I was recently tagged in a conversation that started with a display of frustration/disgust over the creation of a women-only facebook group that centered around a cycling game we all play. I was asked what I thought.
I typically remain quiet on gender issues. My experience has taught me that speaking out isn't generally a great idea. However, the whole issue comes down to harassment.
I think the creation of a group for women to chat is an excellent idea. It isn't so much about the exclusion of men (while that can prove to be a benefit on some occasions) but rather the inclusion of more women. And don't think for a second that I don't believe men and women have some similar issues when it comes to sport, but there are some situations that need a different audience - an audience that isn't critical because they really can't understand/can't see it/don't believe it.
For example - if I post about my period or and IUD, or tampons, pads, or the diva cup, in a gender neutral group, I'm likely to take some flaming and get told to take that down because it's inappropriate for that group. Yet, we're still cyclists. And we're still faced with issues relating to that time of the month. So when something comes up and we (the women) are looking for some advice on something related to being a girl, a post leads to some serious criticism. "But that's wrong, and the people criticizing the women should be told it's wrong," you say. True. But who is going to do that? In the meantime, women are shamed for having the guts to post in an open forum. And no one shames the arsehole that shames us. Forcing women to leave the cycling community. It's embarrassing to be told that your conversation is gross, inappropriate, or otherwise shamed,
So let's talk about the time I had to change bike shops because a very well respected mechanic was hitting on me. I mean REALLY hitting on me... Rather than burn bridges, I started frequenting somewhere else. "You should have done something about it! Told the manager!" you say? Right. Have you ever read the news? See what happens to the woman involved? She gets torn to pieces... "She asked for it." "She should know that kind of thing happens in cycling." And then it gets worse. See, taking a stand creates more issues and harassment than it solves. There's this victim shaming attitude that pervades any harassment issue that goes public.
How about the time I wanted to ask someone about some pretty specific saddle sores in a pretty specific location? I'm not describing my junk or the location of the saddle sore in an open forum. Especially at the risk of posting such a description in front of a perv who will take it as an invitation to start a private conversation that is unwanted.
How about when your body fat has dropped so low that 1) people tell you to eat more and you can't possibly be healthy, 2) you can feel every single bump, lump and knot in your breast tissue, 3) you have to start bone scans because your doctor worries if you're healthy enough for strong bones, 4) you don't know anymore if you're healthy or not?
How about the time that I was having problems with my period and wanted to talk to other women about it? I'm not posting that in an open forum where people can offer advice without ever having had the equipment to really understand.
How about the time I went to ride in a group ride as a beginner and couldn't keep up.
Shall we chat about the lack of women's jerseys in the game we were discussing, the fact that there really isn't a well developed pro women's cycling circuit (or a women's Tour de France), or that some coaches still don't see much of a difference between female cyclists and "long legged sluts?" (Seriously - google that one)
If I want to really vent about how some dude was a real jerk to me, I want to hear other like minds' opinions on the matter. Not "that's how cycling is, get used to it!"
Shall we discuss the number of pros (men vs women) at the Ironman World Champs? "Oh but look at the demographics!" You say. "They don't support equal numbers of men vs women..." Let's talk about creating the atmosphere to encourage equality, rather than keeping a certain gender limited... (Why the hell would women need to vote??? They must be crazy.)
Understand, I'm not trying to change a culture. I simply want to connect with people who have similar issues - physically AND socially. I don't want to hear "get used to it" with no real solution. I want a plan to handle it, or some empathy when nothing should/can be done.... I want to know how OTHER women have handled the situation - not given advice by people who really don't understand the true social/professional cost to the woman of handling said situation. And most of those who can understand just happen to be female.
See, speaking out about harassment or perceived inequalities garners a serious negative response. And frequently the whistle blower faces consequences. Don't believe me? Google it. Or just wait for the comments to start coming in on this post. One of the other things is that this post is based on my experiences. Which brings up the most crucial point of this post. You might be surprised how rapidly people will disqualify your actual experiences based on their opinion. But you can't change the past, so your experience simply doesn't matter and doesn't count toward the actual issue being discussed.
Bottom line? Harassment toward women exists in the sports culture no matter how long it's been since Suffrage, Title IX or since the first woman snuck into the Boston Marathon. If you want to see more women in the ranks, you need a place where the more experienced female cyclists can help mentor newer women, and give them tips on how to maneuver a tricky social situation. You need them to have "refuge" in a way that they can respect the opinions of those who have been there before, not given the opinions of those that don't want to believe problems still exist. Want more women in the sport? Give them a place they can blossom rather than a place they remain silent. Give them the start of confidence, and courage, and enable them to further develop those traits in a atmosphere where they can thrive. Give them the best of both worlds.