It Takes a Village

Heads up.  This blog post might offend you.  We are hard-wired to screw up.  I’m not making excuses for us- it’s all quite scientific, man.

“Some of our instinctive emotions have become extremely serious impediments now threatening our very survival. Let us focus on denial, tribal loyalty, revenge, greed, and procreation. Any attempt to control human behavior is bound to meet with resistance and disapproval — however, we have reached the point where we have no alternative.” – School of Biological Sciences, UT Austin

I like a good looking dude.  No, I LOVE me some dudes.  I won’t sit here and tell you I don’t say mildly offensive things to myself when I pass an attractive gentleman.  Inappropriate?  Yes.  Honest?  Also yes.  I’ve worked in male-dominant fields since I was 21, and much of my character was built during those years. I don’t pride myself in being the most upright citizen of the world, and I’m not going to hide that from anyone.  The best thing I can do is embrace the difference between right and wrong, and keep the truth in my heart.

I grew up with a lot of image issues, and looked to boys to make me feel good about myself.  It crushed me when boys checked “no” on the notes I passed in elementary school.  In the 5th grade, I got mad at a boy who didn’t like me, so I threw a basketball at his head.  I played sports with all the fellas as a kid, and my initial reaction to anger mimicked theirs.  I still wore skirts, bought trillions of lip sticks, and obsessed about the hottest guys in school with all my friends.  I was stuck between two worlds.  Welcome to the life of a tomboy.

My 20s were really hard.  I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t go any farther back in time than twenty-five.  I had fairly low self-esteem, and was never able to look to myself for acceptance.  Top that with a handful of bad choices, and you’ve got yourself an after school special.  I still see myself as fortunate to have experienced undergrad as a non-athlete, though, because it enabled me to gain some much needed life experience.  I got schooled in a different way.

Remember when mom told you how things would change when you got older?  Remember how dumb that sounded?  Well, welcome to your 30s, or at least mine.  I was 34 before I ever fell in love with myself.  That’s 12,410 days, guys.  And being “enlightened” doesn’t make you bullet proof.  Shit still hurts.  Men still make me question how I feel about myself.  I often wonder if what I’m wearing looks dumb, or too short, or too long.  But mostly?  I own it.  I like it.  I don’t care if you don’t.

I am proud to be a woman, and I’m not ashamed of my body.  I worked hard to be strong, and my muscles and curves are something I’m happy about.  I wear short shorts and dresses and all those things the magazines tell me to, but it’s typical to catch me at the grocery store wearing pajamas and flip flops.  The dorky kid inside blushes when cute guys talk to me.  It makes me giggle when I get asked out on dates.  I’m instinctively pleased when shown affection in any capacity by men. I’m human.  I’m NOT pleased when someone acts like a jackass and talks to me like a pile of garbage.  If nothing else, we should at least respect everyone out of the sake of not being an asshole.

Women have come a long way.  We’ll fight to the death for freedom of choice (DISCLAIMER: I’m not referring to abortion laws. RELAX).  We want equality.  In the 2nd grade, none of the boys on my basketball team would throw me the ball.  I took that shit out on every dude on every boys’ team we scrimmaged in high school.  You can’t tell me what to do, what to wear, or how to act.  I have a birth right to take my feminism to the highest levels.  Also, don’t cat call me in the streets.  I’ll kick your ass.

And then we have the Interbike socks.  (Cue the record scratch)  In an industry primarily composed of men, women get the short end of the stick (see what I did there?).  We’re expected to do the same things as men, for less money, and it’s not only within the ranks of the professional cycling world.  Women everywhere are suffering from the business egos of men, and the suffering doesn’t stop there.  We also have to be the focus of their attention, apparently, all the time.  Give me a man that doesn’t look at your ass, and I’ll give you $800.

The industry is filled with people who want us to succeed, but that doesn’t come free of judgement, persuasion, and inappropriate behavior.  There are strong female cyclists out there who like to wear bikinis and straddle mountain bikes. Who wouldn’t want a gorgeous photo standing in front of some bike stuff, looking happy and healthy, and stoked about bikes?  Rich Dillen gets ’em all the time.  But seriously?  Show me a woman who doesn’t smile at the thought of looking hot shit in front of a camera.  You might be one of them.

So, what I guess I’m saying is, we’re animals.  Whether you think we came from dirt or apes or an explosion in the sky, we can all be classified as HUMAN.  We do dumb, human type shit.  We like boobs and smiles and soft hands and hugs.  And that’s okay.  We’re entitled to opinions.  We are free to believe whatever we want, and unfortunately this comes around to bite us in the ass sometimes.

We’ve been walking on this tightrope for a long time.  Women have been used as sex symbols for all kinds of things- cars, electronics, hamburgers (thanks Hardees and Carls Jr).  We saw it with the Marzocchi Bomber girls, Cyclepassion, and the early days of Vanderkitten.  “Hey guys, look at me.  I want you to buy this fork.”  “Hi there.  I race bikes, but I want you to check me out in this calendar.”  “I’m stuck between how I feel and how the industry thinks I should carry myself.”

As a female athlete, I can attest to the desperation that comes with being accepted as an equal.  I want men to recognize me as someone just as strong as they are.  I want men to high five me because I like to ride my bike as much as they do.  I want to slide my bike sideways, huck rocks, and take risks just like my male counterparts.  I also want to be noticed and adored, because I’m a female, and that’s how my brain developed.  Love it or leave it, that’s just the way it is.  Everyone is different, but I dare say you won’t find many women who give zero fucks about how they are perceived by men in some capacity.

Once you reach some sort of mental maturity, you start to see through the bullshit, and realize there’s a lot more to gender equality in cycling than you once thought.  Imagine being a female junior level racer.  What would you think about your hero if you saw her half naked in an ad for wheels?  How do you think we are perceived by younger racers when they hear us talk shit about each other after a race?  By the same token, what message are we sending to the next generation of women’s cycling when we publicly bash our peers for looking sexy in a photo shoot?  Mixed signals.  It’s all too fuzzy.

“It’s cool to look and feel good, but don’t show anyone, because you race bikes and want to be seen as equal.”  And trust me, I’ve seen many of you professional men out there drooling over sexy images of your female counterparts, and slut shaming in the same breath.  See what I mean?  Fuzzy.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about yourself, ladies.  We have to be diligent in sharing that with the younger generations, because we have a serious self-image deficiency in our society.  It’s okay to be cute and competitive.  Embrace those feelings of self love and acceptance, but realize those things should NEVER have to come from outside sources.  Intrinsic love and motivation speak volumes.

But those socks.  Right?  Everyone is up in arms one way or another, and it’s the same country song we’ve been singing for years.  Does it set the movement back?  Some would say yes.  Do I have an answer?  No.  Is the inequality in the eyes of the beholder?  Sometimes.  Just food for thought.

Am I saying it’s okay to promote your brand with sex and naked chicks?  Not really.  That shit will never go away, but we CAN support our young women by educating them and providing opportunities for personal growth and development.  We have to be the change we want to see in the industry.  We can’t just sit around and say, “Well, you’ll understand when you’re older.  That’s life, kid”.  While that is sort of true, learning the hard way isn’t something I’d suggest to anyone growing up in 2015.

So there it is.  I don’t have an answer.  I don’t agree 100% with either side.  I find mistakes in everyone’s argument, and hopefully everyone finds mistakes in mine.  I’m not going to make myself a martyr like many before me, because as soon as I mess up, the world will be out to get me.  I WILL stand up for women’s rights and equality in the industry, because I AM just as legitimate as any man.  I WILL help educate and guide young women who want to crush their bikes just as hard as the boys.  I WILL foster growth in a positive way.  I WILL do the best I can to set an example for little girls everywhere.  I will do all this to promote the healthy growth of women’s cycling, but I will also be true to myself.

I don’t have answers.  Just thoughts.  Maybe if enough of us get honest with ourselves, we can get honest with the rest of the industry.  It takes a village.

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