Saturday, February 25, 2017

Are Women's Specific Bikes Benevolent Sexism?

I've been in the anti-womens-specific bikes box for a while now, despite being one of the industry's 'most outspoken' feminists and an athlete who has repeatedly alienated a large portion of her 'target audience' by standing up for women's equality and equal payout. It's an intricate and complex issue, but at the heart of it, I don't believe that female anatomy demands a separate and wholly different construction of bikes.

I think it's hype. Even worse, it's bad business.

Why? Well, for one, a 'women's specific bike' doesn't actually make physical sense. The current model of 'women's specific bike' is built for smaller-framed women with lighter suspension, smaller grips, shorter frame dimensions, women-specific saddles and often, a belief that this bike will fit women. The only problem with that logic are the millions of women who disprove it. Tall, short, medium heights -- all with different and separate proportions. I'm a walking embodiment of this. At 5'8", I struggle to find shirts that are long enough, yet have the femurs of a person who is 6'2" and the tib/fib lengths of someone 5'4". I am a conglomeration of contrasting parts, which means my bikes must be as well. The kicker here? I'm not an anomaly. In fact, most human dimensions fail to fit the exact specifications of the majority of bikes, which is why 'bike fitting' is a crucial part of the industry. And yet, the entire 'women's specific' bike schtick is predicated that THESE bikes will fit women because all women (or most of the women on bikes) have roughly the same dimensions.

Are you kidding me?

This is a lie. It's also endorsing and perpetuating the problem that's known as 'othering': "to view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself." Women are not 'others'.

Women make up 51% of the planet's human populace. We are not mystical, strange creatures that exist to baffle the male mind and confound even the most sensitive of researchers. We are HUMAN. Part of being human is that we will be diverse and made up of a large variety of human characteristics, regardless of our genitals.

Homosapien embryos are formed using combined DNA from two different and individual DNA strands. In the womb, those embryos are relatively genderless for the first eight weeks until the indifferent gonads separate and become either testes or ovaries. It's a complex process of unpredictable ratios, but the gender of a human being is often decided by genetics, as is the hormone wash that continues throughout the nine-month cycle of birth. A baby comes out as a product of parental DNA and hormones, not to mention hidden (or recessive) genes that can hide for decades. Medical science has established the power of heredity and its effects on the human race, and yet, the bike industry thinks that gender is what defines a rider?

Size, strength, scope of experience and even physical fitness affect what bike will work best for an individual, but gender? Gender does not. Pretending that gender will influence the bike frames women need hasn't mattered since 1895 when women were breaking the Victorian traditions of wearing dresses. To sell an entire category of bicycles to women as though we're strange and alien creatures who defy the title of 'individual' isn't just insulting, but it's sexist.

"What do women want?" Is a question bandied about by billion-dollar companies in their ever-present race to win the female buying power (which is very real). But the question is null, because 'women' don't want anything as a collective group. 'Women' is a gender. That's it. It's not any more important than 'what men want', and it's just as fluid and extensive and nebulous as every individual human is. Why are we so willing to nail down a 'women's-specific' bike when the idea of a 'mens-specific' frame is absolutely absurd? Of course there's no such thing as a men's specific frame, because men are complex and unique with their own separate motivators and skill levels and sizes.

Why can't women be as well? Why does the bike industry feel as though women need a separate class of colors and 'women-specific sizing' when WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME? We aren't even close to being the same and yet the bike industry (and world) is more than happy to smash us all into the tiny compartment titled 'WOMEN'.

What do women want? Well, we want the same things that men want because, you know, we're people. What do people want? People seem to want variety that fits their budget and skill level. People want accessibility and a proper fit. People want to have fun. Here's the kicker: different people will want different things.

Now, I know that sounds crazy. Differences in the human race in motivations and wants and desires?! Good lord. What will happen next?

I know. It's heavy. But what about offering people a better range of options based on their size and skill levels and individual needs rather than the non-item of gender? Call me crazy, but I have an inkling that if bike companies and bike dealers put as much effort into educating the wider bike-riding populace as they do about promoting the horseshit that is 'women's specific bikes', we'd all be a lot better off. We might even have an informed user base that understands which bikes they'll need based on their body sizes, desires and skill levels! Imagine that!

Women's specific bikes is the dehumanization and 'othering' of a group that is connected solely by gender and gender orientation. It is nothing more. It is nothing less. And it's time we stopped pretending that gender is a barrier between humans, or that it dictates or predicts what human beings need or their individual desires. The theories behind 'women's specific bikes' aren't based in conclusive fact or scientific evidence from an objective third party. The 'science' and 'numbers' have been issued as evidence by companies who have invested millions of dollars in selling the lie that every woman is (or should be) a certain size with specific proportions. That's not remotely true or even physically possible. While it might coincidentally be true for some people, to call a bike with specific and biased proportions a 'women's specific bike' is both alienating to anyone who doesn't fit those proportions and prejudicial for those who do. If a woman happens to fit a 'women's specific bike' but has larger hands or can't use the seat that comes with the bike due to anatomical differences, does that mean she's a freak? Because yes, folks... Not all lady parts are the same. Not all women have lady parts at all, or in the complete array of the 'anatomically correct Bike Ride Barbie'. And what about the guys who need a smaller sized frame with a different seat and smaller grips? Suddenly, they've wandered into the terrible 'girl bikes' section and thanks to our industry's obsessively toxic masculinity, OH MY DEAR GOD. And for women who don't fit the mold? Gee, I guess I'm just too 'manly' for those women-specific bikes. I suppose my proportions make me a completely separate creature rather than a rider who just wants a bike that fits.

Stop telling people what they need and start giving them what they want. If that want is to be special based on gender, then the industry needs to cater to that need equally and start making men's-specific bikes. If the want is to have sizing available from XXS to XXL, then perhaps we need to start building bikes and equipment that fit real people. If the end goal is actual equality, we need to stop perpetuating the myth that women are all made the same and stop selling bikes to women that they don't need. Sell them what they want. Give people options, educate your buyers and then empower them to spend what they can on something that will work best for them as an individual.

The bike industry is peddling damaging myths and lies about an entire gender to benefit the bottom line, and eventually, the pseudo-science behind 'women's specific bikes' is going to emerge as something created to support a crap theory made by sexists who have fabricated evidence to support their sexist beliefs about what women are and should be. When it does, those companies with their sticky fingers in the bullshit pudding will face huge losses of both revenue and public trust.

Women aren't the same because humans aren't the same. End of story.

Add caption

Friday, February 10, 2017

So. Much. Fury.

Humans are probably the dumbest 'intelligent beings' this side of the Centauri system. Our wasted sentience is only outmatched by our total disregard for the fact that we are sentient. Most days, I feel as though opposable thumbs are entirely wasted on 99% of homosapiens.

I went to the Chaffetz Town Hall this evening.

Yeah, I know. You don't have to say it. I expected it to be rowdy, but I assumed that the other self-aggrandizing internet liberals would at least formulate somewhat coherent arguments that possibly resembled an overall goal.

I was so, so wrong.

What I ended up with was a splitting migraine and an animalistic urge to start swinging my fists at throat-level while exiting the building. Instead, I rolled my rage into a tiny ball, stuffed it behind my eyes and made a beeline for my vehicle while breathing in a 1-2-1 pattern to avoid spontaneous combustion. Can I.. Can I just say something real fast? WHAT THE EVER LIVING FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU POTATOES?!

If you want to see what's wrong with democracy, just wander into any political meeting these days and stand there for ten minutes. If the current speaker doesn't incite a riot, just whisper 'Trump' into the air and wait for the hair to fly (or the sky to fall). Tonight was a warped version of that, but push the 'naïveté' dial into the red zone, drop the 'general world awareness' bass all the way down and let that fat lady sing: you'll have a rough estimate of how I spent my Thursday evening.

Now, I don't mind a good 'boo'. I'm not going to begrudge anyone of that oh-so-satisfying pleasure, nor will I respect someone any less for a well-timed and overwhelming show of disgust and disapproval. But after one long, loud 'boo', it tends to lose its weight for about sixty minutes. Even the ghostbusters knew they had to stretch the ghoulish antics out in order to avoid saturation -- it just doesn't hold the same appeal after a while. Nobody in that room seemed to understand the art of the boo, nor much of anything at all, if we're being honest. From talking and shouting over each other to bandwagon-ing on the 'Answer the question!' demand, there was too much rage.

I am the queen of the rage.

If I'm saying that there was too much rage, it means that the rageometer is broken and the world is exploding. Hell, I've build a brand on rage. But you can't rage all the time. You can't even rage most of the time, because the effect of the rage wears off. You have to mix it with some humor, a dash of actual threat and a solid dose of really terrifying facts. Nobody can rage all the time... Not even me. While I generally try to avoid giving away the illusions behind my rage magic, this seems to be a really important time. Listen carefully:

Politicians don't care about your rage. Business people (real business people) don't give a damn about your anger. They don't listen to your screams, they're not vulnerable to your shouts and cries, and they do not give a single fuck about all the tantrums in the world. Here's the other secret: tantrums make great press. Fits of rage are the single best headline-stealer in all of news history. THE BIBLE HAS STORIES ABOUT JESUS THROWING PEOPLE OUT OF A TEMPLE, okay? So they get headlines. But a tantrum must have something dangerous behind it in order to do any good. A fit must contain an element of strategy that holds attention much longer than a headline or a news cast.

Politicians don't care about your tantrums. They throw them all day, everyday. It's called 'grandstanding', and they are the masters. This is their role, on their stage, in their stadium. Your tantrums, while sincere, do not matter.

Do you want to know what scares these people? I'll give you a hint: it has something to do with speaking softly and a something, something "big stick".

Here's one more teaser: if you set the bar at one height to accomplish one thing, the bar cannot stay at that height to accomplish an entirely different thing. Throwing tantrums is great. But the allure of a tantrum fades, and if you won't speak softly, you'll become what is known as a 'blowhard'.

You must speak softly at exactly the right time.

We did not speak softly at the right time tonight. We did more of what we've been doing, and what half the country is mocking us for: throwing fits.

Few facts were presented tonight. The reasonable, data-based questions were nearly nonexistent  and there was very little specificity in demands or in theme.

Add to that the antagonizing that Rep. Chaffetz did with his DeVos question, the 'I like ________" statements. He was baiting those in attendance, and they took the bait.

Hook, line, sinker.

There was no solidarity. There was zero organization. There seemed to be little awareness of the policies on the table and almost no discussion of how they affected Utahns. There wasn't a SINGLE mention of the economy. Now, I don't know about you all, but my rent doesn't get paid by some magic fairy in the sky. Money matters. And to the people in that room tonight, they seemed very unconcerned by how bad policies affected both humans and economics.

Know thy enemy.

You want to beat the opposition? Know what they want. Figuring out what someone wants is the easiest way to control them. Do you know what Chaffetz wants?

A senate seat.

How do we control that? By not screaming at him, but exposing his economic failures that also happen (cough, cough) to affect human beings, too. You don't just scream about the wall. You ask what the wall will cost. Where will that money come from? What will the US lose with an immigration ban? What benefits do we currently get from the countries on that list?

Big picture thinking, folks.

I sat in that auditorium while people around me leapt to their feet and shrieked incomprehensible demands at him; hundreds of people shouting aggressively about whatever pissed them off at that moment. They didn't just interrupt him, either: they interrupted each other. Whether it was shouts of "answer the question!" or cheers for something they liked, it wasn't a controlled demand from one person saying "Answer the question, representative." It was a mob.

Like it or not, unless we change things, we will continue to be forced to defend ourselves from the 'paid protestor' lies because people don't know what to believe. The easiest way to solve that? Cut it off at the pass. We stop giving them something to lie about.

Be aggressive, but be easy about it. Lure them into a friendly interaction as though we're on their side, then go for the political jugular. The best trap? Open with a smile, thank them for coming and then bring them to their knees with facts. Not with shouts or screams, but with words and strategy. With forceful personal stories that demand to be heard... And not just to be heard by Chaffetz. But by the media, by other politicians, with stories and facts so strong that they speak to other people across the country.

There is a time to scream and shout. You wanna do that? Go protest. A town hall is not it. Whether you like it or not, people will stop listening the more you scream. If you need therapy through shouting, go somewhere else. But stop acting like your screams scare these people. They don't fear you. They fear people who can beat them at their own game.

They terrify people who acknowledge them, give them what they want, speak softly...

And then you create a diversion.

You organize. You have one group throwing a small tantrum on one side of the room, and the other half of that group sitting silently, waiting to ask questions that hammer away at policies, at facts, at the damage done by this individual.

Stop thinking small picture. You want progress? Fight for it.

You want change? Be willing to outsmart everyone else.

You want noise? Stop focusing on the noise and think about the end-game.

What is your goal? Work the puzzle backwards.

And then stop ruining these fucking meetings.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Hot Take: Intense Factory Racing And Parity In Downhill

Intense Cycles announced their 2017 factory DH race team over the weekend, and it was exciting. As someone who follows team selections fairly close, I was thrilled to see the new Intense Factory Racing crew made up of strong, talented racers who all have very bright futures ahead of them and plenty of time to grow.

What I didn't see, however, struck me as both disappointing and really strange -- there's not a female racer on the new team. Now, I understand that the percentage of women who shred a DH track is small potatoes compared to the overall DH market (believe me, I do). But in a rapidly changing market that has struggled to bring in consistent and reliable revenue in recent years, I'm baffled at why the new IFR team is made up of all white dudes.

Are there not enough teams on the World Cup circuit who epitomize the male domination of cycling already? The industry needed another?

Now, I don't want to pick on Intense here. They make great bikes. They're US-based. Hell, they're the alma mater of the legendary Shawn Palmer and have supported junior racing development unlike many other brands across the spectrum. They're still small, and they operate like family... I've always respected the brand and the company that seems to love DH racing.

But when it comes to female parity and equality in cycling, the landscape is dismal. There are few advancement opportunities for pro women beyond their national circuit and, unlike junior men, support and mentor-race program availability for future female elite racers is almost nonexistent. We know this. We've seen this. So why is it still so prevalent? It's not as though the planet has no female shredders capable of representing the Intense brand. It's not as though there isn't a collection of well-known and respected women on the World Cup who race without bike or team support. And in a year where the qualifying standards for women have been raised so significantly, does it not make more sense that there will be more eyes on the women's DH field than ever before? Competition is already heating up: with Miranda Miller on Specialized Gravity, Tahnee Seagrave a whisper away from a win  and an undefeated Rachel Atherton looking to storm the circuit again, not wanting a horse in that race is absurd... And frankly, it's just bad business.

Women are buying bikes and bike equipment at unprecedented rates. The women's mountain bike industry has ballooned so much that we have a behemoth women's-specific selection bubble of growth and more girls on bikes than ever before... And it's not slowing down anytime soon. So why would a DH-based brand with a factory team not onload a badass female rider to represent their interests on a global level?

I've jumped at the jugular of sexism in cycling over the last few years for one reason: it keeps women off of bikes and away from racing. It puts our gender into the focus rather than the fun of just riding bikes. I started speaking out about sexism because I wanted to be able to do my damn job without opening up a magazine and seeing a gross ad or coaching girls who had been told they were less. I've been aggressively pro-lady because I truly believe that women are equal. Different, yes, but just as equal and just as valuable as men.

The saddest part about the Intense Factory Racing not having a lady racer isn't the widespread disappointment, but what the entire team will miss out on because they lack a well-rounded perspective. Gender diversity promotes success because it presents a wider view of what matters. Different people will take different lines down a DH course, and skill isn't limited to gender. A wider range of life experience presents a greater scope of understanding. What sort of team avoids an advantage like that? Outside of a bike racing-specific angle, Forbes and economists across the globe discovered and documented that gender diversity promotes greater success in both Fortune 500 companies and small start ups. Racing is a business. Successful businesses arm themselves with the tools that will give them an edge. At any level, winning downhill races is about consistently occupying that edge, especially as a team that operates both as individual athletes and as a representative entity of their sponsors. Having the added experience and viewpoints of someone with a different background is invaluable -- studies report that companies with women on their boards "outperform their rivals, with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity", according to The Guardian. Unfortunately, the Intense Factory Racing team won't benefit from that.

So why is there only a handful of WC factory downhill teams with female racers? When we get really honest, the problem here almost seems to be that many team managers and companies at large see the female perspective as worthless (or, at the very least, less valuable). The bike industry is still stuck in the mud of women not being seen as having the intellectual capacity or experience to stand with the men and the pervasive opinion that women should be content to stand by and watch. There are so many women on the DH circuit with the experience and skills to help a new team grow, but even more who have left racing entirely because of lack of factory support. Their experience has value, it carries weight and it will lead any team to greater success if only teams start trusting it... Economic science has proven that.

I'm not saying this solely as a DH racer who has observed my share of insanity in the bike industry, I'm saying this as a businessperson who has helped built brands, who has worked with teams to lead successful advertising campaigns and who has studied and slaved away at companies doing it right and at companies doing it very, very wrong. I'm writing this as someone who sees the economic value in Germany's board-parity mandate and who has sometimes been critical of Title IX. I'm sending this to the struggling downhill MTB and wider cycling industries as a plea for gender and racial parity because it is the only thing that will save the bike industry.

We need change, and we need it sooall ner rather than later. Whether that change comes in the form of a UCI mandate requiring that all UCI trade teams have a female athlete on roster in order to register for the season or whether it comes with companies and teams stepping up to the plate and bringing more skilled women to the table, I implore you to find out what it is that you can do, and do it.

If it means not approving that sexist advertisement, do it. If it means adding a female racer to your enduro squad and DH team, do it. If it means promoting a female athlete or women's race heavily, do it.

We need to take the steps as an industry that enable women and girls to be active and involved participants in the evolution of this sport, not passive observers. The bike industry (and yes, downhill racing, too) has to provide a place for future racers to actually go. What's the point in getting girls into racing when they end up without options to pursue that effort? Yes, racing is amazing whether or not it turns into a career, but how can we blame the lack of parity and equality in DH on the lack of women when there is no future in DH racing for women? There are so few spots for female pros right now that enable those athletes to forego full time employment and focus on training and racing year round, and yet we tell these athletes that the lack of opportunity is their fault? Not having enough competitors in the field, not taking enough of a market share, enough getting enough media exposure, not forcing enough attention, not engaging in enough fierce competition, or getting enough support? All of that is solely on the shoulders of these female athletes?

We're asking women to fund their own racing and travel through full-time jobs (often multiple), demanding that they not only run their own nutrition and training plans, but somehow manage their own brands, film videos, build relationships with every photographer and video, and then take the time off of work to travel, race and train at the same level as the top three, full-time athletes, and then we're surprised when they can't take top honors? We're shocked that they get injured and just walk away?

In 2016, there were 44 registered UCI DHI Trade Teams. Of those 44, only 13 teams (29.5%) had a female athlete on squad. Even worse? While there were 177 riders total on trade teams, 89% of trade team athletes were men. Roughly 9% of downhill racers on trade teams were women (16). For every 11 male riders on UCI trade teams, there was one woman.

One woman per every eleven men. 

We don't just need parity on teams, but in board rooms, in research and development, during bike testing, in the bike shops, at the events. We need companies and federations and events that actively seek out female perspectives to round out perspective, and we need talented and experienced women to fulfill those roles. This sport desperately depends on reaching a wide market of perspectives, and we can't do that when only one perspective is presented.

It takes all of us, not just one brand. But it starts with one decision, one step at a time, like including a female racer in a factory team.

Just think about it.


PS: if you're on Twitter and enjoy useless banter, come hang out -- it's where I let it all hang out (and occasionally thread together something interesting).