“Representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.” – Gerbner & Gross
Whenever the topic of women’s cycling having the same coverage as the men comes up, the discussion typically reduces itself to a handful of reasons people agree upon as being the underlying issues of why cycling isn’t covered equally. You will hear the argument of how advertisers don’t invest in women’s coverage, and how the money involved isn’t the same. Or how about the one where someone points out how the women’s races aren’t as interesting to watch compared to the men’s. We’ve all heard these talking points, and we all know them as being a part of the conversation. What I find most interesting about this topic, and the way in which we talk about this issue, is that I have no interest in all of these excuses we fall back on. What interests me is that the wrong question is being asked. We shouldn’t be asking “why is it that women’s cycling isn’t getting equal coverage as the men?” What we should be asking is, “what is it doing to us as a society, community, and as a people, when we don’t elevate women in sports like we do with the men?” What is the human cost of omitting half of the population from being visible in an arena that elevates the human race. Because when you’re given the tools to understand what this does to us as a people, it’s no longer a question of “why don’t we”, but it becomes a question of what is the societial cost of an absence of representation? What are we losing when we only give value to men’s achievements in a sport, and not women?
There’s a lot of passion involved in cycling. The passion the fans have for their favourite teams or team players; there’s the connection you have when you’re a spectator among fellow spectators watching a race, and even being at an event has this electric feel to it. It’s exciting and it connects you to the people around you; you’re invested emotionally (maybe sometimes financially), but either way, this thrill is almost exclusively to our connection to men’s cycling. Yes, I am aware that people are invested in some female cycling athletes; however, that same passion to the same extent, is so absent from women’s cycling, my heart aches at the thought of it.
Nonetheless, I believe that it is possible for people to be connected to women’s cycling like they are to the men, we just need to be seen because we are barely visible in the grand scheme of cycling coverage as a sport. This lack of representation further maintains something more insidious; the ideology that women are, and will always be, unequal to men because of forces outside of our control. When you start to understand the role our institutional structures play in this however, arguments start to breakdown, and you realize it has everything to do with the lens in which we view women. It’s a vicious cycle. So let’s examine this lens, and let’s look at who is holding it.
Sports media is primarily owned, operated, written and published by men, and when one group of people control a large portion of media, there is a large chance that it’ll only be told from the perspective of that group. When there is a lack of representation, or a complete absence of visibility of a group of people, there’s a term for it; it’s called symbolic annihilation. When you don’t see a group of people represented on a large platform like sports media, it can be akin to denying their identity. We are being omitted as legitimate athletes when we’re not visible in cycling. Another part of the collateral damage of symbolic annihilation is when men in media hold power over how we see female athletes; it can result in a false representation of female athletes as a whole. Think Assos and their women’s apparel models of yesteryear. This gives a space for female athletic stereotypes to breed, which in turn, some women adopt. If that’s how you see yourself being represented in the mirror of media, that can be who you become. When young girls are exposed to damaging stereotypes through a skewed representation, it is said that we have the ability to internalize oppression, and therefore, act accordingly to it. In turn, this leads to women and men facilitating the environment that trivializes the existence of sexism in cycling, and sports as a whole.
We all become the content we consume and are exposed to, and in that framework, media representation matters because it shapes how we see the world, and how we relate to what’s around us. It also shapes how we identify ourselves as well. We’ve all grown into this sport with this bias, and w all perpetuate it in one way or another when we don’t know how to look for it. It is important for people to understand that it takes a conscious effort to override and unlearn these biases, and you must actively seek out, and consume, new media.
Here are a few people and websites I recommend that you include in your daily social media experience:
- Amanda Batty has a fantastic Instagram account, which she uses to not only draw attention to women in the DH world, but also she uses her platform to draw attention to the double standards that are abound in our cycling world.
- Ella Cycling Tips, and all of their wonderful women’s cycling content they share with everyone.
- Just reading the daily Women’s UCI Cycling News is a great way to know who’s who in the women’s World peloton
- I enjoy following any female Canadian cyclist in the pro peloton, and even if they aren’t Canadian, these ladies are still in my heart: Lex Albrecht, Alison Jackson, Leah Kirchmann, Krsti Lay, Julie Kuliecza.
- Voxwomen is a youtube channel I highly recommend you check out and follow.
- Pretty Damn Fast is an Instagram account that posts all things women’s cycling in all of its forms, and they work along with Bicycling magazine too!
- And just keeping up with Crit Nasty; they are amazing.