Friday, January 25, 2013

Skirting The Issue.

Recently, I was watching another episode of "How I Met Your Mother" while on the trainer grinding out endurance minutes.  I was struck by how close to home they hit with the character "Robin".  In the later seasons, her issues are my issues.  Not the part where a whole bunch of hot, awesome men (and Barney) are lining up to be the love of her life, but the part where her choices regarding home, family, children do not lead her down the beaten path.  I can relate to those choices and the ensuing scrutiny and insecurity that comes with bucking the most ingrained trend in modern society.  I really liked the fact that those choices were directly associated with her ability to live the life of her dreams... full, interesting, and not lacking for love or happiness.

I am not married (though that is not an active choice as much as a refusal to conform and the result of a very unconventional lifestyle.  Contrary to popular suggestion, I am not a lesbian, closed off emotionally, or afraid of commitment.  I simply am not afraid of being alone and prefer it to lousy company.)

I am not a mom nor do I ever plan to be one.  I am not a wife or a girlfriend or anything else.  I am an individual and an athlete.

I chose to live my life against the grain, continuing to focus on my dreams and keeping my own life as the central theme.  I have been called short- sighted (who will take care of you when you are old?), unaware (You'll want them later), selfish (There are too many to list here), etc.  I am left feeling alienated and isolated much of the time, especially when I make the mistake of allowing Hollywood into my living room and into my head.

Most of the women's specific tri companies, sites, etc. may as well be called "Mom specific" or "aimed at the fairer sex".  There is an archaic stereotyping that often happens when things become "women's specific".  Things become instantly related to being the archetypal female pillar of the family.  It's hard to blame them when there are all kinds of media that cater to "mom's who... fill in the blank".  (I saw a funniest Mom contest online recently.  I thought what about being a mother lends or detracts from humor enough to justify a specific category.) And if you watch the tube, even the most independent characters would leap into bed with domestication if the opportunity ever presented itself.  What about the women that are pure grit, want to compete and train like and with the boys, women who don't care to be defined by their reproductive organs or family choices.

Some women, regardless of life and family choices, are people first.  These women, these athletes, deserve to be viewed as any other person, any other athlete.  I really applauded Cervelo when they avoided the women's specific bike saying that there was often more difference between two different women than between any given woman and man.  They view them as individual athletes that need to bikes fitted to the body and the task.  I am not a gender.  I am an athlete with certain body proportions that needs to get as low as I can while still maintaining about a 400mm reach.  I am flexible and powerful, making a truly aggressive TT position attainable if I can find a frame with a low enough stack to accommodate my diminutive height (why I ride 650cc wheels).  I don't need a women's specific basebar, I need a 40 cm basebar based on the width of my shoulders.  I certainly don't need someone to imply that I should ride a specific gear ratio based on gender.  That value is based on terrain and my strength to weight ratio.  Period (no pun intended).

This is not a plug for Cervelo bikes.  (Frankly, I've never ridden one, though it made my short list of bikes with appropriate geometry for my body.  As you all know, Seabiscuit is a Felt... a men's issue in a small size.)  It is an acknowledgement of an outlook I wish was far more prevalent in sport and in life.  I also have wide feet so I wear men's shoes and wide shoulders so many times find men's jerseys fit the best.  I wish that many of the color schemes were available in men's sizes or even more that a size was a size and a color was a color and there were no gender markings at all.  In this case, I prefer "shrink it and pink it" to "dumb it down and make less functional.. then slap a flower on it."  At least with "shrink it and pink it", I get the advantage of the technology and research given to men's products, even if it does look stupid in pink.
Seabiscuit... Felt B2 Pro.

Sure, a different aesthetic is fine but many female athletes have a surprisingly gender- neutral opinion of what looks good so be careful there, but a product line aimed at the serious athlete should be just that.. serious.  Take the chamois, for example.  Please don't make it puffier because me arse might be more delicate but do make the shape a little different (hard to argue that anatomy addressed is inherently different) and put it in a short that conforms to a slightly different body type.  That is appropriate.  Stop there.  Don't make changes that assume a less aggressive athlete will be wearing it.  Remove the assumptions and look at the athlete as a set of values and measurements, not a gender or a societal role.  If the item is marketed to serious athletes then get to know these women.  They are hard as nails.

SOME companies should absolutely address gender differences, particularly apparel companies.  I think that certain apparel companies do a brilliant job with women's specific products, not just with colors and patterns but with the more important function and performance.  They don't assume that the female athlete wants something substantially different in quality than the male athlete.  Thank you to those.

Some of us are here to live our lives, keep living our lives, and in some cases finding our way into the paths that we were always meant to walk.  In sport, business, politics and other competitive arenas, there is a fine line between being a woman and being a person doing a job.  For men, there is no need for a distinction but sadly, with women, there very much is.  As someone who has spent her life crossing gender barriers, I have become very accustomed to but never comfortable with this distinction.  Somehow, even in my own mind, to be a woman and to be a competitor can exist contiguously but never simultaneously.  There always seems to be a degree of "one OR the other".  I think that is a shame.  Ultimately, being a woman is a matter or chromosomes, not choices, and we should be judged as individuals.

And we, as women, need to do our part as well.  Stop thinking of yourself as a piece of someone else's puzzle.  Be yourself, own it.  If you are an athlete, never let it become an excuse.  Simply view yourself as a human with "X" stats and in "Y" condition.  Don't limit yourself.  Be willing to suffer and work, just like anyone else... no more, no less.  It's not important that you are fast or slow, it is important that you are recognizing your potential, however vast or limited it may be.  I don't care if you have kids, don't have kids, whatever.  One person juggles a family life while another struggles with a disease while a third has a soul-sucking job.  Everyone has their demons, including me.

When I cheer a woman on in a race, especially if she is older or heavy or still running after most people have finished, I am not cheering her gender but instead, her courage to rise above the roles we are herded into as children and letting her know that there is life beyond our limitations.  I am rooting for a person who is "embracing the suck" right at that moment.  If she has a different take on gender roles, that is okay.  All she needs to hear from me is encouragement and she is free to interpret that any way she wishes.  I applaud the companies that market to women without corralling them into stereotypes.  I love it when they manage to hit that balance but I think we are actually a long way away from true integration.

1 comment:

  1. I think your incredibly attractive. However since, we're sharing, I don't judge anyone on their personal choices, and I actually enjoy reading about your unusual adventures. Don't let anyone tell you what to do with your life, or fill your head with crap.
    Live your life, or I'll buy a bike and live your life for you. I'll grow my hair out and ride a bike calling myself Lora... fair warning.