Top 5 Worst Arguments Against Promoting Gender Equality in Pro Cycling: Blame the Women

This post continues our series: Top 5 Worst Arguments Against Gender Equality in Pro Cycling. Our first post focused on getting readers up to speed on the fact that gender inequality exists in pro cycling. In this post, we address the burden that has been placed on women to make women’s cycling popular.

Women’s Pro Cycling is Unpopular Because Women Aren’t Fans

(a.k.a. the “Women’s-Cycling-Is-For-Women” defense)

This is an important claim to address because it’s one that all women’s sports must contend with in general—not just unique to cycling. This is the argument where people assert that women are responsible for the popularity of women’s sports.

This doesn’t make sense and all one has to do is look at the fact that women comprise a large portion of the fan base for other popular male-dominated sports (e.g., American football, baseball).  So when you think about it, it’s a rather hypocritical stance to have—why is it that women should be expected to be fans of men’s sports and contribute to their popularity, while men can easily ignore women’s sports…oh, and then claim women’s sports are somehow inferior due to lack of fan base?

Clearly, having a vagina does not stop them from enjoying football. Why should having a penis stop one from enjoying women's cycling? (source)

Clearly, having a vagina does not stop them from enjoying football. Why should having a penis stop one from enjoying women’s cycling? (source)

Following this logic, each sport should then exist in isolation according to gender.  While I think that would be horrible in principle alone, it would also detrimentally affect men’s sports if all women decided that only men should care about men’s sports.

On a deeper level, this one is perhaps the most disappointing of all arguments. It continues the outdated thinking that when men are involved then it’s the normal way to go about things. But, once something is seen to have women involved to a large degree, or is designed to help women, it is then suddenly “other” or “different” or “separate” or “additional.” It becomes the exception to the norm, the rarity, the thing that only women are interested in because it’s a “women’s issue.”  But is it really…?

More fans = more money. The entire sport of cycling will benefit from increased equality and the promotion of women in racing. In sheer numbers, there will be more fans–something that all cyclists seem to intuitively grasp as important, given that many people supported/defended Lance Armstrong through this whole doping ordeal simply because of how popular he made cycling.


Women know how to roll, baby! (source)

Women’s health. By having more pro women cyclists and a wider fan base that includes women, it is logical to expect that recreational cycling will surge in popularity as well. Translation: Even more women getting around via pedal power. And we all know, whether it’s through individual experience or emerging research findings, that cycling has incredible benefits for health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Did you know that cycling is particularly good for women’s cardiovascular health?

Cycling could be a sport that combats sexism. It’s true that sexism is a problem in every sport, and it was very nice to see comments about that from readers in our last post. On the one hand, it’s good because it’s validating–this IS a problem. On the other, it can make us feel overwhelmed, give us a “that’s just the way it is” attitude. Make us feel like we can’t change it.

I think that cycling can be particularly effective at addressing sexism in sports though, at least in the United States. Here, it’s not all that popular anymore. It has room to grow, to change, to evolve. It’s resurgence in popularity is coming on strong, but still doesn’t have the fanbase that baseball and American football has.

Think of the fantastic benefits to society if cycling can become a sport that actually promotes, advocates, and enacts gender equality? There will be an increase in woman role models for all children. Both boys and girls will see that women can do it–that women are powerful, aggressive, and independent. The stereotypes  about women being weak, passive, and incapable of contributing to exciting sports will be contradicted during live stream. Perhaps this could contribute to increased self-esteem and confidence in girls PLUS actually opening doors so they don’t hit the “glass ceiling.” It can also contribute to boys treating girls with more respect and equality, which will in turn contribute to healthier relationships with their partners.

Original girl daydreaming (source), Princess (source), and Woman in business suit (source)

Original girl daydreaming (source), Princess (source), and Woman in business suit (source)

Some readers might still be thinking…Okay, but it still sounds like it’s a “women’s issue.” 

So then think of this final point, there is a very important fact that all men must consider. All men have important women in their life! Whether it’s your mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, partner, friend, or neighbor! What is good for them, is good for you, if we are to have a happy and healthy community, that is..

So is this really just a “women’s issue?” Our stance is that it is NOT. It’s an issue for everybody. Pushing equality in racing to the sidelines not only serves to keep women in the margins of society, but it also keeps men from fully participating or benefiting from these improvements (e.g., having an important woman in your life dying prematurely)—so everyone loses one way or another.

We hope that you enjoyed this post and that it sparked some thought. Our next post will focus on the issue of money and sponsorship.


19 responses to “Top 5 Worst Arguments Against Promoting Gender Equality in Pro Cycling: Blame the Women

  1. Well said lady. We have a women’s basketball team here in town, the Strom. I ignore them cuz I hate basketball not because it is a ladies team, our women’s football team, though tough ladies I hear, is a lingerie team.

    Now if we could get a ladies soccer or baseball team… Now we are talking! And from my personal experience my Butt gets passed by women and men equally, I know y’all are amazing riders!

    Finally, many men are jerks and would feel it’s a sign of weakness in front of their friends to admit to liking ladies sports. Sad, but true

    • Good points! Yea, actually I don’t really like watching any sports. Never have been big on it–I’ve been to a few baseball games (Chicago White Sox, of course!) but that’s about it. Not a football or basketball fan, myself. I’ll sometimes casually watch racing if Jason is (luckily, it’s been baseball, F1, or cycling–all of which I can at least find some amusement in), but I’ve never been into watching any competitive sports on my own. But, I still care about equality in general, so it was fun to write about with Jason. And, obviously, I care about cycling in general and racing is a big part of it.

      I’m sure it is true, about being perceived as weak among other male friends. It takes a lot of strength to stand up to that kind of social pressure. Very tough indeed!

      Thanks for the comment!!

  2. I’m keeping an open mind, even considering your presumptuous and sexist guesses at why men (at least this one) don’t watch women cyclists until the end. I’ll take notes and address each issue in my own post so as not to tarnish your comments section. Great post, even if I am skeptical. Good luck at changing my mind – you have your work cut out for you. 😉

    • ive read a few of your posts and am not surprised you feel that way (it is also a reason I dont follow your blog).

      reverse sexism doesnt exist, by the way. feel free to create your own post, tis the reason we have our own blogs. however, i will feel comfortable knowing that mine is based on scholarly literature and reflects an accurate understanding of historical, political, and gendered contexts…and not beliefs based on prejudice and stereotyping.

      happy writing!

    • Well bgddyjim, if I might interject as a co-author of this article…there is simply nothing to legitimately be skeptical about in terms of the sexism women have to contend with in sports, or other areas of life, for that matter. Facts don’t depend on people having an open mind or not. It seems like that is what you were implying in your comment—that sexism isn’t a problem (which was what the first post in this series addressed). However, as a quick example: Women on average, as a group, still make less money than men in just about every profession. This alone is one clear sign of sexism that we could all agree on…because I am confident that you would not try to say that women are failing to do an equally productive job as men are, correct? Well, this extends into sports. If women are playing a sport professionally, they are accomplishing the same goal as men–which is to compete professionally–and they should be rewarded similarly. We argue that the reason women are NOT paid similarly is due to the attitudes and behaviors of SOCIETY, which have been constructed by men (society’s dominant group) OVER TIME (i.e., the historical context that Ashley already mentioned in her reply).

      Your idea that there are “sexist guesses” in our post as to why men don’t watch women’s sports is a ridiculous and baseless assertion. First off, men have commented on THIS BLOG and other articles and blog posts we have read that this is the reason they (a) don’t watch women’s races and (b) women’s racing isn’t popular. If you noticed in our first post, we specifically said that we are addressing actual arguments people have made….

      Second, these are general claims we are making based on society as a WHOLE, not individuals. That means it’s about general patterns and things of that nature. The fact that you felt you had to defend yourself as an individual because of this post makes me think that we may have hit a nerve. Plus, I noticed that you replied with “LOL!” to Ashley’s reply. Quite honestly, it makes me irritated to know that there are men out there like you dismissing women just because they say things that prove they are more intelligent than you. Can we talk about what an example of white male privilege you just demonstrated?

      But, of course, the very idea that you believe in reverse sexism, exposes your lack of knowledge of the subject of sexism, or oppression in general. You mention you’ll “take notes” and “address” each issue in your own post. I could only hope that you first do a little bit of research (real research, not searching through on oppression first, so that you have an actual understanding of the topic.

      For one, women cannot be sexists. That is a fact. In order to be sexist, racist, classist, etc., you must be a member of a group that has access to social power in order to enact your will or privilege over another group—or to just in general live a more free and fulfilling life with more access to resources. It’s just basic—oppression 101.

      Now, if you are living on planet Earth, you cannot make the claim that women have anything close to social equality in the western world, let alone dominance. However, when men (as a group) are called out for their sexist attitudes, they generally try to disprove such claims by referring to themselves as evidence for why men are not sexist. There are a lot of problems with this, but one of them is a problem of logic, as you cannot refute a general claim by pointing to an individual as a counterpoint. A similar argument is made by people who support tobacco companies, for instance. They say, “why not let people smoke? I knew someone that smoked for their whole lives, and they lived to be 100 years old.” That’s great for the person who lived to be 100, but that individual doesn’t automatically trump the loads of evidence that shows smoking kills people.

      So, if you want to logically argue that women’s sports are not being held back by society’s sexist attitudes and male dominance of sports, you would have to do so without pointing to a few individuals, such as yourself. Instead, you would have to point to patterns of evidence that shows society equally supports men’s and women’s sports in total. For example, being able to state that “on average, men and women have equal prize money.” You cannot point to outliers (your own opinion or individuals you know) and say that they prove an assertion wrong. You need actual evidence and not personal claims.

      However, since you WOULD like to point to anecdotal evidence…I’ll play. I can’t even begin to count how many times I have heard men discount women’s sports as inferior to men’s sports. I vividly remember when the WNBA was started that I heard men talk about how it would fail because no one wants to watch women’s basketball when they have the “actual” NBA or other “real”(i.e. men’s) sports to watch. But, I also acknowledge that my own personal experience doesn’t prove this point either. I am aware that more general patterns or research is needed, or at least a sociopolitical understanding of the topic at hand.

      But there is research on it. Such as on women athletes’ salaries, the disparity in the number and scope of men’s and women’s cycling events, and the lack of company investment in women’s sports. All of these topics will be covered in a future post, but they all arise from a male dominated, sexist society–not individual’s opinions that somehow women’s sports are more boring or whatever lame excuse people want to give for not supporting women’s sports.

      If you like bike racing, you should like it whether there are men on the bikes or women. If you like baseball you should like it whether men or women are on the field. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen because, as stated in the post, women’s sports are not considered the real or main version of each sport. Men’s sports are usually viewed as the main, most popular version of almost every sport. I think it would be naïve, and frankly stupid, to think that (a) this isn’t true or (b) it just happens to by chance in a society that has proven over its history that it views women as inferior.

  3. “It continues the outdated thinking that when men are involved then it’s the normal way to go about things. But, once something is seen to have women involved to a large degree, or is designed to help women, it is then suddenly “other” or “different” or “separate” or “additional.” ”

    This comes down to the old problem that ‘man’ can mean both someone of the male sex and also the whole of mankind. As a linguistic slight it’s clever. It means women are automatically ‘other’, they are a separate category. Point this out and someone’s bound to wonder why you’re whinging rather than realise just how much it excludes women.

    In my own sport, horse riding, men and women compete on equal terms all though that brings with it its own problems not the least of which is the idea that horse riding must be easy if women can do it. Mind you I get round that one by saying ‘here’s my horse, if it’s that easy, you sit on him’.

    I did cheer on Lizzie Armitstead when she brought home Britain’s first medal of the 2012 Olympics especially after our much praised men’s team made such a pig’s ear of the men’s road race. That aside I agree that it is better for society as a whole if men and women are equally valued. Women’s sports can be just as amazing, exciting and skilful as men’s. And on occasion, just as dull!

    • That is a really, really good point! I wasn’t even really thinking about that connection for this but you’re totally right! That’s why in my own language I try not to use that. Even I have a hard time, though! especially for things like freshmen because when I try to say “first year” people look at me funny!

      That’s cool about horse riding and how it’s more equal. But you also bring up a good point about the complexity it adds and then people assuming it’s easy (which no one could really conclude if they’ve ever ridden a horse even just for fun!!!!)

      haha — that’s true that sometimes sports are just boring, regardless of gender =) Thanks for the comment!

    • Being from the US I was hoping that Shelley Olds would get a medal, but that didn’t happen, unfortunately. Some were saying she and Armistead had a chance to win, although I’m not sure of that given how well Vos rode. Kristin Armstrong got a gold for the US in the TT though, so that was cool.

      In the men’s race I was rooting for Cav to win as well, but they just rode a tactically horrible race. I especially wanted to see Cancellara win, but he face planted right as he was making what was probably going to be the winning move.

      Without a doubt the women’s road race was more exciting though.

  4. Reblogged this on Funkstitch and commented:
    As a woman that is just getting into the competitive aspect of cycling, I do notice the lack of women participants. I do not notice any lack of enthusiasm, though, for the sport. I am hoping that after this year maybe there will be more women on the road, track, in the mud and on the sidelines cheering each other on as the sport gains momentum in Saint Louis and everywhere else. Keep cycling!

  5. I am really enjoying this series of posts. I for one don’t care if it’s men’s or women’s cycling so long as it’s fast, aggressive, and competitive. I challenge anyone to argue with me that the best professional rider last year was… Marianne Vos. And the best Aussie track cyclist was Anna Meares.

  6. I still can’t quite get my head around the disparity between the world of men’s competitive cycling and the world of women’s competitive cycling; especially after the amazing performance the women gave us for the Olympics. I watched the race when Lizzie Armistead won the first Olympic medal for the UK and the male spectators agreed with me that the whole race was so much more exciting than the men’s. However it’s not just cycling that suffers, think of all the female sports we could watch during the Olympics that we simply have no coverage of normally. It’s a sorry situation and one that would benefit everyone if it changed. A really good thought-provoking post.

    • Indeed! Clearly people are agreeing that women are exciting! And, agreed, that it’s not just the specific group of pro cyclist women that suffers: men suffer, other sports suffer.

      So there is more going on. We are hoping to address more of these “behind the scene” reasons in this series. But it’s a complicated issue and I know there’s more to consider than we will end up covering here (preview: we talk about coverage issues soon!)

      And I appreciate the kind words, and that you consider this to be thought-provoking! ’twas indeed our goal!

  7. One of the sad things – there are always less women participating at the competition level compared to men. As a former masters level racer, it was interesting to see so many women out supporting their men, but so few men supporting their women!
    We are lucky here in Ottawa to have so many true cycling fans…they come out to watch cycling whether men’s or women’s. We currently have an awesome UCI 1.1 level race in Gatineau that draws a fantastic crowd. While not the same crowds we see at the mens races, it is growing. Too bad media couldn’t get behind the women more – more publicity generates more interest! It is so much easier to find a mens race on tv, but the women? No where to be found. They work so hard for so little – they deserve to have some tv time too!
    We used to watch the TdF on the OLN (Outdoor Life Network) – it was great coverage. I always found it hard to fathom that they did not share even the highlight reels from the womens race. Instead, they showed junk like Repo whatever (what does that have to do with the outdoor life – people having their cars repossessed – when did that even make for good tv???) If only these networks can give a little coverage to the women’s side of sport. Look at the popularity of women’s golf and tennis!!!!
    On a positive note – I am glad to see more and more women riding in general! I have been cycle vacationing/training in Mallorca for a number of years and have seen a huge increase in women cyclists riding the roads. Nice to see!

    • Thanks so much and stopping by, and for writing a comment! You raised some very good points, especially about cross-cultural or cross-country variations. Being that I have only been outside of the USA to check out Niagara Falls in Canada a couple times…I can clearly only speak form personal experience from the US perspective. And even then, there is much for the USA for us to explore!

      It’s really good to hear that there are parts in Canada that have gotten with the times! But unfortunate that coverage was still a problem. The fans are there, so show the coverage!!! We actually address the issue of coverage soon as well, because that is very important to factor in.

      I always smile when a see a woman cyclist =) I think women’s cycling (but again, in the US context, don’t know about other places) women’s cyclist is on the rise again. It took a bit hit about a decade ago as the industry moved more and more towards upper-class white men wanting to race, but popularity among women is coming back strong!

      Thanks again for the comment! Stay tuned! =)

  8. I’m just getting caught up on your gender/cycling posts, and they’re so great! I have been trying to find people to ride with here in AZ and realized that not only is there a lack of pro women’s cyclists, but also a lack of amateur women’s cyclists. I found ONE group (one group! in all of Tucson!)) that likes to ride straight up mountains, but I can’t do that yet. I talked to all the local shops and couldn’t find any info on a beginner-intermediate group, but posted an ad on craigslist and already have five or six responses. It’s hard to get better at things on our own, so I’m really glad I’ve found the beginnings of a new community here — and really glad you’re creating a community talking about this stuff online! Thanks!

    • Hi there–thanks so much! We are both really glad that you are enjoying the posts. The next one is close, but it’s not quite where we want it to be…

      That is so disappointing for your area, but I love that you decided to blaze some trails and get a group growing! That takes some courage to get out there and do that, so I definitely tip my hat to you! Good luck!

  9. Pingback: Top 5 Worst Arguments Against Promoting Gender Equality in Pro Cycling: It’s Not Worth It | women.cyclists·

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