Singularity

Tag: feminism

Feminism means equality. IN SPACE

by on Jul.14, 2013, under Planet Sam, Rant

avatarI hadn’t heard about the Lynx Apollo mission. Now that I have, I can feel a full-on rage attack coming on.

…press representatives of the Axe-Apollo project in the UK were genuinely surprised that the campaign might be perceived as sexist and reassured that women are more than welcome to join.

Because of course, the tagline “LEAVE A MAN, COME BACK A HERO” isn’t sexist at all. Neither, clearly, is the poster.

Lynx Apollo Jacuzzi poster

Or the ad.

So I’m now rooting for Kate Arkless Gray, @spacekate, who’s not only passionate about getting into space, but also about keeping sexism out of space. Thanks to her efforts, Unilever was obliged to revise competition rules in countries such as Russia, Mexico and the Ukraine, which previously had explicitly banned women from entering.

She’s competing against 249 people for one of 4 spots this weekend. Unfortunately, it looks like the competition is rigged to favour men after all. With the best will in the world, as a competing athlete myself, I know that in a strictly physical competition that isn’t ultra-endurance, the best men will always beat the best women.

There are ways around this, of course, the simplest of which is to take 2 men and 2 women and take the best 2 of each. But will they do that?

Take another look at the poster, at the ad campaign, at the fact they had to be shamed into not excluding women from the competition in some countries. What do you think?

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Once more, with feeling

by on Jun.20, 2013, under Planet Sam, rambling

avatarI’m going to a wedding this weekend and I’m super-excited because the person getting married is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Who happens to live in Toulouse. It occurred to me, as things do on occasion, that if I can go to the effort of buying and wearing a dress for Her Majesty the Queen, I can definitely go to the effort of a dress for someone far more important to me.

Thing is, I’m not much of a dressy woman. I work in a job that is either office smart or manky grubby, and when I’m not at work I’m either in sports kit comprising varying degrees of lycra, or slobbing around the house in jeans. Add to this the fact I hate shopping with a passion, and it should be clear that shopping for a dress is something I would only do for a very special occasion. (Next time I might ask people to sponsor me on behalf of the RNLI).

My body, as far as I’m concerned, is primarily for making bikes go faster, getting me around, lifting things, moving through water with speed and efficiency, walking up mountains, taking me to places where I can spoffle sea creatures, and providing the conduit between the contents of my brain and the outside world. What it’s not is a clothes hanger, or an object that exists for other people to admire (or not, as the case may be). Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying I don’t care what I look like. I do, in as much as I don’t want to look awful. It’s more that I don’t think about it much. I don’t exactly have body confidence so much as when it’s doing what I expect it to do — ride bikes, run, swim, compete in triathlon, walk around, open jam jars, carry bags etc etc etc — then functionality outweighs any physical appearance. When I don my tri suit I may have a moment of relief that I still fit into it after 3 years of being injured out of training, but I don’t worry about what my arse looks like. Not at the time, anyway. I save that for the photos afterwards.

A number of years ago I was very ill, and for a while there was a strong chance I was going to end up in a wheelchair. That was something of a priority check. As long as my body is working, and not threatening to break down again, we’re on pretty good terms. I exercise it, feed it nice food, make sure it gets plenty of fresh air and generally take care of it as best I can.

It has never expressed an interest in fashion.

Shopping is hard. I don’t have a personal style. I don’t know what works for my body shape or type. It’s not on my agenda, most of the time. On the very rare occasion I buy clothes that are not for work or sport, I find something at a price that doesn’t make me faint, in a colour that doesn’t taste horrible, check that it fits and doesn’t look disastrous, and that’s about as much as I can bring myself to care.

Today I needed to buy a dress. I had an hour or so after work, which is my limit for time spent on shopping. I was distracted by the lady in the perfume shop (perfume being the one conventionally feminine thing about which I have strong opinions), where I had gone for a travel pump for my current favoured scent. We chatted. It was fun.

I went to a clothes shop. Everything was in triple figures. I went to another shop, which carried clothes for ladies with curves. Some nice things, but they were expensive and all the colours tasted horrid. I went to another and another, by which point my patience was thin. The fifth shop (fifth!) was quite large, open plan, and had no indication of what all the different sections were. I was a bit lost, and wandered around for a few minutes, hoping for that synaesthetic hit telling me there was at least something in the right colour.

This guy came up to me. He was a little taller than me, thin, and had horrible beard shaved within an inch of its life (I wondered what was the point in having it at all), a posture straight out of the Ministry for Silly Walks, and a staff badge.

“Were you looking for anything in particular?”
“No. I guess I’ll know when I see it.”
“What sort of thing do you want?”
“Long, light, preferably green.”
“A dress?”
“Yes.”

He looked me up and down as if I were a laboratory specimen, or one of those masochistic creatures who subject themselves to the horror of America’s Next Top Model, then gestured vaguely towards the other side of the shop.

“I suggest you try looking over there, dear,” he said, withering. “You’re a bit on the big side for this section.”

I was so shocked I just smiled vaguely and let my feet start meandering in the indicated direction.

I’m not a delicate flower by any stretch of the imagination. I have been described as ‘one solid piece of muscle’. I will never be petite, never be elegant, never be graceful and sinuous. But I can muscle my 70″ fixed up a 12% incline, swim 3km in an hour and open my own damn jam jars. I’m not huge, either. I’m somewhere between a UK size 8 and 12 (US 4-8), depending on brand.

I shouldn’t be bothered by this inconsiderate idiot’s comment. but I was shopping for a dress, to look nice for my friend’s big day, and I felt this man had just told me there was no point in looking at any of the things I liked because I was huge and horrible and far too ungainly to wear beautiful.

This particular shop will never have my custom. Ever. Maybe I was in the petite section. Maybe that was the section for teenagers. I don’t know. I don’t especially care. He could have directed me to a more appropriate part of the shop in a friendly, nice, helpful way. He said it in a way that implied I had no business being there.

And in doing so lost my business permanently.

I spent my money somewhere else, where the shop assistants were helpful, pleasant, and didn’t judge me as if I were a piece of meat and they were looking for something to feed to a fat-shy fashionista.

Big doesn’t mean unhealthy. Thin doesn’t mean fit. Size is so far down on the list of reasons to judge a person I can’t see it with a telescope. I’d rather be fit, healthy, strong and mobile than I would a fashionable size 6 any day.

This was my first ever experience of being judged too big for anything. Should it ever happen again…

Well. It had better not.

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Return to Triathlon

by on Apr.25, 2013, under Race reports, Triathlon

avatarThis past weekend saw me return to triathlon competition after a nearly three year hiatus. My last race was Dalkeith, May 2010, and it was in that race I ruptured my plantar fascia—a particularly painful injury that left me hobbling for 9 months.

The turning point came during a camping holiday in Wester Ross, which I spent barefoot. Lo and behold, I was able to walk again. After getting hold of some Vibram Fivefingers, and with a suitable time for recovery, I started running. Swine flu was another set-back, but after two years of re-learning how to run, adjusting my biomechanics the hard way, and careful training, I felt able to return to racing.

Turrif triathlon, a sprint, was my first since Dalkeith 2010. It was great to see some familiar faces as well as getting to know some new ones, and absolutely super to discover my absence had been noticed on the race circuit. I had really missed racing—not just the competition, or the challenge, or even the opportunity to drool over some spectacularly nice bikes, but also the camaraderie. No matter how fast or slow you are, fellow triathletes will cheer you on and congratulate you for your effort. That mutual support is one of the biggest happy-making things I know, right up there with puppies with big feet, Maru with a new box, non-Newtonian fluids and scale invariance.

I wasn’t expecting the race to be a fast one, and it wasn’t. At 1 hour 32 minutes and change, it was the slowest sprint race I’ve completed. The swim came in at around 13’45, but I can’t be sure what the time was because my HRM broke. Transition (and the timing mat) was 150m over uneven ground from the pool and we were required to put shoes on to get down there. The conditions were abysmal, the worst I’ve experienced. Serious wind, rain and hail made the cycle leg even more difficult than the steeply undulating terrain, bad road surface and flooding would have made it anyway. When I entered T2, after my slowest cycle leg ever (50 minutes is appalling) my kit was floating. I am not joking. My toes were so cold that it was a struggle to get them into soggy Spyridons, and my transition time seriously suffered— T2 should not take 1’50.

Despite all that, I managed a PB in the run and a second in class for my first ever placing.

turrif finish line

Yay!

My utter delight and sense of achievement is tempered only slightly by my sense of annoyance that the above picture is the only one in which I think I look reasonably good. Here’s another, in which I don’t think I look good:

Under the Bridge

I look at that and think, “Oh gods, I need to lose weight. My thighs look like a pair of canoodling walruses.”

This is so wrong.

In that picture I have just swum 750m in under 14 minutes and was one of the fastest in my heat, having passed everyone else in my lane bar one. I’ve struggled into my bikilas and run across the car park, down some slippery steps, and am on my way to another car park, where I will jump on my bike, ride 20km in absolute filth, then finish off with a 5k run.

Does it really matter that I weigh 67kg and have thighs that touch? What’s more important? That I don’t conform to socially-acceptable standards of beauty (thin, unblemished skin, cheekbones you could shave with, hair as thick as a bear’s), or that I can come back from injury and severe illness and still run faster than I could 7 years ago despite not having shed the relatively small amount of weight I gained during my time off? Should I devote mental energy to bemoaning the fact I can’t even contemplate running without a decent sports bra, unlike some of the more athletic ladies; or spend it considering all the ways I could shave off the paltry 2 minutes that came between me and third lady overall?

Yeah. I don’t need to spend much time thinking about that. In the grand scheme of things, and despite what Dove would have us believe, function is far more important than appearance. I’ll keep on training, and if I should end up leaner and meaner, great, but if I don’t I’m not going to hate myself for it.

My next confirmed race is St Andrews, but I’m looking for others to enter this year. I’ll probably do Inverurie at the end of July, and maybe Knockburn would be fun. Bearing in mind that I like 3-4 weeks between races and don’t want to travel too far this year, any other suggestions?

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You don’t need to grow a pair.

by on Mar.24, 2013, under Cycling

avatarA while back, despite firm resolution not to, I got into an argument on Facebook.

I know.

A fellow cycling enthusiast, one who prefers the Dutch model of segregated facilities (I KNOW) posted about numbers of people cycling. In what I considered to be a counter-productive generalisation, he made an observation that only a small sub-set of risk-taking males choose to cycle on the roads.

Statistically speaking, he might be right, for given values of “statistically speaking”, “sub-set” and “choose”. But it rubbed me up the wrong way, because it’s not a small sub-set of risk-taking males who choose to cycle on the road. I cycle on the road, even when there’s a path available (I find paths inherently more hazardous). I’ve got quite a track record of persuading other women to cycle on the road, too. Frood cycles on the road, and while he’s male (in the strict, biological sense), he’s no risk taker.

Merkin Farm
I promise these are not risk-taking males. Plus, that’s my Pompino in the middle of the shot.

In fact, the majority of people I know who cycle on the road don’t do so because they’re risk takers, male or female: they do so because their assessment of the risk is much, much less than that of those who insist it’s too dangerous.

People are not going to be encouraged to cycle by the assertion that the only people willing to cycle on the road are risk-taking males. My experience of encouraging others to start cycling suggests that it’s much more effective to explain risk assessment and mitigation in detail. Ride so people can see you; behave in a way that’s predictable (i.e. like traffic); understand that the vast majority of drivers really don’t want to hit you; and pay attention because not everyone else on the road does, but understand that’s mostly because they’re Clarkson-wannabes or desperate to get home because their children are being menaced by a hungry, angry, peedo lion and the house is on fire, which is pretty rare, and here’s how to deal with them.

Of course, that doesn’t support the argument that cyclists absolutely must have fully segregated facilities before even contemplating putting a leg over a top tube. Still, no argument looks all that great when it’s demonstrably false from the get-go.

Cyclists who choose to cycle on the road are not a small sub-set of risk-taking males, although they may include a small sub-set of risk-taking males. They’re mostly people who have looked at the hazards, availed themselves of relevant mitigation strategies (lights, positioning, behaviour, vigilance, route choice) and decided that it’s a relatively safe activity.

Including me.

Dumb Run 2008 - RB at Linlithgow

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IT’S SO FLUFFY!

by on Nov.26, 2011, under Miscellany, Planet Sam, rambling

avatarIt’s my birthday. Birthdays are cool and special and I’ve never grown out of feeling that there is something particularly important about birthdays. I know other people feel differently about birthdays. Some seem to treat them as something to ignore: an inevitable indicator of time passing and thus mortality; another year, another set of wrinkles. To some they are an excuse to party.

To me they are something to celebrate in a congratulatory fashion. Hey! Well done you! You survived another year and you know what? You’re doing okay, actually.

We moved recently —are still sort of halfway, if truth be told— and while packing I found a photograph of myself taken many several an unspecified number of birthdays ago. It was one of four identical pictures taken in a photobooth, back when I was still cutting my hair very short and shortly after I acquired my very first black artificial eye (a huge moment in the personal history of me). I think this was the year I went to Ashton Court Festival and became inordinately attached to a helium balloon in the shape of a dolphin, which I called Jones.

Old photo

My friend Charlotte commented:

Cor, that looks like a portrait from the assasins’ academy graduation yearbook.

I think she has a point.

Women with hair that short attract the wrong sort of attention and attitudes. The immediate assumption, if only of those who feel it is appropriate to voice such opinions to strangers, is that one is either a “dyke” or a cancer victim. Unless the woman in question is playing a particular part in a movie, or is a model doing a show that is avante garde, or “edgy”, then hair that short is generally considered unattractive, and I’m pretty sure that presumptions about gender roles play a large part in that. Long hair on a woman is usually better regarded than short hair. Women often invest a lot in having long hair — look at the tearful reactions of the would-be supermodels on reality shows such as America’s Next Top Model during the makeover section, when their precious locks are lopped off in the name of fashion.

It’s only hair. It does grow back.

I loved having short hair. I loved the practicality and fuzziness of it — it was incredibly soft. I liked how it emphasised my bone structure and showed off my ears. I thought it looked good.

Six years ago I reluctantly stopped shearing mine with the clippers once a month, as I was planning on re-entering the job market and I knew it would create a poor first impression. I resent the expense of a hairdresser — when I had it cut for the wedding in March it cost me £60! — and so I have grown it out to the point where it no longer needs that attention.

Although I won’t, because in the real world sometimes being professional requires that one refrains from being unconventional, looking at this photograph made me want to cut it all off again.

It was fluffy. We like fluffy!

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Sam reviews: Portal 2

by on May.02, 2011, under games, gaming, Geekery, Reviews

avatarWhile everyone else was rolling painted eggs down hills, chasing after Easter bunnies and stuffing themselves full of chocolate, my main concern about the penultimate weekend in April (other than the trip down to Lincolnshire for my mother-in-law’s birthday) was the release of Portal 2.

Portal 2 cover
In a gaming world where most of the action titles seem to be taking the “increased difficulty = more monsters and more shooting”, finding a title that is engrossing, has a good narrative and doesn’t rely on ultra-violence is quite difficult. I haven’t bought a new adult action game since Bioshock 2 — I’ve been buying things like Little Big Planet 2 and Rabbids titles instead. Compare Resistance: Fall of Man with its sequel, FEAR likewise — I haven’t gone near Dead Space 2 because the original took that to a frustrating extreme. There is only so much I can cope with button mashing through a fight only to run straight into another one with barely enough of a break to regain a couple of health bars.

Portal 2 is a breath of fresh air in a room stale with the scent of testosterone, cordite and spent shell casings.

It’s a puzzler, much like the first one. The first one, however, had us join Theseus after entering the Labyrinth then bug out as soon as the Minotaur was dead. In Portal 2 we get to see a bit more of Crete and the Kingdom of Minos.

Gameplay is similar to the first offering, although there is less reliance on laying portals in exactly the right place with impeccable timing and more on figuring out the correct sequence and making use of the portals to achieve the seemingly impossible. While I had a considerably frustrating time with the original, lacking the precise hand-eye co-ordination required to make accurate portals at high speed while flying through the air, I found Portal 2 to be just frustrating enough. I liked the logical progression of problem solving. Rather like doing a crossword, it’s necessary to gain an eye for it, to learn the rules and the patterns. There is a sense of accomplishment in gaining the mindset required to solve the puzzles. The achievement here isn’t being able to slaughter more and bigger and stronger rabid creatures: it’s being able to solve ever more complex puzzles that on first glance seem impossible until a solitary patch of white turns into the end of a thread that will lead you through to the exit.

There are nods to the original in the use of some of the same test chambers, run through the decay mill. If you are expecting the game to be as short as the original you are in for a shock at the point you think you have escaped into the outside world. The use of the derelict original facility to bring in a whole new set of puzzle types and give some background to the Aperture Science facility was enjoyable, seasoning the very dark storyline with welcome humour.

Another point for which Valve has my undying love is that our protagonist is a woman. But she just happens to be a woman. There is a point halfway through the game where GLaDOS says “She did all the work!” If you have been concentrating on the gameplay rather than laying out portals to get a look at your character, and know nothing of the game, this is the first time the sex of the character is clear. This isn’t Silent Hill, where being female inevitably leads to a plotline involving maternal instinct; or a reason for pneumatic busts à la Lara Croft; nor the ridiculous posturing of Bayonetta. Portal 2 passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, even when one of the women involved is a potato. (Spoilers!)

“Oh, it’s you. It’s been a long time. How have you been? I’ve been really busy being dead. You know… after you murdered me? Okay look, we both said a lot of things that you are going to regret. But I think we should put our differences behind us. For science. You monster.”

Chell

"And then you showed up. You dangerous, mute lunatic."

I couldn’t have been happier had a Big Daddy removed his helmet to reveal he was actually a Big Mummy.

We haven’t started on the co-operative level, and there are several achievements that I missed on my first run through, so there’s plenty of gameplay in it yet. If you fancy something a bit more cerebral than your standard first-person shooter, where difficulty isn’t measured in how many times you die in a sequence before you learn the spawn patterns and get your timing just right, I can thoroughly recommend this engaging and satisfying number from Valve.

I won’t spoil the ending, but yes, there is a song.

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Geek GIRL

by on Apr.22, 2011, under Geekery, Photography, rambling

avatarThere is a long and sorry tale practically worthy of a Norse saga associated with me and my mobile phone. Maybe one day I shall write the whole thing Edda-style: the challenge being that I am so fed up with it that it would be hard to make a reader not be fed up with it too.

For various reasons to do with the way Frood and I acquired our very first mobile phones, back in the dim and distant past, it hasn’t been easy to upgrade when time came due. My first relatively contemporary phone was a Sony Ericsson K850i, but I drowned it on a camping trip. Well. I say ‘drowned’. It got slightly moist in a manner my old Nokia would have shrugged off. Mind you, my old Nokia shrugged off being dropped in ponds, beer, puddles, the sea and even a toilet. There’s something to be said for old tech.

I digress.

Since the damp demise of my previous mobile I’ve been using Frood’s old Samsung something-or-the-other, which weighs as much as half a housebrick and is sturdy enough to be used as a offensive weapon, assuming that you keep the slide shut. It has the most irritating interface of any phone I’ve ever used, and has reduced me to swearing on more than one occasion with its insistence on using a set of nested options positively bureaucratic in its complication in order to achieve the simplest of things (such as choosing a recipient for a text message). I’ve never experienced so many delayed voice message notifications or lost text messages as I have with this phone. And, to rub dirt into the road rash of annoyance, Frood has been sitting on the sofa twittering and facebooking on his WiFi networked HTC Android phone for about a year now. The git.

Last weekend we went to the shop and upgraded my phone. I am now the proud owner of a brand-new, shiny, HTC Desire S, and it has not only brought out the geek in me but given me cause to think.

First there’s the playlist problem. The HTC Desire S doesn’t recognise WMP, which means that transferring a playlist (.wpl) gets all the songs onto the phone, but not in the desired order. Thinking it might be another MMT setting I did some research, musing on how I was already coming at the problem from a whole new platform built on my experience with the Samsung. A problem that Frood has been dealing with for a while was solved in five minutes of google-fu. We’ve ended up installing MediaMonkey and now Frood is engaged in the task of converting our old PC into a proper music box, mostly by re-ripping all of our music so that it’s stored in a consistent format.

Then there’s the camera. It’s only 5MP. I had my eyes set on one of the new Sony Ericssons, with their 8.2MP cameras, but there weren’t any in stock and I do carry my Canon Ti 10MP around with me everywhere anyway. But then I discovered the retro camera app and I’ve been having some fun with that.

New hat

Here’s a picture of me wearing my new Buff hat. I took this using the standard camera. There’s a small front-facing camera on the phone so you can see what you’re doing in self-portraits, although you have to stay very still and the quality isn’t the best. The hat is reversible and adjustable and has a neoprene peak and groovy cave-painting style figures all over it, including one of someone on a bike. It is the best cycling hat I have ever had, and I own two Campag hats.

Speaking of which…

Beer & bottom bracketsHere is a shot I took using one of the retro camera functions. It shows a box of Peroni (Italian beer) next to the new bottom bracket that finally arrived. It’s a Campag Centaur to go with my Centaur triple chainset. Two lovely Italian things. Beer and a bottom bracket.

I am the sort of woman who gets excited by shiny new tech toys, but only when they have improved functionality and make my life easier, more fun or more interesting. I’m also the sort of woman who can overhaul the transmission on her handbuilt British-made touring bike (with the 6mm offset rear triangle for an undished rear wheel, boo-yah baby) and appreciates not just the functionality of the bicycle but the inherent beauty in high-quality components.

What else? Here’s another picture: Retro

This, for me, encapsulates what I find most geeky about myself. I’m wearing my new Minister of Chance t-shirt (GO! BUY! WE NEED MOAR!) — and I experienced a little warm glow of pleasure when I received an email from the crew thanking me for my support. There’s a bike in the background. In my life there is always a bike in the background. There’s a stack of Fortean Times magazines, because I use them as research and also harbour an ambition to write something one day they might publish. I took this using a retro camera on a shiny new smartphone with which I’m deeply in love: a camera effect I chose because it makes it look like I’m taking postcard shots during a zombie apocalypse. I’m wearing my buff hat, although you can’t see it, and I’m not looking my best. But that last point doesn’t matter. This is me. I have one eye: the missing one I have replaced with moulded black plastic. What is important about me isn’t what I look like. It’s not the fact that I have wrinkles and grey hairs or scarring from a skin disorder. It’s not, to revisit an old complaint, my breasts or my buttocks or whether lycra looks good on me.

I enjoy feeling attractive, and it’s not that I won’t make the effort on occasion. But it’s not what defines me. In a recent discussion online regarding the objectification of women one of the participants observed that it’s human nature to find people attractive: he used wanting to look good for one’s wedding as an example. And I think, for my wedding, I did about as good a job as I could have done with what I’ve got without calling in the services of a professional stylist.

But wanting to be and enjoying being seen as attractive doesn’t make a woman’s looks public property and it doesn’t grant tacit approval for her to be reduced to breasts and bum and maybe a pretty face on top.

My favourite wedding photo is this one:

Shall we adjourn to the dirigible, darling?

I think I look pretty damn good in that. But I also think I look like me in a dress (and, for added geekery, a pair of Vibram Five Fingers).

What I am is all of these things, and it’s true of every other woman. We are all more than what we look like in our chosen form of dress. Someone might look at one of my triathlon photos and see nothing but an arse in lycra (and they do, believe me). Yet who I am is someone who can build her own wheels and would be quite capable of handling herself come the Undead Armageddon. I can sort out technical problems with our home network and have a strong view on component choice. I can spot a 5mm hex key at a distance of ten paces. I like computer games. I read and write and enjoy science-fiction. I have lived life and taken its knocks and it shows. I am all these things, and more, as well as someone capable of putting curves in green velvet.

I think it’s tragic that we are still prepared to judge accomplished women by what they look like. I think it’s unfair and annoying that women who are conventionally beautiful will tend to do better than women who aren’t; and that our media constantly chooses conventionally attractive women as every potential role model, thus propagating the idea that being good at what you do is not enough. I get angry when someone uses a woman’s desire to feel attractive in order to please herself as justification for looking at that aspect of her in isolation. And I become utterly livid when I’m told that it’s just boys being boys and only a bit of fun and I’m taking it too seriously.

Equality isn’t about treating everyone the same. It’s about looking at people for what they are in totality: the sum of their talents and abilities; their hopes and fears and passions.

I could never have been a supermodel. I am not a clear-skinned, fresh-faced, perfectly symmetric, youthful beauty. There are days when I am depressed by how I have been culturally indoctrinated into thinking my life could be better if I were. But if you were trying to get your playlists to synch to your mobile device before hitting the road when there was no petrol left and there were zombies in the garden, I’d be your huckleberry.

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Put up or shut up? As if.

by on Apr.09, 2011, under Cycling, Rant

avatarMy first ever internet forum was…

OK. Almost my first.

Almost my first ever internet forum was the sadly-defunct UC-UK (that’s Urbancyclist-UK), which I joined when I was still living in Oxford. It was an email list — what back then were called bulletin boards weren’t terribly popular as we preferred discussions delivered direct to our email boxes. It’s a whole other discussion as to why fora became more popular, although I would venture the suggestion that it’s a matter of numbers. Email groups are good for one or two threads in which tens of the most vocal members are involved. Fora are good for hundreds of active threads from which thousands of members can pick and choose.

I’ve been a member of one internet cycling community or the other ever since; a rare example of a female who cycles on the road and who is an assertive participant in internet discussions about cycling.

OK. We’re not that rare. But we do comprise a remarkably small proportion of the virtual cycling population.

One of the things I’ve noticed throughout my long experience of cycling fora is the inevitable tendency of male posters to respond to female discussion threads with blatant, unapologetic lechery. While a man could post about choice of saddle to avoid prostate problems without worrying too much about other posters joining in just to make comments about his tackle, it’s impossible for women to have a discussion on a forum about female-specific issues without men posting innuendo. In the last such thread in which I participated one male member thought it would be appropriate to post a suggestion that he sexually molest any female cyclists on his next club run.

I’ve had enough of that sort of nonsense. And I said so. Repeatedly. I suspect the laddish atmosphere that can prevail in cycling communities is what puts a lot of women off taking part.

It’s something I’ve taken to doing relatively recently. A lot of the time I feel like a killjoy, like I’m taking it too seriously. I’ve certainly been accused of taking things too seriously and over-reacting — of having a hair trigger — on numerous occasions. But it’s simply that I’m pissed off with having to tolerate comments from the lads, as one forummer once put it. I’ve even been told that if women want to discuss female-specific cycling problems we should get our own private forum, and if we don’t get our own private forum then we should put up and shut up about it.

Boys, as they say, will be boys.

Given the paucity of women taking up cycling, anything that is likely to make them feel unwelcome, in my opinion, should be stamped on and stamped out. Those of us who have the inclination and confidence to take a stand on these things should do so. It’s appalling that any woman should be made to feel she’s over-reacting or being a spoilsport for demanding a similar degree of respect and consideration to that given to the men.

I’m delighted to end this by saying that the thread in question generated some very useful discussion and led one member to express pleasure in the number of ladies present. Don’t feel bad about demanding respect, girls. No matter how foolish, out of order or hypersensitive you may feel expressing your desire to have a perfectly ordinary conversation without being interrupted by the sort of comments that would familiar to Benny Hill, I can guarantee there are other women there who will be grateful to you for making the effort.

Nip it in the bud and maybe the message will start to sink in.

And guys? If you wouldn’t go up to a bunch of women discussing something in a tea shop and interrupt them with whatever you are about to post to a forum thread, because you’d look like an idiot and a creep and a pervert, don’t post it (although if you would then it’s your call). Also, if a woman objects to something you’ve posted, don’t immediately assume she’s over-reacting but check your language. All we’ve got to go on is what you’ve written.

Remember, too, that “it’s just a bit of fun” is really, really lame if not everyone agrees with you.

I don’t want anything too ambitious, just the opportunity to share my experiences as a female cyclist with other cyclists without wondering whether the next post in the thread is going to ignore the cycling element in favour of sex.

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I bet River Song would prefer Campag

by on Nov.30, 2010, under Cycling, Rant

avatarI’ve been watching Doctor Who on DVD lately, and at the weekend I saw the Forest of the Dead. I expect I’m the only one who felt the episode utterly failed right at the end because the amazing River Song — adventuress, criminal, Mrs Doctor — finishes her existence as mum to three children who will never grow up: the eternal mother.

It is possible to have a career and have kids, although by no means easy, but not every woman wants that, and River Song never struck me as the sort of person who, with an entire virtual reality at her fingertips, would settle for a life of taking the kids to the park and reading them bedtime stories; and it bothers me even more that this was in a programme ostensibly for children. I hate the idea that little girls are being told that you can have your career as an archaeologist and run around adventuring, but at the end of the day what will keep you happy is looking after children, even though they can’t possibly have been made with the man you love (what with him still being alive and out in the real world).

Kids aren’t stupid. They absorb these messages.

There seems to be an idea, somewhere in cultural consciousness, that what women really want to do is stay at home and make babies; not get all oily and discuss gear ratios or whether Batman is more of a psycho than Rorschach. We want to have babies and ultimately we’re only interested in and good for things that are in some way related to the making of and caring for babies. And that hopelessly outdated idea is being perpetuated by happy endings that involve a bedtime story and a goodnight kiss.

I suppose this is also what bothers me about the way those who want to encourage girls onto bikes go about it. There appears to be a de facto assumption that girls aren’t interested in bikes. It is related, I think, to the de facto assumption that women can’t write horror or science-fiction, or don’t like playing games like Bioshock.

I wrote the following piece about the love of bicycles back in 2004 — 6 years ago, FFS. I think it bears saying again, because I still feel the same way.

It was when I caught myself talking to it that I thought things had gone too far. This was not a case of a friendly word of encouragement when trying to break top speed on the long descent on the way to work, or a muttered epithet on the steep climb up past three-fingered Pete, the lollipop man. I was sitting on the toilet at the time – we have a toilet downstairs, in a cubby hole attached to what was once a utility room before we moved in. Now it’s where they live: four of them now. There are more in the shed and another one has even claimed a space in our marital bedroom.

I’m not entirely sure how this happened, how these things came to be such a huge part of our lives. They all have names, even the ones that don’t belong to me (in case you thought it was just me being anthropomorphic), and they all have character. Ivanhoe is my spouse’s indefatigable Dawes Galaxy. Then there is Andy’s Cannondale Bad Boy: a long-suffering, Marvin the Paranoid Android type that resolutely goes by the name of Dave. Fingal is my Orbit Harrier, with a tone reminiscent of Noel Coward and a jealous streak. Max is the Specialized Hard Rock I bought for dismal winter commuting and towing the Bob Yak. He’s a real trooper and has a penchant for fast, slippy descents on the tracks and lanes they laughingly call ‘roads’ round here. Peregrine is the relatively new Pinarello Galileo I bought for no other reason than to cheer myself up, currently only 3 months old and still as excitable as a puppy. The other half has recently bought a Giant Terrago, second hand, and they haven’t developed enough of a relationship yet for us to find out what it’s called.

Out in the shed are the relegations, including Percival the Raleigh Dynatech XC80 – my first proper bike – and Vercingetorix the generic mountain bike never really designed for off-road. All the bikes in the shed are somewhat sad and slightly reproving and we keep meaning to find good homes for them.

It’s a bit mad, really. Even so, we know that if Andy tries to do any maintenance on Fingal it will go badly because Fingal is a one-woman bike, a bit like a border collie, and doesn’t like to be touched by anyone other than me unless it’s a paid professional and I have a good excuse. Max, on the other hand, enjoys being fussed over by just about anybody, Ivanhoe is apparently above such things and Dave is stoic in his sense of being neglected. They have an entire room in our small house dedicated to them.

I spend a large part of my time campaigning for my and other people’s rights to take them and their kin on the road. I can now tell what size allen key I need at a glance and I can overhaul a set of Ergopowers. It wasn’t like this four years ago. Four years ago I couldn’t even spell Campagnolo, never mind be in a position to admit to taking their side in the pseudo-religious Shimano vs Campag debate. Four years ago I had trouble getting a front mech to shift properly. Now I can build my own wheels.

We seem not to be the only ones to have been sucked into a love affair with these human-powered works of art. Go to any internet-based cycling forum and you will find people waxing lyrical about their ‘babies’ and spending what might seem like a ridiculous amount of money on something that is, to the outsider, really no more than some metal tubes, wheels, cogs and levers. They share photographs of them with each other as if they were snapshots of their children. It is usual for them to refer to their machines by, if not a name, then at least by make and model.

Frankly I think it’s bloody marvellous. More of it, I say. More people should have Pinarellos in the bedroom or Mercians sitting in the hall. It should be perfectly normal to possess a Giant that practically wags its tail when its owner is within view. These things aren’t toys: they are noble steeds, carrying us through no matter the weather. They are beloved companions, accompanying us to far off places made all the more memorable by the true appreciation of the tea and cake that help weary muscles recover for the next leg. This isn’t about having shaved legs and wearing lycra, or being able to relate tales of broken bones gained falling on a technical single track. The famous Mr Armstrong said “It’s not about the bike,” and I suppose he was right, in some ways for some people. In many ways he was very wrong.

The humble bicycle and its cousins are not just for the racing elite. They bring freedom and joy to a great many. While a shiny new car may cruise at seventy miles an hour, if it breaks down it can cause a considerable hole in the bank account. A bicycle can be maintained by almost anyone for little cost. The fuel that propels a combustion-engined vehicle has a price greater than a dent in the wallet: the human powered vehicle is an excuse to eat cake. A car may eat up the miles but the bicycle provides a direct experience of the landscape. Those aren’t just pretty postcards seen behind a pane of glass. They are ascents, descents, swooping curves and pock-marked tarmac. Mountains are not defined by a crawler lane but by the sense of achievement on reaching the summit. A bicycle doesn’t take you to motorway service stations and multi-storey car parks. A bicycle doesn’t trap you in a traffic jam, listening to endless traffic reports and slowly cooking in your own juices. A bicycle isn’t something that carries you around: it’s one half of a team, and you are the other half.

So maybe it’s not surprising that so many have such a fond attachment to their bicycles. Maybe it’s not so surprising that all of ours have names, and characters that reflect the experience of the human half of the team. Having shared with him the moment of metabolic crash at 2am and the exquisite joy of the sunrise 2 hours later on a 125 mile night ride that was just one of our many adventures, perhaps it’s allowable for me to feel attached enough to my Harrier to talk to him while sitting in their en suite.

Fingal’s indexing is playing up again. It’s just jealousy over the Pinarello. I’m sure he’ll get over it soon.

We’ve moved, of course. We no longer live in a small house somewhere between Exeter and Dartmoor, where the downstairs toilet had a Park Tools TP2 toilet paper holder (I still have it, but there’s nowhere to put it at present). This piece is four machines out of date. Ivanhoe has gone to a new home — Frood rides a Revolution Cross called Spartacus these days — and I have acquired some additional steeds. I don’t campaign so much, having become disillusioned with the general acceptance that bike paths are the way to go, but how I feel about bikes hasn’t changed. We even had one in the marital bedroom to make space for the guests over the weekend.

Women ride bikes for exactly the same reasons as men. There are men who treat bikes as training tools and those who treat them as a means to get to work without having to worry about parking charges; there are men who worry about climate change and doing their bit by leaving the car at home; and there are men who just love bikes.

I’m a woman. I don’t worry about helmet hair or what the latest fashion is. I don’t worry about which lipstick will complement my skin tone and prevent the wind chapping my lips. I don’t worry about these things because my default mode of being is not one that worries about attracting a man in order to make babies.

I ride my bike because I love bikes. I love the freedom, the sense of exertion, the feeling of raw power. I like the sense of accomplishment and independence that comes from the knowledge that no matter what breaks I can fix it. I drool over a Campag chainset as much as the next person and I had to resist the urge to lick my Planet X Stealth when I got her home.

If River Song was a cyclist I suspect she could build her own wheels and would know to expect trouble from one machine on bringing a new one home. She’d be traffic-jamming with the best and she’d have an opinion about the best gear ratios and tyres for fixed gear riding in the snow.

I don’t think that women need anything special to encourage them onto bikes, or to write horror, or to play the sorts of computer games that are traditionally thought of as being for boys. They just need people to stop telling them that the one thing in life that will ultimately make them feel fulfilled and happy, no matter what else is available, is caring for babies.

Get told something often enough and it’s damn hard not to start believing it.

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Things they don’t tell you about triathlon

by on Nov.05, 2010, under Triathlon

avatarThere are 101 things they don’t tell you about how your life will be changed when you start doing triathlon. There’s that moment of heart-in-the-mouth trepidation when you sign up for your first race, not sure that you are fit enough or will ever be fit enough, and then a couple of months of frantic thrashing in the swimming pool and the training rides and remembering what it’s like to run because the only running you’ve done since you were a kid is running for the bus. We all get that. That’s expected.

Then there’s the sudden crazy spending on esoteric training kit followed rapidly by the loss of social life, the obsession about getting your shoes on faster than should be humanly possible, the endless tinkering with race nutrition; not to mention the slow descent into carbon fibre and neoprene and compression panelling.

They might not tell you about that up front but, if asked, people will nod sagely and agree and say it’s just part of doing triathlon.

What they don’t tell you is what happens if you post your race photos to flickr. What happens is that every so often you get an email from the flickr bots. The emails say things like:

[Flickr] lycrafetboy2000 added your photo “East Fife Tri 08 End…” as a favorite!

This one has always proved popular for all the wrong reasons

Initially there’s a sort of smug, self-congratulatory feeling that someone favourited a photo. Then your brain registers the username. Then you start to realise that it’s not the photography skills on display that has attracted the user’s attention. And it’s probably not an interest in the sport, either.

And, despite yourself, you find yourself clicking on the username, then following the link to his (it is ALWAYS a him) profile. Then, oh and then you discover that he’s a member of such groups as “My wife’s hairy front bottom” and “Girls in lycra” and “Spandex Fetishists Unite”.

And you feel faintly dirty and want to take a long, hot bath and scrub yourself clean.

A friend of mine suggested I block these users, or set all my photos to limited view. I don’t want to set my photos on limited view and blocking the users won’t stop new ones coming along (I said COMING). It’s not like they’re forcing me to watch them fapping to photos of me on my bike, after all.

The worst thing of all is that it’s not so much that I’m offended or bothered by the thought of sweaty men pleasuring themselves, grunting over an image of me on the screen. It’s just that… Well. So many of them are so indiscriminate.

I should stop looking at their profiles because then I wouldn’t know into what set I’d been placed in the “Total stranger on the internet finds these things fapworthy” category.

I really should. Just stop.

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