Top 5 Worst Arguments Against Promoting Gender Equality in Pro Cycling: It’s Not Worth It


By: Ashley & Jason

This post continues our series: Top 5 Worst Arguments Against Promoting Gender Equality in Pro Cycling. Thanks so much to everyone who has read and commented so far. This is why I started blogging, and dragged Jason into it with me–for this interactive aspect right here. Keep the comments and thoughts coming!

We have already established that the inequality exists and why women should not have to bear the burden to make women’s cycling popular.  In this post, we get to one of the most common justifications for keeping the sport focused on men—money and sponsorship issues.

Reason #3: Women’s Cycling Isn’t Worth the Investment

(a.k.a., the “If there was money, sponsors will come” defense)

The most common argument we hear against equality in pro cycling is that there is less money to be made in women’s cycling than in men’s. Prize money would be equal, it is argued, if there were more fans of women’s cycling because then there would be more sponsors.

We actually don’t wholeheartedly deny the validity of this claim. We do acknowledge the following problems (hereinafter referred to as “the problem” or “this problem”

  • less fans of women’s pro cycling in number
  • perceived (whether real or not) less enthusiasm about women’s pro cycling
  • overall less support for women’s cycling, financial, practical, emotional, or otherwise.

Of course it makes sense that if there were more fans and more women participating and more support that sponsorship would increase (which would then also fix The Problem). We have never argued otherwise, because we believe this to be true.

Our issue, however, is when people describe The Problem in order to:

  • Explain the inequality
  • Justify the inequality
  • Throwing in the towel and saying it’s “just the way it is!”

Because, identifying problems or gaps is one thing, but you cannot then say that the gap is the cause. You must get to the actual root of the problem, to the actual factors that contribute to it–to the cause, so to speak (although, there is never only One Cause).

So, to be clear, we do believe that if we there was increased support and enthusiasm for women’s cycling all around (from both men AND women), then the money and sponsorship would likely follow. However, our culture is very individualistic and, in general, people have an easy time thinking about all the things that individual people do or don’t do to cause a problem. Sure, those things are important (e.g., women’s level of confidence). However, trying to change things only at the individual level is ineffective. Change has to occur at multiple levels. Since most people seem to grasp the individual level aspects already, we’d like to go to broader and higher levels to stretch the brains and our thinking about this complex issue.

So, then, why is it that there is less support for women’s cycling? Here are some of our thoughts on the matter:

Yawn

For one, there is the stereotype that exists for women’s sports in general that they are somehow less exciting to watch. This exists at both the individual level, as well as on a more societal or cultural level. It is this very (ridiculous) notion that Jason addressed in an earlier post. In short, it’s an argument that really doesn’t make sense—women are awesome and exciting, just like men.

You know what would make this way more exciting? Penises!

You know what would make this way more exciting? Penises!

And I have to say, it has warmed my heart (this is Ashley speaking) that so many of you have commented about this very thing. Many of you have said that you find women’s racing to be just as exciting as men’s. Or, as one insightful blogger noted–sometimes just as boring! So, we will not elaborate further on this.

Women’s What?

This part is a little harder to articulate because it’s complex. Another reason there is less sponsorship for women’s cycling is because important groups like the UCI act in ways that indicate they view women’s cycling as a second rate concern to them. They probably don’t think this–so we want to be clear that we aren’t saying they think this about women’s racing. Just remember in our first post we talked about how outcomes and behaviors matter more than intentions here–so that’s what we are focusing on.

One of the hot topic examples of this is the  lack of TV coverage for women’s events, which was discussed in our first post, mentioned already from a few commenters.

If the governing body of a sport doesn’t even bother to push for greater TV coverage or to emphasize women’s cycling at all levels, why would potential sponsors–business reasons aside–want to work within that sport?

(*preview: in an upcoming post we specifically talk about what the UCI can do to address This Problem*)

Sponsors surely notice that one side of cycling doesn’t even have the support from their own governing body. So it makes sense that they would invest less in the women’s area of the sport.

If there are few sponsors, and TV coverage of women’s races is hard to come by, then what happens among potential fans—men and women alike?

They might not even realize that women’s races are happening!

They don’t get the chance to see or learn about individual women cyclists, thus not having the “personal connection” that we get with so many men cyclists. I mean, think about it, how many of us know Jens Voigt because of his famous “shut up legs” comment?

Jens Voigt can get on TV for holding a kangaroo, but it is almost impossible to find a women's race on TV.

Jens Voigt can get on TV for holding a kangaroo, but it is almost impossible to find a women’s race on TV.

The result is that potential fans, just like potential sponsors, develop the impression that women’s cycling isn’t as worth it as men’s. So, they go on to support men’s cycling. It’s a vicious cycle! Multiple changes will be needed, at various levels, in order to fully address The Problem.

But Women Don’t Produce Enough Demand!

And potentially $2.4 billion in planned spending...

And potentially $2.4 billion in planned spending…

Watch the recent Webinar titled, “The Economic Impact of Women Bicyclists” presented by Jay Townley (President of Giant Bicycle USA and Browning Automatic Components, among other things) and Elliot Gluskin (Research director of the Rodale Cycling Group, among other things).

Although not specific to pro cycling, this webinar sends a clear message that women want to get involved in the bike world in large numbers–and this is the first step for even getting into pro cycling. Unfortunately, there are too many business- and community-level barriers. The webinar makes a clear case that it’s not as simple as women lacking confidence. It’s about women being uninvited, unwelcomed, ignored, and being talked down to by a male-dominated cycling community.

Some quick notes from the webinar:

  • Women actually comprise about half (46%) of the adult cycling population
  • While men cyclists tend to go to bike shops for their bike needs (48% of men), women often go to discount stores (34%) or bike shops (37%) — largely because of what is mentioned above (not feeling welcomed, ignored, etc at bike shops in particular)

Comments!

As we mentioned above, keep the comments coming. This post doesn’t really scratch the surface, but we are hoping that you all comment and add your thoughts of the many aspects to consider about money.

Oh, and we aren’t just writing all these posts to complain. I think we’ve mentioned it before, but the concluding post will include a whole slew of ideas (perhaps even coming from you all???) about things that can be done to address all the problems discussed throughout these posts.

Please only comment using polite and respectful language. We both think there is a problem with the internet in that it has contributed to a vastly negative, “nay-saying” attitude where people just “troll” and post rude and negative comments. Feel free to write such comments or email us, but be warned in advance that it will just be deleted or we will post them later on with our full response. We don’t screen out dissenting comments unless they are rude and/or fail to thoughtfully contribute to the post. Keep in mind that this is the third post in this series. So make sure you make your comment on the appropriate post!

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8 responses to “Top 5 Worst Arguments Against Promoting Gender Equality in Pro Cycling: It’s Not Worth It

  1. This is purely anecdotal example, and by no means do I think this is typical. But I have a new cyclist in my office. She loves her bike, and she got a nice one. Where she and I differ is she wants her accessories to match the color. This means when she bought her lights, they were $ 180 instead of the $20 I spent at an REI garage sale.

    I share this for one reason. If this is even close to typical for a new lady cyclist, then those 46% of all riders potentially could generate a much higher percentage of overall cycling purchases, Good post as usual!

  2. It’s worth noting that Mellow Johnny’s provided equal prize money at the Mellow Johnny Classic, March 2, in Dripping Springs, TX. Rebecca Henderson won the Elite Women Cross County event.

  3. They’ve had women’s TT in the ATOC for the past two years at least, and they will again have it this year in San Jose in May. In the past, they have not had any coverage of the women’s TT. Since the course is pretty short, it shouldn’t cost them too much to set up cameras there. I mean, you have to wait, anyways … why not just film it, and provide post-commentary, like they normally do?

    I was too late to see the women’s TT in Bakersfield last year, but since it is local this year, I’ll be sure to see it this time.

    • I agree with you in the sense that any coverage brings good publicity. That said, I’ve always felt that visually the TT is about as interesting as watching ice melt. it’s one shot after another of individuals going as fast as they can on their bikes. At least with a road race you can watch tactics and (if you’re lucky) see an exciting finish.

  4. Hi there, what an interesting read and really good points. The same can be said of most women’s sports arguments. When the Olympics were held, the women’s football tournament took place in Glasgow and ticket sales were really poor. What a shame! The funny thing is too, that in the UK the women’s national football teams do much better than the men’s… I really love your pic of the women’s race, by the way, it’s so inspiring. X

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