10 Simple Ways to Help Keep Women in Cycling
The majority of my cycling experiences have been positive, and for that I am thankful. However, there are still idiotic things that make me wonder if the UCI rulebook was written in the 1950s by the same group of old white dudes who suggested wives not bother their husbands after work with their trivial troubles and complaints. At the top end of things, there is horrendous inequality of pay, prizing and a general lack of support for pro women’s cycling. At the entry level, by the age of fourteen, girls are six times more likely to drop out of cycling (and sports in general) than boys.
Thankfully, there are strides being made to address these issues. On one side of the spectrum, we have the first ever female UCI Vice-President, who has created a Women’s Commission to address all matters relating to women’s cycling. On the other side, we have groups like Fast and Female, who’s goal is to support, motivate, inspire and empower young girls to stick with sport.
These are indeed great and important things. Of equal importance is the ever growing middle ground between young aspiring athletes and pros. While we may not be seen as a strategic priority by anyone other than the makers of brie-bakers, we – The Average Janes, Weekend Warrior Princesses, Masters (Mistress?) racers, and She-Mamils* deserve our place at the table too. And you can help.
*Mamil = Middle-Aged Men in Lycra
The following list has been compiled based on things I have either experienced myself or witnessed first hand. It is far from comprehensive, and it is not just for the men. There are things that are specific to men, to women, to race organizers – everyone.
1) If she makes a mistake, it’s not because she’s female. It’s because she’s human. None of us emerge from the womb with an innate understanding of the nuances of cycling skills or etiquette, so unless you have never made a mistake ever, or are named Eddy Merckx, give some constructive advice or shut the fuck up.
2) Give her time to get her confidence up. If she is tentative, it’s probably because she’s been told her whole life that sports are for boys and boys are stronger and faster than girls. Be patient. Then watch her kick some ass.
3) Match the results to the race. This one is for race organizers. In many communities there are not enough women to race separately from the men. If men and women are combined, have the decency to reflect that in the results. The almighty UCI may dictate that results be posted separately, but there is nothing stopping you from posting additional combined results. There is nothing that pisses me off more than busting my ass for position in a peloton, only to see results that make it look like I raced alone. By the way, if you do choose to only post separate results, you damn well better have a women’s prizing, even if only one woman shows up.
4) Make her feel like she belongs. I am often the only woman on a group ride or in a race, and feel conspicuous enough without it being pointed out. One of the best compliments I receive from my male ride buddies is “I kinda think of you as a dude”. Under most other circumstances (like in bed with your girlfriend or wife, for example), this sentiment should be avoided at all cost, but in a group of riders, this is a warm fuzzy blanket of acceptance. Verbal or not, we just want to feel like any other rider.
5) Dance with the one you brung. If you know a woman who is new and interested in riding, don’t invite her out to a hammerfest with your buddies, only to get caught up in the moment and drop her like a sack of hammers. Like the song (sort of) says, dance with the one you brung, and be prepared to stay with her if she drops back. This applies to everyone, by the way – male or female, on either side of the fence. I have found the male and female egos to be equally fragile.
6) NEVER suggest she ride with the slow group, whether you know her ability or not. This is very similar to the logic that dictates you NEVER comment on a woman’s pregnancy unless you actually see a baby drop from her body. Which group she rides with is her call. In spite of what might be good intentions, you will only prove to everyone what a dick you are when she keeps up in the fast group or drops your ass.
7) Don’t be That Guy. Unless you are sleeping with her, do not call her ‘sweetheart’ or tell her how nice her ass looks in her shorts.
8) Unless she asks for help, let her change her own damn flat. With the exception of those under 12, I believe anyone on a bike should be equipped and able to change their own flat. That said, not everyone is. Treat her like anyone else on your ride, ask if she needs help before pulling a Sir Galahad. If she needs your help, you will be a hero. But if she can do it herself, she will feel like a rockstar.
9) Watch your language. Contrary to what I said about being seen as one of the boys, there is a line in that particular sandbox that shan’t be crossed. If a woman happens to like to ride hard and fast, being called “butch”, “ball-buster”, or “hammerhead” is not what we in polite circles would consider appropriate descriptors. Just as no man wants to be emasculated, no woman wants to be shamed by being castrated of her woman-ness. Being defeminized (this is an actual word, unlike woman-ness, which I just made up because femininity sounds too posh) is rarely done in a flattering manner, and is typically done by ex-lunch money stealers and knuckleheads.
10) Support your sisters. Here’s one for the girls. From my experience, female racers have such a fierce competitive streak that I can only surmise comes from some primordial wildcat instinct to fuck with anything that tries to fuck with you. We women can be downright awful to each other. If another woman beats you fair and square, don’t be a dick and call her a cheater. Have some class and offer a handshake instead. Even if you hate her with the burning intensity of a thousand suns.
There. I feel better, don’t you? Some simple, grass-roots common sense to make the gals in your next ride or race feel right at home. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a flat to change and a pot roast to burn.