Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why I'm Leaving Pinkbike

EDIT (May 15, 2015): for those of you here because of outside articles (including the DailyDot article), please see this article when you're done reading here. For the other blogs that weren't posted on my column, please go back to my blog and take a look.

Most of you know that I've been a pretty active member of Pinkbike for a few years now. It's been a great ride with lots of connection, opportunity and information. Because I have enjoyed it so much and have enjoyed so many of you, I want you to know why today is the last day I will be an active or contributing member of Pinkbike.

As usual, it’s a bit of a haul, so your continued patience is appreciated.

Last spring, after a few well-received internet postings and front page features, I received a message from a moderator at Pinkbike referencing my outspoken opinions and offering me a dedicated column on the sizeable bike site. I was floored. I was also a little overwhelmed at the prospect, but excited, despite feeling as though I wasn’t a desirable candidate for the job due to the consistency and volume of negative feedback on the majority of the pieces I wrote. The Pinkbike rep was kind and funny, and told me that they weren’t looking for someone whose opinion was popular but rather, a writer who got responses. I was told that the column would be based around my opinion – that’s what seemed to engage many of the active Pinkbike users, so that’s what we would use. And it made sense to me: Pinkbike thrives off of clicks and they make money by showing these numbers to advertisers and brands, citing engagement and exposure, and my drivel usually received upwards of 300 (or more) comments. I’m kind of an asshole. They also offered to pay me for my shit opinion, so why the hell not? I was thrilled. I was tickled pink. In fact, I was proud. I had a voice, and it was being recognized and actually sought after. I told my mom. I emailed my brothers. I called my best friend and we laughed until we were blue in the face.

And so I wrote. I wrote funny things and I wrote awful things. I engaged with readers and commenters, with passerby and Creepy Steve. I laughed a lot and I’ll admit: I also cried a lot. I learned quite a bit, too. Mostly how awful humans are, but also about people who can read between the lines, and readers who believe in a writer. I became educated in what buttons to push for maximum reaction, and I figured out what really incensed my audience most (pretty much everything). I wrote more. And every post, I learned more about myself and my voice. I became immune to criticisms in my private life and found myself laughing at the haters who couldn’t believe that I had friends. I wrote a lot about our sport, about my love for it, and about what we need to change. Not everything I wrote got published, but I was given excellent feedback from people invested in my success as to why. I found a lot of answers.

But it wasn’t heaven. Behind the scenes, I was continually admonished for aggressively responding to commenters who would insult everything about me and some of whom actually contacted me outside of PB, going so far as to find my home address and threaten me with it. I was told to ignore them and stop giving the trolls what they wanted. Everyone I spoke with kept telling me how I made it worse and made myself an easy target by fighting back, and that if I stopped reading the comments, I wouldn’t suffer so much. But it didn’t stop. Some of the things I wrote about, I received emailed threats about. I got trolled on Instagram as a ‘feminist bitch’ and told I was a ‘bully’ (even by other women!) for speaking my mind. And so I wrote more about it, about the sexism and the misogyny and the hate and the bullshit, skewed abuse. I wrote about how we need change in the way we see our athletes and the way we treat each other. Again and again and again, I was told that readers didn’t want to read that nonsense. I was too outspoken.

My final indictment was in August of 2014 when I opened a bike review comparison by a male Pinkbike writer who compared the malleability and handling of a bike frame to a ‘girlfriend after too many shots’ in that both would do anything you asked.

I commented in a mild manner about how as a female PB user, I didn’t appreciate the comparison and that maybe, a less sexist sentence could have been used. The immediate response from male commenters was swift, fierce and angry. “Maybe it’s not about you”, one commenter said. And I responded. I responded with logic, with care, and with reasoning as to how sexual violence and coercion are big enough issues in our society that we don’t need to contribute to that culture in the bike industry. About how we should rise above it. And I said ‘rape culture’. Because, in fact, that’s what it was. Under the definition of ‘rape culture’, this sexist, hateful comparison definitely fell smack dab in the middle of it. But still. I said the words ‘rape culture’.

Pinkbike lost their minds. I was vilified in the comments, called 'psychotic' and told I was 'defamatory'. It was joked about by other users that no one had been raped, and how dare I feel this way? I was even emailed by angry users for daring to suggest that this beloved reviewer was somehow contributing to our societal breakdown. Worst of all, I was shut down by the Pinkbike editors. 
Immediately. Repeatedly. Beginning three days later, I stopped having my columns published. I wrote a new one, an opinion piece about Olympic inclusion, and it was rejected because one editor didn’t think I did enough ‘research’. I emailed my contact and my editor, asking why. I was given pedestrian answers and broken excuses; the classic political heave-ho. So I emailed more, insisting on an answer. And then, despite this author’s repeated sexism and misogyny in his bike reviews, I got a call from the head honcho of PB and told that my interactions were again, too aggressive. He agreed with me that there was an issue, but dammit, I was too loud about it. I was too outspoken. I needed to calm down. All the while, every time a disgruntled reader stumbled upon my comment on PB and disagreed with me enough to send an email through my website or Facebook, I would receive threats and abuse. I was told by one classy gentleman that he would “show [me] rape culture” if I didn’t shut my “fat ass feminist bitch face”. Beautiful. 

The bike review was eventually changed to read “your girlfriend (or boyfriend)”, but that didn’t stop the backlash. But I kept writing and submitting, despite the chill of the frigid political exile into which I had been cast. I kept hoping that eventually, logic would prevail and my editor would be able to talk the other editors and the approval board into forgiving m sins and allowing my column to continue. All the while, I still hadn’t received an official notice that my column was suspended or discontinued or even an email acknowledging the entire situation. No answers, just silence. And it sucked. Knowing that I had shoveled myself into a corner, despite the truth in my comments, really, really sucked. It hurt to know that as a member of PB, I was only allowed a certain level of criticism, but that others attacking me was fully reasonable. And no one else stepped in to say "You know, she has a point". It sucked on all levels. 

But I began dealing with it. Everybody fails at some point, and this was clearly industry suicide. I convinced myself that it was my fault and that keeping my mouth shut was just a better route altogether. And I actually began to believe it. After six months in contributor purgatory, I submitted a short interview article this last January with a few pros about racing with the full expectation it would again be rejected, but it was not. It made the front page and was received fairly well by readers. I then spoke to my editor, who recommended we sit down at Sea Otter and chat about my articles and renewing my column with a couple of the other members of the editorial staff. I was ecstatic. I thought I was finally free from the vengeful reach of the personally offended – after all, the gatekeepers of the largest bike website in the world have bigger things to worry about than one comment, right?! 

And so I wrote another piece and laughed; it was funny! It was well-written, it was informed and it was opinionated. It was about my opinion being just an opinion and that folks shouldn’t drink my water, but how they should form (and voice!) their own opinions. It was half poke at myself and my big mouth and half apology for speaking out. It was encouragement to every reader and watcher and commenter on Pinkbike to create their own strong and funny and engaging sense of selves. And it was rejected, under some guise of ‘sharing it with my followers’. But ever persistent and ever optimistic, I wrote another. And another. And three more after that. I was bubbling over with confidence from selling a few articles to other media outlets and copywriting for one of my favorite companies, and it was a new year! There was so much to talk about and share! But when the meeting at Sea Otter didn't materialize (and wasn't even brought up in conversations with my editor, with whom I chatted multiple times and who seemed to be happy) and the various article rejections continued, my hope and confidence slowly began to fade once more into the realization that I was still being taxed. I still had penance to pay for taking on Goliath. Clearly, it wasn’t over. And it still isn't.

As I'm currently waiting on a response to a final email I sent my editor a few days ago after being rejected again on the basis of 'not front page material', I can't give you a satisfactory end to this story. I'm still waiting on the single word from the people in charge to tell me that yes, I still have a column but no, it really isn't good enough writing. My confusion is because I haven't received one affirmative word that it's okay to be disappointed and move on. I want to move on. I want to move forward. And that brings us to now. It brings us to the end of a situation that I feel isn’t soluble and it carries the weight of most lessons that are learned the hard way. I’m not leaving because I’ve given up on myself as a writer or as an outspoken feminist. I’m not walking away because of the way I’ve been treated or censored or even threatened. That isn’t enough to get rid of me. 

But I'm not dumb. I’m intelligent enough to see the writing on the wall and I know that no matter what I do, how I change or whose asses I kiss and at whose feet I grovel, some things won’t change. I’m also old enough to know when to cut my losses. I’m leaving Pinkbike because Pinkbike won’t change. I'm walking away because Pinkbike (and the leaders and editors there) will continue to promote and revere writers who denigrate women in the hopes that no one notices the misogyny, sexism and hatred sewn into the fabric of this writer's content. I'm going because of the double standard of expected behavior, and the allowance made for the man who writes awful things about women but the allowances not made for the woman expressing displeasure with those awful things. I'm cutting the cord because Pinkbike commenters will continue to turn a blind eye to ‘humor’ and content that promotes the discrimination towards and objectification of women and girls while vilifying or threatening anyone who dares speak out against it. And I’m going because I WILL NOT be part of that, regardless of the cost it may exact on my personal life, my professional career and my reputation.

I refuse to be part of the problem. The world has countless problems already and women struggle enough to shake off dangerous stereotypes, social norms and rampant sexism. I will never add to that burden by politely ignoring the obvious and I will do my all to ease that burden by speaking up, acknowledging the issues and seeking solutions. I will give my everything to leave this place better than I found it, and I will urge those around me to commit to doing the same. Why? Because I can. Because I am able. And because Pinkbike isn’t the only bike site in the world. There are publications that someday, will value the strong voice of a woman, and if I can be even a small part of that process of acceptance, let me be. Let me be the change I want to see in the world.

So thank you, my friends, for reading my crazy columns.Thank you so much. Thank you for sharing them and supporting me and clicking and commenting and laughing with (or at) me. It has been a gift to be part of this community and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had because of that gift. May your lives be full of excellence and joy, and may you never forget the formative power and pure joy that riding bikes brings.