Prize & Prejudice

My alert rider/readers have clued me into a couple of interesting developments.
One is that a young woman named Juliana Buhring has circumnavigated the globe at high speed (supposedly faster than her countryman Mark Beaumont, whom I met back in Edenbruh 2007 or 2008). The press has been disappointingly mute, unlike the blogosphere.
The other is the tale of a Vermont mountain bike recreation park hosting a race where the pro women will win more than the top men.  Nic Coury’s video can be seen here–it features Olympian Georgia Gould and Lea Davison (who is another gifted Middlebury kid) expressing the very same valid reasons why women deserve an equal purse that I used when futilely arguing with Thomas Frischknecht (Swiss racing star, slightly faded by now, who holds antiquated ideas about women and sport) and other unevolved men. It seems to me there were even some women who agreed that we don’t deserve equal prize money because we don’t show up in equal numbers.

As if we were to blame for the myriad barriers that hold women back from the start lines of mountain bike and road racing!
Sheesh. But anyway, slowly slowly it’s become obvious that in a global market downturn that even the money of women, people of color, and people of furrow (= old fogeys) has serious income potential for the Boy’s Club.  IFFFFFFFF they figure out the right language.

Which brings me to this year’s winner of the Golden Testicle Award.
Delta Cycle’s ad, featuring a couple of bikes mounted on a pole like that in a fire station. There are some crumpled dollar bills strewn round on the wooden floor. And the ad copy reads: “This Pole Is Not For Dancing”.

Comments of course are very, very welcome. Comments imply engagement or investment in these women, and on that topic.  Here’s the text of a letter I wrote to the magazine (Bicycle Retailer& Industry News, a trade magazine read by shop owners and bike manufacturers. It has only lately become slightly less testosterone-poisoned, thanks to a welcome influx of bright women reporters.

BRAIN does such important work revealing strategies for marketing, spotting trends,  and sharing stories about this little fief of ours.  As always, Charlie and I gobble up every word of your important, wonderful magazine, and analyze it to death, ‘solving’ the problems of the IBDs over lunch, in our treehouse at 3 a.m, most any old time.

As  old farts with a combined 80 years experience(is it fair to add two people’s mileage to impress?) we feel we have something to offer in the way of perspective, having personally invented mountain biking on aluminum (charlie) and leisure mountain biking while female (me).

What I really appreciated was ads and stories about the importance of attracting and retaining women in cycling. I loved the “family friendly” ad about Striders, with its useful statistic about the 80% of buying decisions made by women. Megan Tompkin’s story was spot-on. It re-iterates what Lynette wrote about LAST summer, the fact that 15% fewer bikes are being sold, the trend is downward, and that inclusion of minorities, older riders and women could  reverse the decline.
And then we were puzzled by an ambivalent editorial which wondered why Discussions About Women’s Participation still haven’t gotten anywhere.
I am very familiar with ‘awareness.’ Solutions are another thing entirely, and involve rigorous study followed by action.

I routinely ask at local shops if they have an idea about the percentage of women who buy bikes, and it has always been  “about a third” .
I haven’t heard “a half” yet (this is from the mechanic’s , not the owner’s perspective.)
When the problem in the sports (not only bicycle, but our industry has a particularly bad case of testosterone poisoning) world is as deep as entrenched male dominance (I regret that these words seem inflammatory at worst, and cliche at best) , then there need to be more women’s panels. And more women CEOs.
“What can we do to appeal more to women,” the industry wonders. Awareness would help.
The outside back cover ad, Delta Cycle’s “This Pole Wasn’t Made For Dancing” with its unfortunate allusion to a stripper bar, perfectly embodies the confusion of messages the industry puts out.

I understand you probably can’t just turn down ad money flatly. But aren’t there standards for magazines that involve respect for women, non-degrading, non-sexist content and advertising? I will happily donate my time to consult about creating an industry standard to defeat sexist advertising using education, awareness, and if neccessary, really cute prizes for those who want to maintain the boy’s club atmosphere
Hre;s a letter I wrote about 2O years ago, and a bit of background so you know to what lengths I went to to right these wrongs.
For years as an industry insider disguised as a racing fool disguised as a journalist,  I collected data on the state of Women In Cycling.  I saw how the women who rose to the top of their companies, didn’t get a whole lot of saddle time anymore. They were dedicated, athletic people who got into the industry for their love of the pastime, then wound up so busy they rarely rode.

I determined that I could afford a little time to create a camp especially for them last year, and invited forty women ranging from Suntour’s General Manager Sandy Coulter to Vogue magazine’s eminent author, Laura Fraser.  Twenty three women came:  top racers, bike politicians, writers, commuters. They came so we could change things. It was a historical weekend, favored by good weather, sumptuous rides, gnarly food and great company.

We tackled little problems, like how to get more saddle time, and then tackled the big ones like doubling the number of active cyclists.  We sat in  a story circle, tossed problem after problem in the air (with a tape recorder waving) and fired answers at them.

After agreeing to form an organization, whose working title is “Women Of Power In The Industry”, we know what our mission is:

Identify the barriers women face in the cycling subculture. Basically the industry still behaves as though women are a “specialty” market.  A limited view, when the numbers tell that women buy over half the bikes. Common observation tells me that many of the buyers then don’t use them again.  Like joining a gym, and staying away. It’s partly the gym’s fault for not fostering participation, and definitely our industry’s fault for not fostering more female participation. Women need  prodding mixed with encouragement.  I’ll be more specific:  shame is not a tool of encouragement.  WOMBATS is such a huge success because, given a network, twelve hundred women provide their own activities, and bring in more neophytes in the process.

Help the industry over some of its own stereotyping barriers.  Need I enumerate?

–Create guidelines to help bike shop owners sensitize employees to the perspective of a woman customer who is not yet an enthusiast.

–Stay in touch with a letter sharing our views about how to best serve the women’s market.

– Initiate a task force to study ways to encourage girls and women to use their bicycles more.

–Heighten media awareness of women athletes, innovators, and plain ol’ cyclists…in non-cycling journals!

–Design women-friendly activities.  For example, make instructions for women to teach cycle technique and safety to little girls, something I’ve a bit of experience with.  Or get racers or female bike cops to talk to elementary schools. Or do a one-hour talk about “shopping for a bike that actually fits”.

Celebrate the hero in all cyclists.  We don’t particularly resonate with the “cooler than thou” approach, but we definitely want to hear more about women making a difference, and our own history.

~ by jacquiephelan on June 17, 2013.

5 Responses to “Prize & Prejudice”

  1. I don’t have much to say at the moment, except: WOO! Thanks for being awesome. (Tell Charlie the same, if ya don’t mind.) I’ll probably be trying to track ya down to talk about some of this stuff in the next few years. Perhaps the sadder part of not moving to the Bay Area is the idea that it’ll be that much longer before I might have a chance of meeting you badasses (and the treehouse?). Anyway…

    I’m lucky to be working at a shop with a feminist boss, for once. :]

    ATKS, TTFN.

  2. fyi …another piece of women being awesome. the dirty kanza men’s record & woman’s is about 10 minutes apart. pretty amazing for a 200 mile gravel road race. the woman’s record holder is rebecca rusch.

  3. I am an old foggy now (64) but when I was a pro mountain bike racer my prize for top woman mountain biker in the down hill (at a national) was three hundred dollars. The men’s prize was three thousand dollars. I was not very far behind the top men but I had to pass the woman who started in front of me on a path with littered big rocks on both sides. We had no suspension in those days either front nor back and every time I swerved out of the path to overtake her the rocks slowed me down. I had to wait for a corner with two lines through it. I was riding my prized Ibis chrorme-moly Avion.

    Things have changed a bit on the racing front but when I go to my favorite mountain bike store they still steer me towards bikes made for women that are heavier and less speed oriented than the men’s models. With a short wheel base and steeper angles they are not meant to do the things I like to do (go fast on rough terrain).

    Jackie, you might remember me as a fellow racer back in the 80’s and 90’s. We finished a Sizzler holding hands. You had problems early on and I crashed on the last steep downhill. I was thrilled – finishing with a multinational women’s mountain bike champion. I rode and trained with the infamous BTU (Berkley Trails Union or more literally Big Tough and Ugly). Do you remember? I am taking care of my husband (24-hour in home care) who has terminal cancer (I cry every day) and can only ride on my indoor trainer but I would really like to ride with a real woman wombat some time when this is all over.

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