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