Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Women.

Somewhere between deleting my social media apps from my phone, reading two new books, skiing my face off, making cookies and reconnecting with friends, I forgot to clarify and reiterate a few things on the 'sex sells/sexual objectification/enraged feminist' front (because none of you are suuuuuper tired of it yet, right??). I don't always communicate with other humans, but when I do, there's chaos.

(Someone please make this into a meme.)

First: this is my opinion. Like the rest of them, they're simply mine. They're not fact, they're not law, they're just the thoughts and feelings and perspectives that flow from my impact-addled brain and my well-intentioned heart. You can refute them or abuse me for them, but at the end of the day, they'll still just be opinions. Some of them have even changed. Such as this one from a little way back. Well, part of it has. (I still think that 'giving women a place' in MTB is messed up. We already have a place: front and center with the rest of the riders.)

I digress (as is the way of the squirrel-brain). Anyway.

Not many folks seem to have read my last post about human duality and 'having it both ways'. If you haven't, go read that. Then come back. 

I think most of my criticism of sexual marketing by companies have been internalized by a lot of other women and taken as bullying or criticism of them personally. Let me say this: please don't. My criticisms of commercial sexual exploitation do not extend to anyone else's personal choices. It's simply not my job nor my place to say shit-all about anyone else's decisions. If you feel bullied by my opinion, I'm sorry. 

I was looped into and given a heads up about this by a kind friend who sees a wider range of the female cycling field than I do (possibly because she hasn't alienated anyone like I have) and we had a clear, open conversation about where personal lines have to be drawn.

After reading a comment by another rider, I wrote, "Lifting each other up is extremely important, hence all of the projects I'm involved in (like this one), but critical thinking is often overlooked in the eternal glorification of optimism. There's a time and a place for self-criticism, and the bike industry is long overdue. If female athletes want to market themselves a certain way, more power to them. But my personal line is drawn at companies who exploit women... I refuse to condone or allow that, and the more athletes who speak out, the better the industry and our consumers will understand that cycling is a place of equality. The world is a cruel enough place -- bikes need to be about fun and bicycling, not about politics. And unfortunately, the current environment in MTB/cycling has created a need for gender politics and resulted in everyone taking sides." 

She replied with an accurate assessment of "Seems there are 2 camps. As noted by other female athletes, many women athletes still choose to use the sex sells method." I agreed. 

"However", I replied, "that's an athlete's choice. I'm NOT going to criticize or condemn another woman for choosing what to do with her own image or body. That's all her, and trusting each others' judgement is paramount to getting anywhere." 

But companies? Faceless entities who reinforce gender stereotypes and sell products through sex by exploiting the pre-determined 'value' someone has that's based on a false attractiveness scale? Hell no. If a company is free to exploit and objectify an entire gender? I'm completely free to run a rage train on their uninformed asses. 

"But, but... Women exploit and objectify themselves all the time! Look at porn! Look at Instagram!" 

Hey, clueless! Guess what? It's not exploitation* of it's a conscious choice made by a consenting adult. However, as a company cannot get portrayal consent from the entire female gender (and because the stories we tell shape our future), it IS exploitation when women are portrayed solely as sexual objects designed to sell a product... Especially inside of an industry where there are so many badass women. It's a crime in itself to even suggest that women who MTB are solely the sum of their attractiveness. 

My fellow athletes are consenting adults. I respect and trust their judgement (and their right to an opinion), even if I may not agree or be willing to make that choice for myself. Just like I'm not going to hammer down on someone for smoking pot, why on earth should I criticize another woman for the way she chooses to portray her humanity? Do I agree with it? Does that really matter? No. It doesn't. What I think is inconsequential to another human's value. My opinions and feelings and even my best logic-based reasoning all take a back seat to that person's inherent value. That's what compassion and humanity is. That's what feminism is -- a belief that everyone has their own intrinsic value beyond gender, sexuality, race, religion, etc etc, and that their value gives the right to make choices as an individual. I can only speak for myself, and as an advocate for women, I would never dream of taking someone's voice or value away. That is nowhere within my wheelhouse of magical superpowers anyway (and I wouldn't want it). 

Shouting about my attempt to control anyone is just... Laughable. I speak out not to control or even influence anyone, but to offer an alternative pattern of thought. A stretch of the ideas, an extension of the doorway into possibility. I've often said that if I can open minds, my job here is done. Call it bizarre or lofty, but that's my aim. I want, quite simply, to open the thoughts, widen the scope of our singular perception and call for questioning of what the consequences are. 

So if you are one of these women who feel bullied by my outspokenness, I'm sorry. This is was never the intention, but then again, the road to hell is wrought with the good ones, isn't it? ;) My opinion isn't ever meant for internal consumption, but rather an external source of heat. 

Please know that I support you, I cheer for you and I applaud your efforts to widen the human scope of identification -- we're all incredibly different and nothing bad will ever come from recognizing and celebrating that. Ride on, ladies. Ride on. 



* See 'exploitation' in the dictionary: