As a female, the world is full of “incidents”. We are raised to steer clear of incidents and taught how to fight our way out of one involving strangers. When it’s with someone you know though, it can come with unnamable contention. These illusive, mysterious things happen that need addressing but no one is willing call by name. Organizations tip-toe around the conversations, call meetings to address “the incident” and talk vaguely about how to move forward and do better in the future so that we don’t see another “incident”. People nod along, no one gets specific, the men often look confused, but all the women understand exactly what is happening; someone is trying to have a conversation about sexual harassment / misconduct / discrimination.
Cycling is no exception to incidents of sexual harassment within the sport. In fact, I’d argue that it can be one of the worst environments due to the fact that our community prides itself on being inclusive to the disenfranchised (which is a bit ironic). I’ve heard about everything from unwelcome sexual advances in races, groping in group rides, sexual harassment at post event barbecues. Even between friends who you thought were just sending you a note to check in. If you’re a woman thinking this sounds familiar, its not just you, it’s the culture of the society we live in, and the sport we participate in. It’s a culture that needs to change and is working to change, but we will only get so far by continuing to refer to these behaviours as just incidents. Our sport is rife with sexually inappropriate behaviours that range from mild transgressions, to full on sexual assault at all levels, and it is not okay. Referring to these as “incidents” implies that they are singular and seldom occurring, which completely dilutes the longterm consequences of how damaging these experiences are when they are not acknowledged outright. This is a culture that has repeatedly ignored and condoned sexual misconduct and sexual discrimination. It’s a culture that needs to change and to do so, these behaviours need to be called out for what they are. Sexually inappropriate.
For the men reading (because I know you are). Let me be clear:
- By accepting your invitation to train with you I am not accepting to have you make comments about my ass, tits, or the way either looks when I climb a hill, take a pull, or reach into my pocket.
- By joining you for a group ride I am not opening the door for you to “accidentally” put your hand on my ass instead of my back to “help” me up a climb. I don’t need a push, we are going for an easy ride, my heart rate hasn’t gone above 140 bpm. Keep your hands to yourself thanks.
- By swapping contact information or adding you to FaceBook to stay in contact on training rides and race strategy I am not asking to receive text messages about how we should make our teammate swap rooms so we can “relieve tension” after the race nor do I want to receive (or send) pictures of genitalia.
- Hold yourself (and your friends) to a HIGHER STANDARD.
When I call you out on this behavior the fact that I have gone on training/group rides with you, carpooled to/from an event, or talked strategy with you was not me opening the door for any of these (or other) forms of sexually inappropriate behaviour. Which is what the above behaviours are.
I know what you’re thinking (I’ve heard it from more than one of you) and you’re right. I DID make eye contact with you while we chatted over coffee mid ride and parking-lot beers. I DID ask questions and nod. It’s called active listening, being polite, and generally just being friendly. I wasn’t secretly telling you I wanted to have sex with you. I’m not interested in you. Enough with the “but you were flirting”, I promise you I was not, and the fact that you are trying to justify your inappropriate behaviour, tells me you know you crossed a line. The fact that you persist despite the fact that I have outright expressed disinterest, brings us into sexual harassment territory. You are an adult, you know what boundaries are, and just because we don spandex and race around like banshees does not magic those boundaries away. Respect mine.
If you’re a coach, a club president, a board members, or anyone with any sort of skin in the game, and you see, or hear a comment that makes you roll your eyes, let out a groan, or want to throw up; call that garbage out for what it is, it’s sexual harassment. Odds are it’s not the first time that person has behaved that way; what’s worse, it may not be the first time she’s curbed his advances. Unfortunately, the women in this sport don’t get the luxury of taking a break from dealing with sexually inappropriate behaviour. If you really want to do your sport and the women in your life justice, you won’t take a break from calling the behaviour out for what it actually is, otherwise you might as well cross the line yourself by resigning to complicity.
Erin Ruttan and Kara Hagedorn
For further reading on changes occurring on the top tier of women’s cycling, which address these issues:
For those who respond well to pyramids and graphs:
*Please note that this is one of a series of posts we will be writing to address various problems in the cycling community that involve both men and women participating in and perpetuating this type of toxic environment. We acknowledge that no one gender is singularly guilty of all crimes.