Perpetuating Raunch Culture in Sport

“If Male Chauvinist Pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women, and of ourselves.” Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy.

When I leave this sport, I want to leave it different than when I entered it. For the better, and for all women. Prior to cycling, I didn’t relate to feminists nor did I see a feminist outlook as being an asset to my life, that is, until I became a cyclist. Before the bike I didn’t think I experienced unequal treatment amongst my peers and work colleagues, nor did I feel I experienced a sense of disenfranchisement. I also made sure I wasn’t perceived as a girly-girl, or someone who prescribed to the stereotypes that are generally associated with “being a girl”. I was a tomboy, and revelled in the idea that I was thought of as “one of the guys” amongst my peers. When I entered the cycling community though, I met a new group of people, and by being put in that situation, I suddenly realized that, when you’re all dressed the same, biases tend to come out.

At first I enjoyed the challenge of having to “prove myself” to many men that I came across in this sport. They thought I was weak and inexperienced because I was a girl. I thought it was a playful way of showing just how strong I was, how tough I was, and how much I wasn’t what people expected of me. However, as I grew in the sport and expanded my goals, I became a different sort of person than I was when I started. I began to question why I had to keep this charade up, why I had to continuously prove my worth. And how is it that, all these men shared the exact same low expectations me? And why is it that no guy I ever rode with, appeared to have this charade as their background as they navigated their passion for cycling?

Being on the bike was freedom to me, as it is for everyone who lives this life. Lots of freedom, and lots of time to think to yourself. I once enjoyed being viewed as one of the guys; a girl whom guys felt comfortable being obscene around because I wouldn’t be offended by such behaviour, someone who can be as raunchy as the guys, and most importantly, a girl who does not adhere to anything that is considered feminine in all of it’s dainty, emotional, weak, and hapless stereotypes. In other words, I became a female chauvinist to some extent. I refused to sexualize myself though, but I definitely became unapologetically patriotic to taking on toxic behaviour towards my fellow cycling companions. It was an easy role to play at first, but as I got older, I began to see how playing this part helped facilitate a kind of environment that wasn’t inclusive to all types of women. It came at the expense of other women, and I soon learned, at the expense of myself as well.

I believe a lot of girls who enter sports have this internal war raging within them when it comes to trying to present ourselves as athletes -in all of its ideal attributes- yet also realizing men see you first and foremost as a girl, and therefore, you’re defacto feminine. And by feminine, I mean all of those archaic and harmful negative notions of what it means to be feminine, and to some extent, an emotional, flighty sex object. Even the ideal characteristic of what it means to be an athlete are all attributes we assign to what we think of as quintessentially masculine, the strong, committed leaders. So, how is the playing field of this environment remotely even? It’s because it’s not.

As a woman entering this environment, realizing you’re viewed as someone who ascribes to the most stereotypical attributes of femininity (even if you don’t), you quickly choose between either becoming female chauvinist, or completely redefining what it means to be a woman by breaking down such stereotypes, especially the ones in which you end up coming up against again and again. Which undoubtedly is a far harder and lonelier road to travel, so understandably, we find less women here.  We also have our bystanding women, those who may not participate as “one of the guys” yet fail to speak up when they witness female chauvinism because it doesn’t hurt their sense of identity, thinking it doesn’t infringe upon their relationships with other women, but it does.

Women need to acknowledge that our history in cycling is problematic; a short while ago booth babes were still used at Interbike International Expo in Vegas; to this day, some companies still sexually objectify women in order to sell their products or events, and at the same time still try to target us as consumers for such things; the podium girl debate is STILL A DEBATE, and worst of all, some women don’t think this affects how they are viewed as human beings. I’m telling you, those who are still apprehensive and in denial, it affects you and how you’re treated, it affects how you see yourself, and how you see and treat your fellow female cycling competitors. You just think it doesn’t because you’re “one of the guys”, you’re safe. I’m here to pull back the curtain and show you the game is rigged and you’re helping it, previously unbeknownst, but now actively.

We all want to see the sport we love thrive. We have talked about ways to encourage women to join us at the start line, but we need to take an honest look at the environment we are fostering at our races and in our clubs. And something I can’t stress enough, something that needs some serious self-reflection, when girls are acting like “one of the guys”, what exactly are we saying about the guys?

So now it’s your turn to look to the future. When you leave the sport, talking to the next generation of female racers coming up, what will you say when they ask you what you did during this pivotal moment in our history. Where standing up for what’s right and facilitating a positive behavioural environment is key; will you tell them the truth, that when we talked about these issues, you decided to do nothing, and to remain on the wrong side of history?

If you continue to ignore those of us who say it exists, that our community is ripe with toxic behaviour, and sexual harassment is nearly normalized in some circles, you’re essentially saying to the future you “even though they said it existed, I said not me, so that was a good enough reason to not make things better”.


Further Readings:

On sexual harassment between women:

On raunch culture:

Raunch Culture and its Devastating Effects on Women

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