’s the 1.1 km stretch of Stone between Victoria and the entrance to university parking. It’s part of my usual “long way to work” ride.
I noticed the other day that I’ve been getting faster on it. I’ve been getting PRs on the segment for awhile. Look below and you can see my times range from 3:18 to 1:54 this summer. I often ride with people a bit slower than me and that’s the last stretch of possible speed before getting to work. I like to get it out of my system. I tell people I’m riding with that I’ll meet them at the turn into campus parking, and whee zoom ahead.
On the upside, it’s flat. It’s also in a bike lane. There are no obstacles other than occasional gravel in the bike lane. There are some Strava segments on routes I regularly ride that I’ll never get because of things like train tracks. I don’t like to cross those at speed. On the downside, it’s after a traffic light and I’m starting from a stand still. Oh and it ends at a traffic light and if it’s red I tend to slow in advance.
My personal best is 1:54. The holder of the QOM currently did it in 1:39. I’m 9th of 158 women to record a time on the segment. I’m 126th of 874 people on the segment. The fastest time is held by a man at 1:29.
Other than waiting for a good tailwind, what’s my strategy?
My average speed is about 36 km/hr. The QOM holder is doing it at about 41 km/hr. That’s a big gap. I get up to 42 or 43 pretty quickly but I can’t maintain it. A few hundred meters from the turn I start slowing. So the thing I’m going to work on is maintaining the higher speed for longer. A kilometer is a tough distance that way. It’s too long to be an all out sprint effort.
Oh, I’m also going to time the light so I’m not starting from a standstill. That’ll make a difference too.
At the other end I’m going to try not to slow for the red. Instead I’ll turn right on red while going quickly if I have to.
(Having Chris Helwig in front me would also help, of course. A couple of my London QOMs were achieved riding fast on Chris’s wheel. And I don’t know if that is how the current QOM holder did it. Lots of QOMs are achieved on group rides and you’re not going to go in later and take off the crown. Fair enough.)
Will I get it? I don’t know. I’ll try really hard. I’ll get fitter as a result of trying. Given a certain amount of luck–tailwinds and traffic lights–I’ve got a good shot at it. Wish me luck! And Kim Solga, stick to Hamilton QOMs please ..
Is there not just something incredible about watching elite women athletes blow everyone’s mind with their incredible athleticism? In case you missed it, the latest almost unbelievable achievement in sport goes to US gymnast Simone Biles, who completed (though not to her own satisfaction) a move that is reported to have revolutionized gymnastics. The move is called “the triple double: a double back somersault with three twists spread out over the two flips.”
According to Slate, it is “the single most spectacular skill that any female gymnast has ever attempted, on any apparatus, in the history of the sport. It’s got an “astronomical difficulty rating” and looks almost impossible (but for the fact that she is doing it!):
From the same competition, the US Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City, Biles completed a stunning and unprecedented dismount after a gripping routine on the balance beam. According to the article in Slate, Biles “destroyed a new balance beam dismount, the most difficult and daring in the history of the sport: a double-double, or a double somersault with a full twist in each flip. This is a skill that is usually reserved for the floor exercise—an apparatus that is 40 feet wide and outfitted with 11 centimeters of springs. Biles did it off the end of a lightly padded plank 4 inches wide and 4 feet off the ground, and she made it look easy.” And landed it perfectly:
This is really just an “in case you missed it post.” Simone Biles is not to be missed. Keep in mind too that she purportedly had an off-weekend, by her own lights it was not her best. She expressed disappointment over her floor routine because she didn’t complete the triple double to her own high standards. And it was all still enough to secure her first place.
She’s making me fall in love with gymnastics all over again. I really don’t even have a question to end on today, other than the rhetorical: “doesn’t watching Simone Biles do gymnastics make you want to watch more of Simone Biles doing gymnastics?”
You know, sometimes you’re in a spot where the only way forward is with the help of a GIF. As a non-early adopter of both texting and GIF-ing (yes, I know it’s annoying, but I can’t/won’t stop), I’m still in the thrall of sending GIFS to, well, everyone. Undoubtedly this phase will pass (and perhaps not soon enough). But, in the meantime, I’m living my best GIF-sending life.
The other day I was texting my friend Pata, who was sad on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. In the course of the back-and-forth, we talking about drowning in emotions vs. swimming through them. I mentioned how it was good we were both lifeguards for each other when the waves got rough (please don’t judge me for being sappy here…)
Then, it occurred to me: time for a lifeguard GIF! And what better one than… wait for it…
Here is the one I sent.
However, looking through the other candidate GIFS my iPhone handily provided, I saw another one I liked much much better. Then I sent it. Here it is:
I LOVE THIS. I LOVE HER. I LOVE HER EXPRESSION. I LOVE HER BEACH RUNNING STYLE. I LOVE HER SUIT. I LOVE HER SENSE OF HUMOR. I LOVE HER STRENGTH. I LOVE HER MOXIE.
Maybe/probably/certainly people are using this GIF to express fat phobia. Shame on them. But I bet she made it to express fat power. To personify fat grace. To demonstrate fat strength. I am there and loving it.
I hereby promise you, dear readers, that sometime I will:
make some GIFS of ME doing some active things
take pleasure and pride and humor in the making of them
distribute them copiously (with the forbearance of my friends)
take in the FACT (not idea or hope or possibility, but FACT) that I am– if not exactly cool– instead strong and funny and graceful and attractive and eminently watchable.
I didn’t make any GIFs this week, but here is a series of photos of me pretend-dramatically jumping from one rock to another, by my niece Gracie. My nephew Gray is on the left. Definitely gearing up for more projects like this…
Hey readers, how do you feel about pictures or videos or other representations of you doing your active/physical/movey things? What makes you feel good about them? I’d love to hear from you.
I’m writing this blog post in a bus to Toronto on the way home from Port Hope. I’m here with David and Sarah and all the other one day riders taking part in the one day version of the bike rally.
We had a terrific ride. It was all things perfect. Sunny but not hot. A really cool wind off the lake. A tailwind! We made it in record time. Lots and lots of personal bests. I’ve done the bike rally six times total and this was by far my fastest and easiest day 1. At least one year, though it feels like more, I was a sweep on Day 1 which is really tough. But not today.
I teared up several times today though during Stephanie Pearl McPhee’s words to the bike rally. I teared up again on the way home reading her blog post about hard things. Please go read it.
Here’s Steph at the opening ceremony.
We’re living in really tough times and the intentional community that is the bike rally is warm and welcoming and generous and caring. It’s not really about riding bikes to Montreal. There a lot of people involved who aren’t riders at all. Together–rustlers, road safety, riders and more–create this beautiful thing. For a day, I felt weight lift off my shoulders. The world has pockets of good and strength. Bike rally, I’ll be back. I need you in my life.
The most important thing? All the riders, one day, three day, and six day, and the crew, have collectively raised more the 1.5 million dollars for the Toronto PWA Foundation.
You can still sponsor me here. Please sponsor Sarah here. Thks blog readers who’ve already contributed. It’s really appreciated.
1.Question of pay. is the USWNT paid equitably? By “equitably”, we could mean something like “paid the same as men’s professional soccer in accordance with”:
their win-loss record, compared to those of the men’ teams
their tournament play/record, compared to mens’ teams
the prize money offered in the tournaments they play in
prize money offered in professional soccer tournaments in general
revenues generated by league and tournament games
revenue generated by sponsorships, merchandise, viewership, etc.
I could go on
Yes, we know: economics is complicated. But do we have some idea of the answer? We do– the answer seems to be “no”. The USWNT is not paid in accordance with any of the above-listed measures. How do we know this? Here are some informative bits from articles I read (here and here and here).
US women’s soccer now has edged out US men’s soccer in terms of game revenue generated ($50.8M vs. $49.9M)
The US Soccer Federation sells broadcast ad sponsorship rights for the women’s and men’s teams together, so they haven’t provided information to separate out the revenue streams.
Nike’s highest-selling soccer jersey is the USWNT’s home jersey. Here it is:
The USWNT is paid a guaranteed base salary, while the US men’s soccer team is paid in bonuses alone. However, the men are paid when they play (win or lose), so their annual pay depends on how many games they play in a year.
The total prize money for the women’s World Cup is about $30M, whereas the FIFA men’s World Cup prize money is around $400M.
The US men’s and women’s teams have different contracts under different collective bargaining agreements. The US men’s team has publicly stated its support for increased pay equity for US women’s soccer.
The USWNT has sued the US Soccer Federation for changes in their pay structures (read more about it here):
All 28 female players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) — their employer — in U.S. District Court in March, alleging they are paid less than the men and are provided with less support, despite their consistent outstanding performance. The lawsuit also argues the team’s success has “translated into substantial revenue generation and profits” for USSF and “during the period relevant to this case, the WNT earned more in profit and/or revenue than the MNT.”
The soccer federation denied the claims in the women’s lawsuit, arguing in a May court filing that the pay differential between the men and women players is “based on differences in aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex” and that the two teams are “physically and functionally separate organizations.”
Are the women players paid less? Sometimes. When the female players have appeared to make about the same or more money, they’ve had to turn in consistently outstanding performances on the world stage. Even with those feats, earning the same amount as the men’s soccer players was near-impossible under the previous collective-bargaining agreement.
The new agreement has provisions that may reduce the difference in bonuses for friendly games and tournaments, but there is — without question and for whatever reasons — still a massive gap between men’s and women’s World Cup bonuses.
2.Question of politics. Is the question of the USWNT’s pay becoming a nasty political fight? That one’s easy.
Prominent Democratic politicians have not just tweeted support, but in fact introduced legislation requiring that US Soccer pay women’s and men’s teams equally. In response, the US Soccer Federation hired two lobbying firms to present a case that the women’s teams are not paid inequitably. Groups are battling over the numbers, which (as I pointed out above) are complicated. So far the lobbyists are working on Capital Hill but haven’t registered yet (they are required to register within 45 days of beginning work). The lobbyists and US Soccer say they are trying to give accurate information, and the USWNT say that the lobbyists and US Soccer are trying to derail legislation and mislead legislators. Politico reported the following interchange:
...one of the lobbyists representing U.S. Soccer — Ray Bucheger, a former Democratic congressional staffer who’s now a partner at FBB — told a Democraticcongressional staffer late last month that one of the bills could jeopardize the country’s chances of hosting future Women’s World Cups, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Bucheger declined to comment.
3.Question of (mis)perception. It is, sadly, true that lots of people hold women’s sports in lower esteem than men’s sports. And there are loads of reports and surveys and studies that show that non-professional-athlete men think they are as good or better athletes as world-class professional women athletes. You have no doubt seen the survey, published here, that 1 in 8 men in the UK surveyed believed they could take a point off tennis titan Serena Williams.
In the comments section of this article (I know, don’t read the comments ever, but I’m doing this for blog research purposes) I saw exactly this same view: some people said that the USWNT were less good soccer players than mediocre men’s professional teams. Some cited a 2017 scrimmage with a US Soccer development program under-15 boys’ team (that the USWNT graciously did to teach the boys some techniques) in which the final score was 5-2 in favor of the boys’ team. You can read the real story here. You also might be interested to hear that in 2017 (maybe encouraged by the USWNT’s participation?) US Soccer added some girls’ development soccer teams (finally).
Other commenters said that this is the way of all women’s sports, that professional women athletes pale in comparison with (most? all?) male athletes in terms of performance. So it’s okay to pay them less and think less of them as athletes (or not to think of them as athletes, period).
Responding to this general claim– that women just aren’t as good/strong/interesting athletes as men– takes a lot of hard work. Scholars and activists and athletes have been and are currently spending their careers responding in a bunch of ways. Some of those ways include:
carefully documenting and framing the comparative histories of sports and athletic development programs for boys and girls, pointing out the myriad disparities girls experience in everything from resources to coaching to goals to opportunities to social support, etc.
framing and revealing the historical and social contexts in which girls and women interested in physical activity/athletics are treated; in short, it’s not good.
providing context for the ways media coverage of women athletes treats and judges their athletic performance, I blogged about the juggernaut UConn women’s basketball team, stuck between a rock and a hard place– media criticized them for being too good and messing up the sport. Really. Read about it here.
What I hope and even expect is that, with increased support and programming, society’s perceptions of girls and boys and men and women as athletes will change. Then we will be able to see and value girls and women as the athletes they are and can be.
Readers– what do you think about our current atmosphere of sports development and outlets for girls and women? Any stories or ideas or suggestions you want to share would be most welcome.
I know promised a post on my newfound love of cycling last time, and a post on this you will get, eventually. But first, I want to talk about an amazing female athlete, a cyclist in fact, whom I find incredibly inspiring. I’m talking about Fiona Kolbinger, the 24-year old woman who just won the Transcontinental Race, a self-supported 4,000 kilometre bike race from Burgas (Bulgaria) to Brest (France). Please bear with me as I fangirl a little.
Fiona was the first woman to win the race, which was in its seventh edition this year. The race website describes the event as follows:
The Transcontinental is a single stage race in which the clock never stops. Riders plan, research and navigate their own course and choose when and where to rest. They will take only what they can carry and consume only what they can find. Four mandatory control points guide their route and ensure a healthy amount of climbing to reach some of cycling’s most beautiful and historic monuments. Each year our riders cover around 4000km to reach the finish line.
Doesn’t that sound so amazing? And so hard? Fiona did it in 10 days, 2 hours and 28 minutes. She slept for about four hours a night. What a champ! (Personally, I couldn’t sleep for hours a night for 10 days without being in a 4,000km cycling race. I would be curled up in a corner snoring on day 2.)
Of course, Fiona being a woman, this is a big deal. Out of the 265 starters in the race, 39 were women. And one of them won! This is actually not all that surprising: women have shown again and again that they are amazing endurance athletes. In ultra-long distance events such as ultra-marathons, or ultra-long distance swimming, women have been managing to close in on the gap over the past decades. If you look at the record-holders for the longest recorded swim distances, there are a lot of women (note that this doesn’t necessarily have to mean they are faster than men, although there is a study saying that too, at least for swimming. But it seems they can often go for longer). [Update 11 Aug 19: The BBC just published a piece about women and endurance sports following Fiona’s win. It’s very interesting, a lot of this is apparently also down to how women manage these events emotionally and mentally.] Nevertheless, given that there were a lot fewer female than male participants in the Transcontinental, and given all the crap female athletes constantly have to put up with, and the fact that society makes it so difficult for women to excel in sports, this is a huge deal.
But back to why I find her so inspiring: Fiona is not just a badass athlete, she is also a cancer researcher! She’s an MD student at the German Cancer Research Centre‘s paediatric oncology unit. This woman is studying how to cure children from cancer. And in passing, she wins a 4,000km bike race. I can’t even.
In an interesting turn of events, the research centre she works at is actually in my home town. It is, shall we say, not one of the world’s worst research institutions. And she is not the only one around here. Just recently, I was doing laps at my local outdoor pool when a woman turned up only to literally lap everyone swimming in the fast lane, at what to her seemed like a casual speed . It was beautiful to watch, I had never seen anyone swim so efficiently in real life. She was wearing a cap with her name on it, so I couldn’t help but look her up afterwards. She turned out to be a former member of the German Olympic swimming relay. And, as per the next link that came up, she’s a physician at the local university hospital. There are so many inspiring female athletes who are also doing amazing other things.
Just why is it so hard to find them? Why doesn’t everyone know who they are? Yes, often they are unassuming. But also, they don’t get the coverage. This really needs to change. Fiona has receivedplentyofcoverage this week, but I still want to bet that if you ask a random person on the street if they know who she is, you’re going to draw a blank.
Meanwhile, Fiona? When she’s not busy beating more than 200 men at cycling a very, very long way or curing kids’ cancer, she plays the piano, while still wearing her cycling kit. I rest my case.