Everyone wants to fit in, and we are no different. For a while we participated in the locker-room talk, we flexed our muscles to prove we were strong enough to hang, and we took in our men’s cut kits, so as not to make a fuss. We were young, stupid, and alienating the women around us who didn’t want to play into that culture. But isn’t that what the teenage years are for? Isn’t everyone uncomfortable in their own skin, trying to figure out who they are, upon realizing they suddenly don’t fit in with their peers? Those of us “blessed” with a feminine figure are forced to relating to the descriptor of female in some way or another. It can take a long time to reconcile that, being female and feminine, doesn’t have to mean you’re weak, quiet, emotional, or anything else typically associated with the gender. We took that time, we did that work within ourselves, and we reconciled what “female” looked like for us and life was good. And then we started bike racing, and suddenly it was puberty all over again, and this time we are standing naked in the boys locker room.
We didn’t really fit the world we entered. You wanted us there (same as many teenage boys would welcome a naked lady in their locker room), but you didn’t really know what to do with us. Some of you told us we couldn’t/shouldn’t come on certain rides because it would be too fast. But there weren’t enough of us to have our own group ride where we could learn skills on our own. So we played this dance with you, where we set conditions to our femininity. Those of us who grew thick skin, or a venom tongue, and kept jumping through hoops to “prove” ourselves saw many of our sisters quit. Similar to our teenage years, we want to be part of the team, but this time we didn’t want it if it meant alienating the women around us. We’ve been her and we are her. So instead, we are forced to redefine what it means to be female in a sport, what feminism looks like to us, and how we get back to the freedom we first felt when we took up the bike, without constantly being on guard.
Given that, for a pivotal moment the bicycle was a symbol of freedom for women, and also given that, Canadian women are crushing the world stage (in multiple disciplines) and Canadian men are not so much; it’s unclear to me how locally, provincially, and nationally we can’t seem to get our heads out of the dark ages on this one. Yes our numbers are small, but much of that is because yelling at us to “hold our line” or “get out of the way”, and refusing to wait for us to change our own flat and instead changing it for us (chivalrous as this one is, but also fuck chivalry) doesn’t help us learn and it doesn’t make us better. It just makes us feel, well, discouraged. We know that you invited us in with the best intentions. We believe you want(ed) us to be a part of the group, you just failed to plan what that would look like and we were left to make our own space.
So, we broke up with you. Because we felt we could do better. We have a system to dismantle, opinions to change, myths to debunk, a whole culture to revolutionize, and races to win at the same time. And we know, deep down, you also want us to succeed at this too. And maybe then we can go back to forgetting about the F word, but until then, I’ll stick to my feminism.