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Un-equal Opportunities Part 2
Posted on 1/12/2011 7:53:22 AM

A look at what was said about my previous blog entry...


Well, it certainly seems my blog has caused an awful lot of debate. And it's certainly got people talking about women's cycling. I've picked a few people who either loved or hated my blog to write their views and discuss how they feel, so that rather than seeing what I think, the readers can see what the people who really matter want to say; that's the people actually involved in women's cycling. All views expressed are the individual’s own, and I'm sure some of the comments will provoke even more debate.
 
Below that is all the feedback I received from either Twitter or by text. It’s here mainly for comedy value because some of it is hilarious. As you will see opinion is very divided. I will leave you to decide if you think it was mostly positive or negative.
 
In case anyone is wondering if I regret writing the blog, the answer is, quite simply, no. I certainly accept some of the constructive criticism that I could have worded my blog differently, the main complaint being that I used stereotypes. For that I can only apologize. But I still totally stand by the main messages of the blog, that more needs to be done to encourage more women into the sport. And that major changes need to occur in women's cycling if it is ever to progress.
 
Thanks very much for those that explained your views. Those of you that went off on a rant weren't particularly helpful. I think one of my biggest critics on twitter was @_pigeons_ so I will answer some of her comments.

To start with she didn't like that I suggest Emma Pooley should blog. Ok, here's why I think she should. Looking at the blog contributors on the major sites, VeloNation, Cyclingnews etc. they are nearly all men, with Helen Wyman being one of the few exceptions. As nearly everyone has said, women's racing isn't on TV, so the only place people can really learn about the women who race is the internet. Of course there are sites that focus on women's cycling, but for the general cycling fan, they normally look at the major sites I've mentioned.

As a big cycling fan I look at the results of the big women's races, but a race report doesn't really tell me or the reader anything too interesting. And as there's hardly any TV interviews, I hardly know anything about the characters and personalities of the top riders.
 
That's why I would like to read what they have to say via blogs, because if they don't, how else can the fans ever really be expected to support riders they know so little about? As the World Champion, Emma is at the very top of the women's sport. I think it would be fantastic for her to reach out to the average cycling fan who doesn't really know anything about her other than her results. Either love them or hate them, the likes of Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins provide excitement and entertainment with some of their comments.

Where other than a blog can women riders, who might have equally controversial or interesting comments, let them be known to the masses? Until women's racing gets on TV, the internet is the only place for them to be heard and mainstream sites are the places most people look for their information.
 
As regards @_pigeons_ other complaint about me dismissing Lizze Armitstead…having re-read my piece, you're right, I did. And I can only apologize to Lizzie for that. She's a fantastic rider, and has an attacking spirit that I really admire. So I accept I should have praised Lizzie more because she has a huge amount of fans for her cycling ability.

Certainly she's not only popular because of her looks. My question would be, if you think of an equally talented rider as Lizzie who doesn't share her looks (I don't dare suggest a name), is that rider as popular? Marianne Vos is by far the best women's rider in the world. And on the bike, looks amazing. But she's not half as popular as her talents deserve. So that was my point really, that a male rider’s popularity is based more on their ability and personality than their looks.

A few women may like Tom Boonen or Andy Schleck for their looks, but the majority of fans are more interested in riding style, Phillipe Gillbert being the best example. On the women's side I feel looks play as much a part as riding ability in a rider’s popularity (among male fans).
 
This was on the Twitter of Cycling Plus, the UK's biggest selling cycling magazine: ‘Oooh...Victoria's Secrets! Yes, it's Pendleton. But it's just a bread advert chaps... http://www.facebook.com/hovisbakery’
 
The fact that such a magazine is saying 'here's Vicky Pendleton, but she's got her clothes on so the men shouldn't be interested.' says it all really (and it's not a good thing it's saying).
 
So I'm sorry if people disagreed with me, and I hope that those I did upset realised I had good intentions.
 
One thing is clear from the responses I got, namely that many people are passionate about women's cycling. Hopefully they can work together and change things for the better.
 
Thanks,

Benji
 
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Sarah Byrne - (UK racing cyclist)
 
There's a lot of things out there right now about equal opportunity between women's and men's cycling. It seems there is a huge gap between what men get out of the sport and what us women get out of the sport, this is a fact that cannot be argued by anyone.

It seems the women at the top of the sport want some big sponsor to come along, give them a healthy wage packet at the end of each month and provide them with top team mates, training camps, team cars and bikes. In an ideal world this would be great and would be nothing less than what the women deserve. However before this can be achieved, the media coverage of women’s cycling needs to be increased. Before this can happen, a wider interest in women’s cycling has to be developed.

Don't get me wrong - being a cyclist, male or female, is hard. I train just as hard and harder than many men. I have a severe lack of social life and any extra cash is spent on training camps or cycling equipment. I have no sponsor to give me things for free and in reality, I will have to be multi world champion in order to get the amount of money I've put into cycling back out again. But I’m not about to sit here and moan about the lack of women's sponsors. We need to get cycling into the media, and although some coverage of the leading women cyclists in lads mags will gain them some fans, it’s not the type of fans which women should be targeting.

We need to look at getting support from our own kind. The likes of Vicki Pendleton should be pushing to get a blogspot or an interview in a women's mag, such as Cosmopolitan, so women can relate to the woman athlete in the same way as they can Cheryl Cole etc.

If I was a high profile cyclist, I'd be going to all of the women's magazines and women's fashion stores asking for any chance of publicity in the hope that I could pull the wool from the eyes of the average girl/woman, to allow them to understand the sense of achievement that sport can give them. It is only when we win the support of these women that we can expect sponsors to pull the money out of their pocket and put it into women's cycling. Otherwise it is simply a waste on their part.

The problem is not lack of sponsors but lack of women cyclists willing to broaden the audience of their own sport.

The stars of women's cycling should take a leaf out of Jessica Ennis's book, who is an icon for many girls, athletes and non athletes. They see her as a successful athlete with a love for mulberry handbags.... something they can relate too.
Benji's original blog wasn’t criticising women’s cycling, it was giving sound advice on how the stars of women’s cycling can increase the following of the sport so as in the future they can earn more money.

Even Lance Armstrong has organised rides in which all members of the public are invited on. This is publicity for cycling and maybe even someone such as Emma Pooley organising a ride like this could increase the popularity of women’s cycling and encourage more people, male and female, to become a fan of women’s cycling.

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Stuart Maclean - (On the Drops and involved with top UK women's team Horizon Fitness RT)
 
If I'd read the original blog post about 12 months ago I probably agreed with you. However 12 months ago I only knew about men's cycling. Since then, I have become a not just a supporter of women's cycling (it features far more aggressive riding than men's cycling), but I am now working with Stefan Wyman on some women's cycling projects as well as his Horizon Fitness Racing Team.

This past year has been a crash course in trying to understand a sport which gets very little coverage. However the information is out there if you know where to look.  This is one of the biggest problems facing women's cycling more than anything else and while I see your reasoning to challenge the riders directly to accept a more proactive approach to promote the sport, I can't see it as a particularly fair challenge (nor one that will actually fix the problem).  Any great changes are most likely to come because those who are in a position to influence will not only empathise with the plight, but also make an effort to push for a positive change. 

Will Emma Pooley blogging for VeloNation or Cycling News make as much of a change as these news sites proactively seeking out stories and interviews on a daily basis?  Personally I would like to those in the media who support women's cycling to try to influence the content of the news and stories being published a bit more.  If they were to challenge their editors/producers/line manager to find a way to get more women's cycling covered, it would be a step in the right direction.

I think it's often forgotten that a women's "pro" team doesn't mean that the riders are paid.  Despite the team's status, the vast majority of the women cyclists are unpaid. They have to work part-time or in the off-season, and rely on funding (which is often on a par with a part-time call centre agent). You will have the very few at the top on good salaries, but you'll have women racing in rainbow jersey's being paid about 10-15% of the amount of her male counterpart. 

I don't know about anyone else, but if I was training and racing full-time (with existing team’s blog and commitments), working in the off-season or perhaps studying a PhD (as in Emma's case), I may be a wee bit knackered to write a blog.  A lot of women cyclists already have personal blogs (Helen Wyman, Rachel Neylan and Marine de Vries immediately spring to mind) and I really admire them for that, but to challenge them to do it on top of their existing commitments seems pretty unfair.

I'd like to end with some positives because a lot of good things are happening (or in the pipeline) in women's cycling.

- British Cycling is currently advertising three jobs specifically for women's cycling, which is a very good statement of intent at a grassroots level
- There is likely going to be increased funding to encourage more women to participate in sports in the UK
- A televised women's Tour Series backed by Horizon Fitness
- An ever increasing number of women competing in the sport
- There are already websites like the excellent Podium Cafe who regularly interview the top women cyclists as well as the elite men
- Companies backing women's cycling or targeting women cyclists as consumers are seeing improved sales

Finally, I'd like to request that anyone with ideas or suggestions about women's cycling email me at stuart@onthedrops.com or tweet me on Twitter, because part of our team's responsibilities is to help make women's cycling more accessible.
 
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Claire Beaumont - (Brand Manager Condor Cycles and racer)

If we cross sports and look at those tennis players you mentioned, they will have agents or press people. Emma Watson and Cheryl Cole have agents, press spokesperson, managers and the rest. All those people are working to keep those names in my face in the fashion magazines I buy. Cheryl is a product: if she’s on the front cover, I’ll probably buy the magazine. Because of that, the magazine will stick her on the front to sell issues.

Pooley and Pendleton have got to go on the offensive, I say. Make a cycling exercise DVD, show my friends (not my cycling friends) how to start cycling. Give that DVD away with a magazine like Zest (womens fitness mag).

Get interviews on stations like Radio 4 for Women’s Hour, Radio 5 Live.

Do features in magazines like Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness – things like “Pendleton’s guide to sounding smart when watching track racing.”

As an example, I went to a photoshoot with Ed Clancy before Christmas. For a new campaign. He was going to be plastered all over bill boards, on You Tube clips, with Denise Lewis.  Why did they choose Ed and Denise? Because they share the same agent who is working on promoting them both. They get paid, he takes a cut. He makes money for his effort.

When I worked in marketing for another company I had to pitch ideas to magazines for women’s like Marie Claire, Glamour etc. I have to give them the idea for the feature and product suggestions that’s how I get products placed. For those mags I had to work to the theory of “how to cheat at getting fit”. Lose a stone in two weeks by eating chocolate. Tone up for summer in two weeks. All that last-minute-do-no-work-get-great-results stuff.

Those riders need to get their agents to pitch stories like “Get a summer body like Lizzie.” Then instead of Lizzie explaining how she spends hours inside a hurt box each day for weeks, which will put a lot of people off as they aren’t competitive, don’t have time, don’t have the mentality to hurt their legs, it should explain how cycling to work tones the thighs.

Riding up a hill is great for working and slimming the arms as you ride out the saddle. The article could have Lizzie in her cycling shorts and top (sponsor obligations) and trainers, not wearing the helmet but holding it in her arms. No glasses, no mitts. Not to technical. This will make her and her sport more accessible.

The article then finishes with a note that explains you can see Lizzie in action at the World Champs on BBC 2 at 5pm next Friday, etc.

Ok, this isn’t the cycling and racing as we know it. But it introduces the names to readers. It’s a sport you can’t just dive into. Slowly we build up the name and the coverage.

An example of this is RCS; why do people know about the team over, say, Pendragon or Sigma? The reason is because of your blog, the twitter, the website, the constant press releases and feeding of news to the press. No other team does it like we do. Well, other than Team Sky, but they have about 8 channels on the TV too!

Those ideas are a scratch on the surface, just some suggestions of what could be done.

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Anna Doorenbos - (Amateur armchair cycling enthusiast):
 
I will be the first to admit two things: I didn’t even realize women’s cycling was separate from men’s cycling until watching the Tour de France this year, and I don’t really follow women’s cycling.
 
To the second point: The main reason I don’t follow women’s cycling is because I’m not invested in the female cycling personalities like I am the male cycling personalities. This is probably a direct result of the lack of coverage of women’s cycling.
 
I absolutely do not disagree with the point he (Ben Greenwood) was trying to make, which he maintains is to promote women’s cycling and encourage women to not only take more notice of the sport, but also fight for its equality. I mainly disagree with how he made his point.

If I’m reading it right, he’s basically blaming women for the lack of interest in women’s sports. [He’s saying that] because the females aren’t interested in women’s cycling, it’s got no chance. 

My question is...why is just up to the women to do something to change the status quo? Just because I’m a woman, should I be obligated to follow women’s cycling? While I support women in sports, I don’t follow women’s sports. Does this make me a bad women? No. I probably don’t follow women’s cycling because there is no coverage of it. Would I follow if there was coverage? Maybe. Who knows? The point is that it is not just up to women to change the status of women’s sports/cycling. It’s a two gender society and it takes both sides to make change.

This means writing an article which supports women’s cycling without gender stereotypes (men like boobs! women like fashion! sexy is always slutty!). This means really looking at why women’s sports do not enjoy the same support as men’s sports and what can be done to change it, as men and women.

And if you can figure out how to solve the gender inequalities in women’s cycling, then we can finally figure out how to solve the gender inequalities of society!

So while Benji writes his blog with the best of intentions, his overall good message is lost amid old stereotypes and not- great suggestions. It is clear from the reaction on Twitter that there were other women who also failed to see his good intentions through all the gendered stereotypes, as well as those who did see them. In the flurry of Twitter reactions that followed, Benji was very good about responding to tweets, defending/explaining the intent of his post. It was during these ensuing conversations where Benji clarified his intentions and even offered up some good, non-gendered suggestions for increasing female cycling’s exposure.

On the one hand, I admire him for taking this topic on. On the other, this topic doesn’t have to be controversial-most people agree there is a huge disparity between coverage of women’s sports and men’s sports. He just made it controversial by using the same tired stereotypes to make his point, not really looking at why the inequality between men and women exist, and not offering any practical solutions to the situation. Keep blogging, Benji, but let’s be a little more thoughtful next time, mmm’kay?
 
The full blog can be seen at:
http://masteringtheuphillshift.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/excuse-me-while-i-get-on-my-soapbox/
 
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Samantha McInnes - (Pro rider's fiancée, cyclist and massive cycling fan)
 
Absolutely awesome blog, that I couldn't agree with more. Coincidently, just recently I have been asked by my friends (girls) on more than one occasion, 'how come you're into sport?’ When I thought about it properly, I compared myself to them and my upbringing and the only answer I could find was nurture.

I have been brought up with a dad who is very into sport. Brought up being taken to football matches and having sport constantly on the TV at home. This then ties in with why I absolutely love going to bike races…not just to see Graham, but to follow the sport and the other riders too. Therefore I can only conclude that it is definitely possible for girls to be nurtured into sport, having experienced it myself. Also, that the girls who want this to happen need to look at this rather than putting women off them by carrying on with activities that women wouldn't find admiring. These activities are just a quick fix for popularity, but nothing that's going to last and make a difference.
 
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Maria Papargyriou - (Team soigneur and keen surfer)

It’s definitely explosive! I agreed with the blog. Benji gave a lot of good arguments, and did use a lot of angles to see it from. But the fact remains, women don't support each other.. Heck I don't even watch women's surfing, I means if I go to a beach and they are surfing, I would watch, but I don't actively go out and search them out, like I would men's surfing. All the surf movies I own are male ones except for one. From what Benji said about the chicks posing in scantily-clad stuff, it sounds like they are their own worst enemies, no? I love that he had the balls to write what everyone else, especially men, are thinking. I also don't think there is such a thing as bad publicity…whether you agreed or not, you were talking about it, and isn't that a good enough reason to write it? I thought it was.

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Cyclepassion Calendar

See what the girls in the calendar though about appearing in it here;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79hxT4D0UL0

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Comments from Twitter

@maryestall  thought-provoking article. I think that it is a bit of chicken and egg situation with women’s magazines

@suffolkcycles couldn't agree more. Punchy blog though! Like it.

@GirlMTNbiker Wow...Ladies of sport, you have to read this! Gendered stereotyping anyone?

@GStreader great blog Ben. Interesting stuff. You are going to get mauled by the women!

@emma457 Good blog on women's cycling (brave man).  I thought everything you said was true, although I am slightly alarmed I might have to buy Heat.

@antmccrossan Looking forward to seeing the feedback on blog on VeloNation. A topic that should be addressed.

@Si_Wilson Good article- if not agreeable on all points, it’s got folk thinking how to raise the profile of women’s racing

@_Pigeons_ My god, that article! Women riders should do sexy photoshoots, or blog on our site to make us more £! No acknowledgement.

@fourwhitefeet boring repetitive, Ben presents 1/2 humanity as perverts. Anything by Pooley would be a better read

@SSbike Personally, I'm glad I read the latest blog as he put thought and energy into it and stimulated debate. I don't agree with it all, though.

@davidheff Certainly a very interesting topic, but rather a shame that you have so little of value to say on it!

@neilstorey an interesting read (as usual). Don't agree all round, but great to see that some healthy debate has been sparked

@Dankogan interesting reading, really enjoying the blogs!

@Rugbyleague1 well I liked it!

@TomCayman re blog, interesting parallel is women's squash. Sarah Fitzgerald was a pioneer in subtle exploitation of sexy outfits but struck balance between being attractive to male and empowering for female audience. Nicol David et al continue this

@SSbike my girl friend read it and she could see where you were coming from. I thought it was interesting, got some debate going

@jenscer Rough day? :-) I did get your intention but there are some pretty sad stereotypes and misconceptions in that piece .

@cyclingfansanon Dear women, just so you know, you "prefer fashion and gossip" over sport. Expert stereotyper @benjigreenwood says so, so it must be true.

@autofact Yes. Some of us pay attention to Women's cycling just fine on our own. Women's cycling doesn't need you to save it.

@andrew_f_martin I'm with @benjigreenwood

@9lives2 twodle! #"prefer fashion and gossip"

@dimspace useful page for you to bookmark (site on restraining orders) just in case any women cyclists try to "get" you. :D

Don’t let peoples comments put you off. Everyone has the right to say what they think, whether it’s controversial or not

I think there was a lot in there that people would agree with, but they were too busy getting in uproar about certain bits.

@EllaFruitella Sorry Ben, not sure I agree.

@andyverrall another great blog Benji

@deanodowning This boy is good. A blog on Girls.

@CycleGirlPdC what u have written in your response is what u should have written in ur blog, instead u have attacked people & 2nd guessed

@MrsBYork Recognised a lot of what you said, reckon it's upset so many folks cos it's too close to the truth

@Velowoman (Cyclist and Cycling fan) (Don't know her real name)
Here's a great blog by Velowoman giving her opinions;
http://limpingcyclist.wordpress.com/

Comments from text


I think it's pretty accurate and you've stated what a lot of people seem to think. I feel that your points are made with enough hard-hitting views which I guess some people will find too hard-hitting. I'm positive that some people will be offended and some people will feel the blog is condescending. Any person who writes is subject to this. I guess the trick is to state your views, yet give yourself wiggle room if you don't want flack. If you're not bothered then the article is just fine. (Male)

Your blog is good. A bit long but well written. (Male)
 
I enjoyed it, raised some good points. (Male)
 
The simple fact is as you said, until there's a big enough audience for the sponsors to appeal to…they aren't going to plough money in. (Male)
 
Must have been the hardest blog to write when you know women's racing is rubbish and have to make out it's good. (Male)

Absolute gold, mate..I'm nearly in tears...you have given a good unbiased argument, with added humour, so nobody can genuinely be upset..Forget'em if they can't take a joke. (Male)
 
It made my partner laugh, she would never sponsor women's racing again, well maybe Liz Hatch for the PR. (Male and Female, sponsors)
 
Ignore them!!! (Male)
 
My girlfriend says she likes it. (Male and Female)
 
Some strong rather controversial issues there that need attention & I think you've done it well.  (Female)
 
I guess you don't write a blog and expect everyone to agree. I read it, didn't agree with everything but wasn't offended either. (Male)

We both think your blog is fine. It's all true, so what's the problem? (Male and Female)
 
Very interesting & bold article. Some valid points, not surprised it caused a stir (Female)
 
Don't see what the problem is with un-equal opportunities. Just what a good piece of journalism should be. A well put together piece which provokes healthy debate. (Male)

And, finally, from my brother:

My wife read your blog and as a sport watching female agrees with you... but you're in trouble for buying nuts/zoo and saying 'tits'!!

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Top Women Riders Twitter and Websites
 
http://www.cqranking.com/women/asp/gen/twitter.asp
 
http://www.cqranking.com/women/asp/gen/websites.asp


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