Having it All, Again

By: Molly Hurford Jul 31

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about women and the concept of having it all in sport. And, as usual, it was received with mixed reviews. To be honest? I don't care whether readers agreed with everything I said, or if they loved or hated it. I'm just happy that it got people -- both men and women -- talking. So, because of that and because the lack of women's media coverage in cycling has (somewhat ironically) been brought to attention by the same media guilty of ignoring it, I decided to write a follow up. The first order of business? Women at the top: as promoters.

One of my favorite comments from my article came from MidAtlantic Cyclocross Series promoter Marc Vettori (affectionately known as Fat Marc), who was thrilled to see the article. Marc is part of the 3 person team responsible for Granogue Cyclocross, and takes on the role as the mouth of the MAC. His reasoning for the disparities in women's cycling? It's all about promotion. "I can name the women promoters I've known over the last 20 years on one hand," he wrote to me.

Vettori isn't saying they don't exist, though, and was quick to praise his compatriot in the MAC Series, Laurie Webber. "None of our races, hell, maybe the MAC series, or any race in delaware would happen without her. The MAC board now has two women, and a third as the PR person. It's making the MAC series better, I believe."

This disparity is something that promoter Joan Hanscom of the USGP series and I have talked about before: just look at the ratio of men to women at any UCI promoters meeting. No wonder we have a hard time getting equal pay in races, when the sport is male-dominated through and through. Of course, that isn't to say that men won't argue for women cyclists to have even payouts. But I postulate that if there were more female promoters, equal payout would be more of a non-issue.

"Until there are top women promoters, I don't think women will make huge changes," Vettori says, and I agree with him. "Having women pros just complain about money ends up being a voice in the dark, sadly. Sure, they deserve the same money, but where does it come from? It's tough."

He does have faith for the future of women's cycling. Women in cycling may not be super new, but it is still a growing arm of the sport. And when the older generations start to retire (since for the most part, women's numbers didn't really start growing until the late 80s, the oldest pro racers are just now stepping back), those women can take on bigger roles in shaping the future of women's cycling. Vettori explains, "As current women racers move out of racing and into management and team leadership, and promotion, the women's influence will grow."


Part two: Women's cycling and the media.

While everyone (myself included) wholeheartedly applauded Scott Rosenfield's article on "Why We Ignore Women's Sports" publishing on Outside Magazine's website, I couldn't help but laugh a bit about the irony of the situation. Here, we have a magazine that rarely mentions women's cycling, berating other venues for the lack thereof. The article was awesome in and of itself, and hopefully will lead to a little more attention paid, but I can't help but worry that articles like that allow the magazine publishing them a "free pass." Rather than actually interview women racers about their races, the magazine is allowed to "take a stand" against sexism in the sport, thus garnering some serious props from both male and female cyclists, without having to do the grunt work of covering the races. [Outside Magazine has one cycling column that mainly does gear reviews and some minor coverage, but all of the recent gear reviews have been for men's bikes.] But hey, any coverage is good coverage, so bravo to Outside Magazine: now let's see if they can keep up the good work!

I admit it: I've been guilty of the lacking coverage as well. In my coverage of cyclocross, all too often the women's reports end up shorter. On the bright side, I get complaints about it, which means that readers actually do want more women's content. There are three reasons for the coverage gap though, and I'm about to share some trade secrets here. 1) I'm not always the one writing them, and since I'm not there, it's hard to add in more content. 2) The European races are covered mostly via the live feeds online, and unfortunately, the women are rarely featured, so coverage has to be pieced together from athlete's social media and from non-English news sources, most of which didn't have much to say about the women's races anyway. 3) When I do cover a race and the women's coverage seems to be a bit skimpy (hopefully this doesn't happen often), it's probably because I was racing the Elite race myself and missed getting one of the interviews I wanted. Turns out, writing about women's cycling is harder: back to that chicken-and-egg conundrum I've talked about and Rosenfield talks about in his article. It's hard to find a live feed of a Euro race, making writing the report hard, making it less interesting for readers, making less readers click through to read it, making advertisers skittish about dumping money into women's racing, which is why it doesn't make the live feeds. Talk about a vicious cycle.

That isn't to say that journalists get a free pass or anything like that. It’s just that women's cycling is harder to cover for a multitude of reasons, not just because journalists don't care. That's why programs like Rebecca Rusch's Gold Rusch tour are so incredible for women's cycling: I wrote about it back in May, but Rusch's plan for her tour was to bring female journalists along with her, providing a travel budget and housing, in order to allow for access to some great events to cover. This is unprecedented. Perhaps some promoters could take cues from this singular woman and actually push reporters -- male or female -- to attend and cover the women's races that they host, even if it means having to create some space in the event's budget for travel and housing for reporters. The easier it is to cover, the more reporters will cover it (find me one reporter who wouldn't jump on the free trip bandwagon and give them all of the coverage they ask for!) and the more attention it will gain, meaning the more money and ad dollars the race will eventually see. Sure, it's a bit extreme and a little pay-to-play, but again with the eggs, you can't bake a Feed Zone-approved savory rice cake without cracking a few of them (eggs, I mean.)

The second part of Part Two comes from Rosenfield's discussion of Liz Hatch and her use of her sexuality (the Maxim spread, to be specific) to garner attention for herself. The article, like most I've read on the subject, waffles between her choice to pose being liberating or objectifying. I have the same problem when I think about it, but my issue is that the article goes from being about a lack of women's coverage to a discussion of if sexuality has a place in cycling. Does coverage of a women's cyclocross race have anything to do with if a racer posed in a magazine? Would coverage of the Tour be different if Wiggins had posed seductively in Cosmo? A race is a race is a race, and if the subject at hand is the lack of coverage of women's racing, then why does that even have to come up?

And while it does touch slightly on the concept of tokenism (Mia Hamm is not the only female soccer player, Liz Hatch is not the only female cyclist, nor should either of them be tasked with representing their gender in their sport as a whole), I have to say: I am kind of sick of it. The Hatch example is oft-cited and tired: it was a spread done four years ago, and stands as virtually the only point that comes up when you talk about sexuality in women's cycling. Until there's another, newer example, can we let it go? I understand that women's athletics lead to the discussion of if using sexuality can help to promote the sport (and if it can, should it be, and to whom are we promoting to at that point?), but one big example does not an argument make. What Hatch did wasn't emulated by a bumper crop of U23 female cyclists, it isn't a trend, and is an outlier. Discussing an outlier event when discussing a sport as a whole is patently ridiculous, and every writer (myself included) that has tackled the topic is guilty of this. Guilty, guilty, guilty!

Lastly, I have one nitpick-y issue. Rosenfield berates announcers and writers for their use of "ladies" in their vernacular. Now, I understand the argument against using "girls," and I agree whole-heartedly. But he adds, "Often, a race will be called a “lady’s tour,” or women are said to compete on the “lady’s circuit.” This genteel word packs a punch. Ladies pose no threat to men. Sure, women may be participating in sports, but they are totally feminine. No lesbians or tomboys to worry about." I might be wrong, but I don't think that 'ladies' is necessarily a bad thing. Often, during races, the women will talk to the group and refer to them as 'ladies' (i.e, "Ladies, heads up, car on course!") and I don't think of that as a sexist thing. I wouldn't take umbrage with mentioning the "gentlemen" in a race (see: Rapha's Gentlemen's Ride as my case in point), so why would I mind 'ladies'? When I've interviewed top riders, often they'll refer to their fellow racers as ladies, interchangeably with women. Besides, the dictionary definition of "lady" is either any woman, or "a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken." I'll take it.

What really matters, though, isn't how we are referred to when in print. It's more the lack of print that's the problem. In Outside Magazine, Scott Rosenfield says, "Women's cycling is neglected throughout the year. But every Olympic season, our interest in most women's sports peaks—only to quickly wane." So let's make sure that doesn't happen this year. Those of us racing and those of us writing about cycling should make a commitment: to make sure that we, as athletes, are visible, approachable, and making ourselves heard, and that we, as journalists, make sure to capture every moment of it.

I have to say: it seems like now is the time to start the women's cycling revolution.

All right. Bring on the comments/criticisms/suggestions, but let’s not stop talking about it!

Images: Nick Maggiore

Sources: http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/xx-factor/Why-We-Ignore-Womens-Sports-20120717.html

 

In Defense of the Off-Season

By: Molly Hurford Jul 16

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I have a confession: I like to run. Give me a hard off-road trail with sneakers, or a beach where I can ditch the sneakers all together, and I’m a happy camper. I don’t get the “runner’s high” on the bike, no matter how hard I try, but I get it almost every time I run. I also like to swim. Pool, ocean, exceptionally clear lake: give me a water feature and I will make the most of it. So does that make me a lesser cyclist, or, even worse, a triathlete?

For most racers, spring and summer compose the on-season. But lately, there have been more and more people, myself included, who elect to make cyclocross in the fall their main season. So that makes road and mountain, by default … the off-season? For me, if you compare what happens in the fall to the last few months, I suppose that’s accurate. I race every other weekend, sometimes more, sometimes less, now. In September, it’ll be a balls-to-the-wall weekend-after-weekend jam-packed race season. If you asked me to do that on a road bike or a mountain bike, I might cry. But when you spend time dreaming of the perfect dismount/remount technique, it’s pretty clear where your heart is.

Second part of the confession (while I’m at it): mentally, much more so than physically, I find it nearly impossible to whole-heartedly commit to two serious seasons focusing on specific sport. I’ve tried the road and ‘cross thing, the triathlon and ‘cross thing, and now, the road and mountain biking and ‘cross thing, and so far, the best has easily been this summer. I gave myself permission to not take racing too seriously, to train hard and race hard but take weekends off. I bought a good mountain bike and … learned how to mountain bike. I raced road, I raced mountain, often with very mixed results. I got beat up, crashed out, crashed on, and I just plain crashed. Because I’d given myself permission to not take the season seriously, I wasn’t upset with a lack of major results on the road (some solid, some “mehhh”) and I was thrilled to not totally bomb at mountain biking. But for someone used to spending summers focused on triathlon, it felt like there was still something missing.

Then, last week, I was practicing my cornering skills in the park near my house. I rolled into my normal parking lot, expecting it to be empty, as usual. It was full, and I quickly saw why: the empty pool I had thought was a monument to summers past (who has community pools these days?) was full of crystal clear water and happy looking kids. “Just finish your cornering,” I told myself, sternly, out loud, eliciting a few weird looks. I finished the corners in another parking lot but the pool was first and foremost on my brain. It was actually a physical pang. So I did what anyone would do: raced myself home, ran in tot he house, past my confused housemate, tore into the basement and grabbed a bike lock, bathing suit and goggles, as well as my ‘cross/commuter bike, and rushed back out of the house.

Jumping into that freezing, glassy water was the best feeling in the world. Swimming laps and trying to adjust to the ice-cold temperatures, looking at the way the light was reflecting on the water, seeing the droplets flying up, executing my first flip turn in well over a year, it was magical. Diving low to swim under a pain-in-the-butt 12 year old who thought it would be funny to cannonball right at me, less fun. But when you’re a triathlete and used to starting races in what essentially passes for a washing machine, dealing with irritating pre-teens is nothing. I remembered: I love this.

The next week, I got another wake-up call. I was at the beach and after lying on the beach with full blessing from my coach to relax and recover from my crash at the mountain bike race in Windham a couple of days before, I realized what was missing. “I’m just going to run to the first hotel,” I told my dad. It would be a mile-long run, not exactly much of a trek.

“Sure you are,” he replied sardonically from under his shades.

He was right. A couple of blocks in, I felt it: the rightness that is barefoot beach running, for me. I ran, ran, ran, and found myself 30 blocks down. Still not a super-long run, but 45 minutes instead of the 10 I’d claimed. When I got back, I jumped in the water and paddled around. Dad was out there. “So, how was the first hotel,” he asked.

It seems that despite renouncing triathlon two years ago, my body is still screaming to go back to it. And I know, cyclists hate triathletes, as a whole. But does that mean we’re all bad?

Maybe, I’ve been thinking, it wouldn’t be so bad to be a triathlete in my cyclocross off-season. Not a super serious one or anything, but do a few local races, maybe an X-terra or two. I’ll still race some road, some mountain, and still be a bike racer, but is it so bad to want to swim-bike-run a few times? I can hear a chorus of people I know yelling, “Yes! It is bad!” but if it motivates you to keep training and working hard, can it really be that morally terrible?

There is an argument to be made that a little trail and beach running will get cyclocrossers ready for the inevitable running sections of races. And swimming works core and upper body, which helps with the remounting, dismounting and carrying during a race. Add in the X-terra element, and the mountain biking will only help with technical sections of a race. Of course, that only works if running and swimming are entirely secondary to riding, riding, riding, but nevertheless, I think it’s a reasonable proposal. I wouldn’t expect to be the triathlete that I used to be, where my swim and run were oddly stronger than my bike leg. I’d hope the opposite is true now. That said, I found that when I first started cyclocross, technical incompetence aside, it was a natural fit for a triathlete who wanted to have some fun: I was able to handle running sections (often longer for me, see above ‘technical incompetence’) and picking up and carrying my ludicrously heavy Surly wasn’t too difficult, thanks to the aforementioned upper-body strength I had that a pure cyclist wouldn’t.

To qualify: I am no longer a triathlete, nor would I want to define myself as one, ever again. But is it so wrong to want to get off the bike and into the water every so often?

I think everyone deserves an off-season. Or, in the absence of a real off-season, you, the racer, darn well better be loving every race that you do (or at least, be excited about each race that you do).

 

Having It All(?)

By: Molly Hurford Jun 28

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As a female racer, I think and write an awful lot about the state of women's racing in the US, and the way that female racers are treated. But sometimes I forget that the cycling world is just a tiny microcosm, a demonstration on a smaller scale, of issues that face women today.

According to Jodi Kantor in her New York Times article, there is now a "debate about a new conundrum of female success: women have greater status than ever before in human history, even outpacing men in education, yet the lineup at the top of most fields is still stubbornly male. Is that new gender gap caused by women who give up too easily, unsympathetic employers or just nature itself?"

While she's talking about the workplace and education system, that quotes sounds oddly familiar to any woman who's been trying to race seriously for years. A lot of this article and the others I looked at are based on the whole work-family conundrum that faces women (and these articles fully admit they're based on the experiences of upper-middle class, the women who can choose between work and family if they so choose). While I was reading them, though, since I'm sans children, I couldn't help but strike parallels between the plight of the working mom and the plight of the female racer.

So in that sense, Kantor's question about what causes the gender gap is a valid one in women's cycling. Are we not working as hard as the men? Are some team managers and race promoters purposely trying to avoid paying women what they're worth? Are women racers just naturally not as 'serious' as the men?

Most of the articles I looked at centered around the old feminist adage that women can 'have it all,' if they only work hard enough. Salon.com columnist Rebecca Traister writes, "No, my proposal is this: We should immediately strike the phrase “have it all” from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again… And that sucks. It sucks for all of us, who are so very busy – not aiming for complete satisfaction or amassing everything our hearts might desire – but busy working and living and getting by and fighting to pry open more doors so that more women might enjoy more kinds of opportunities than have been available to those who came before."

I know so many amazing women in the cycling scene, both on the professional and amateur level, who spend so much of their time working to promote women's cycling, to make it more accessible, to make a career as a pro woman more feasible, and it seems like most of the time, we're -- pardon the pun -- spinning our wheels.

And the worst part about it is that despite the huge talent pool for women in cycling in the US, I know of so many incredibly talented ladies who struggle every year to find a team that takes them even slightly seriously. And those on teams are often fighting for scraps while the men get the bulk of the goodies. I know this isn't the case for every woman or every team, but anecdotally, I can say that it happens more often than you might think, and infinitely more often than it should. But that isn't even the worst part. I worry that the worst part is that we -- myself included -- have drunk the Kool-Aid. We don't think that women's racing is as exciting, or that it can bring in as many sponsors, or that it has as much of a future. Or, if finding a team is hard, we start thinking that it's because of our abilities, because we're not a little bit better, faster, stronger. And sure, part of that can be true: I freely admit that I'm not as fast or good as, say, Kaitie Antonneau, and I wouldn't bat an eyelash if she was getting paid 18 times what I made. But I know plenty of women who deserving of much, much more than they get. Still, we've been trained to be gracious and happy to get anything, because it's better than nothing.

Because of this, there are some incredible racers out there who've been made to re-evaluate their self-worth. The article that this debate stemmed from in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter mentioned something interesting about this whole self-doubt issue. "I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot)."

Again: she's talking about work and having a family, but when I read it, it applies just as well to women's cycling. It is harder for women to make it in cycling, despite what companies and teams will say. But we've been programmed to believe that we have equality, so anything lacking is due to a personal failure, not a flawed system. And the last bit -- about being thin and beautiful to boot -- just reminds me of another hot debate for cyclists. But that one is for another week.

Slaughter also blasted Facebook's female spokesperson, saying, "Sandberg thinks that “something” is an 'ambition gap'—that women do not dream big enough. I am all for encouraging young women to reach for the stars. But I fear that the obstacles that keep women from reaching the top are rather more prosaic than the scope of their ambition."

Again, the same is true in the workplace and in cycling. I know many women who would love a career in cycling, but it's just simply an impossibility. Being willing to work for little money is one thing, but when that means not earning a living wage, or having to work other jobs to support a racing career, leaving less time for training or recovery, that's a reality, not a lack of ambition, that's keeping women from pursuing a pro career.

When I was doing interviews for my cyclocross book, I had a few great eye-opening moments. One was when not one, but several men AND women told me that the reason women's racing isn't quite as exciting to watch as the men's is because we simply aren't programmed with that 'killer instinct.' They were talking about the instinct that makes us want want to crush our opponents, who are often our friends and training buddies when not on the race course. At first, I scoffed a bit. That's ridiculous, I thought. I always want to beat people, no matter how friendly we are.

Then, I was at a race a few weeks ago. There was a minor crash in our field, behind me. I was in the front with six other women, and we opened a gap as the pack struggled to navigate around the crash. We continued at a tempo pace, and I tentatively asked,"So, do you guys want to attack? Because this is probably a good time." That's when I got a couple dirty looks and the group demurred, saying we should wait and see if everyone was OK. When I relayed this story to my male friends, they laughed and told me that the sound of a crash is a signal to pick up the pace in their field. And yes, I know if I wanted to attack, I should have just gone for it. But that's another column for another time: my acute lack of race tactics under pressure.

Now, I've been in plenty of races *cough* Battenkill and Somerville *cough* where crashes in the women's field did pick up the pace for the front. But I think that's a particularly interesting example worth mentioning. And I've written about it before, but it bears repeating: I consider myself to be a serious cyclist, but when someone crashed next to me at Battenkill, my first instinct was to stop and see if she was OK. I will also admit that I squelched that feeling and rode on. And proceeded to feel guilty about it for the rest of the race. Is it because I don't have that killer instinct? Is there something nurturing in my DNA that I just can't seem to get rid of?

Of course, at the end of the day, rather than turning to feminist scholars or feminist debates when I'm worried about my place in the peloton, I should probably just take a cue from Tina Fey during the next race. "Know what? Bitches get stuff done."

Cycling -- and sport in general -- is one place where we can easily see the difference in treatment of women versus men, and while some of it is simply a biological necessity, a lot of it is simply that when it comes to equality in the workplace, professional sports are just lagging behind the times more ostensibly than most other career paths. I've spent a lot of time talking with racers, promoters, managers, and every industry professional imaginable about this, and no, there isn't a simple solution. But pushing for more discussion on the issues of women in cycling, and looking at it as a whole, rather than a race-by-race or racer-by-racer issue would be a good start.

...........................

SOURCES:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/22/us/elite-women-put-a-new-spin-on-work-life-debate.html?_r=1&smid=fb-share

http://www.salon.com/2012/06/21/can_modern_women_have_it_all/

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/

 

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