This morning I stumbled across a listing for a “Boy’s All Terrain Fat Bike” from Mongoose which had me wondering – why was it a “boy’s” bike and not just a  bike for kids? The product specifications and description only added to my confusion:

Mongoose boy’s bike gearing: 7 speeds with Shimano rear derailleur for all types of riding. . . The aluminum steel frame is both strong and durable and allows young boys to explore their surroundings on a true all-terrain bicycle.”

What makes this a bike for boys?
What makes this a bike for boys?

It’s clear through initiatives such as the National Forum on Women in Bicycling, there is interest in encouraging more of us to take up cycling. But I can tell you as a rider, racer and mom, all the positive changes can be undone by the little things.

It starts with descriptions like the one above. While I understand there are women-specific bicycles, a bike like the Mongoose Fat Bike does not have gender-specific design or gearing. The name and description reinforces the idea biking is a “boy’s sport” to both girls and parents. (By they way, color and description does not a gender-specific bike make).

"Thank you guys for supporting your wives and girlfriends!"

It continues at local races when announcers thank the “wives and girlfriends” for supporting their men while racing, but don’t share similar sentiments when the women ride. Understanding the announcers do not intend anything more than to add some color and humor to the race, comments like these can come off as sexist, and could be off-putting to those spectators (including our daughter) who might otherwise be interested in joining the fun.

Lumping young girls in with older boys, or cutting women’s races short because of scheduling issues, discourages not only potential racers, but also those of us thinking about getting our children to join us at races. Let’s think about the girls racing with “big boys” during the national cyclocross championships – talk about a situation that was probably intimidating and discouraging for racers and their families.

We need to encourage, not discourage, girls to ride.
Our words and actions can encourage, or discourage, girls to ride.

Even as I write this, I know there will be those who think I’m making too big a deal out of these items. I have seen those racers who dare speak up about shortened races effectively shut down on social channels as being whiny or overly critical towards race organizers.

So what can we do? Stop unnecessarily labeling items by gender. Cut out the sexist commentary. Give girls and women’s races the same respect as the boys and men. Take critiques and criticisms seriously but not personally.

There is no question that those in the industry are making progress as they advocate for women riding. Let’s not negate these efforts through a “death by a thousand cuts.”

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9 thoughts on “Death by a thousand cuts

  • January 26, 2015 at 8:59 am
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    ***This morning I stumbled across a listing for a “Boy’s All Terrain Fat Bike” from Mongoose which had me wondering – why was it a “boy’s” bike and not just a bike for kids? The product specifications and description only added to my confusion:

    “Mongoose boy’s bike gearing: 7 speeds with Shimano rear derailleur for all types of riding. . . The aluminum steel frame is both strong and durable and allows young boys to explore their surroundings on a true all-terrain bicycle.”****

    Well, my take on this one question is that GRRRLZ can achieve the same with one speed.

  • January 26, 2015 at 11:23 am
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    Once upon a time women & girls wore skirts. The bicycle was built with a lower cross bar frame to allow a female person to mount the bike without swinging her leg over the back of the seat in an unladylike manner, and to pedal without the skirt riding up on the cross bar. Today girls & women don’t have to wear a skirt, so this design tradition isn’t needed. It’s time for it to go away.

  • January 26, 2015 at 4:20 pm
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    You might say that a little thing like saying a bike is “for boys” doesn’t matter, but this post at Sociological Images suggests it does matter, or at least, it has done so around 1985. : http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2015/01/10/chart-of-the-week-what-happened-to-women-in-computer-science/ …they suggest that women and men were computer science majors at equal rates until 1985 or so, when suddenly the “personal computer” was marketed as something you would buy a boy. Interesting stuff.

  • January 27, 2015 at 8:38 am
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    Thank you for sharing that article Heather – what an interesting read, and further validation of the importance of avoiding unnecessarily gender labeling. I have to believe that these changes won’t just benefit girls, but also boys!

  • January 28, 2015 at 8:42 am
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    During the Cyclocross Nationals, the announcers commented frequently about Rachel Lloyd balancing her professional racing career with the demands motherhood. There were no similar comments about any of the men. Of course women have been being mothers and having successful careers for years, but somehow it’s still a focus of sports commentators? And on the flip side – are there no fathers in the men’s races? Or is there contribution to their children less noteworthy than Rachel’s? I’ve seen some very amazing CX dads, so I doubt it’s the latter. The gender stereotyping doesn’t work for anyone.
    Beyond Cyclocross, I’m amazed at the number of professional sports announcers who still refer to women competitors as girls. It’s not the word ‘girls’, that bothers me, it’s how weird it would be for the same announcers to refer to the men as ‘boys’.
    In most cases, people genuinely don’t intend to hurt anyone with commentary like this. But if certain descriptions no longer sound like or feel like a compliment when you try in on the other gender – it just isn’t one.
    Thanks for posting. I know we can all do better.

  • January 28, 2015 at 12:26 pm
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    Yes, yes, yes!!! The balance of “motherhood plus whatever” starts to feel “out of balance” when you consider how many men, including my husband, are sharing the responsibility of parenting.

    It’s a little weird for me to get fired up about these things now because, admittedly, when I was in college, I would role my eyes at anyone who said “I’m not a girl, I’m a woman.” But I’ve started to understand that it is less about the actually word, and more about the equality – men and women, boys and girls. Not men and girls – that sounds a bit creepy. (Maybe that’s why at some point I switched from “Supergirl” to “Wonder Woman”).

  • January 30, 2015 at 6:34 pm
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    Right on! If this were reversed and mens’ races were cut short, you would bet no one would be calling the men “whiny” for complaining! I just read an article about how there is a shortage of women in cyclo-cross, and I’ve toyed with the idea of trying it out (I run and ride, and love trail running so it sounds like it’s right up my alley). I would be very sad, however, if I drove a long distance to a race just to have it shortened. And, if I got to my first race and found out that my race had been combined with a men’s race, I might be to intimidated to try. Loved hearing from you weekly on MM, and love reading your new blog. Keep up the good work Kristin!

  • February 1, 2015 at 11:43 am
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    Hey Jenn! Thanks for visiting and commenting – I do hope you will give cyclocross a try. The more of us that get involved, and raise our voices (in positive ways), the better the situation will become. If you do decide the join the fun, please tell me if you have any questions, or how it goes!

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