I have never really considered that being a girl has anything to do with writing. I think that growing up without running water and electricity, being chased by whales, and that one time I hit my head really, really hard, has had more of an impact on what I have to say, than the fact that I sometimes get free drinks in bars.
In the past year there has been a shift, and a bigger focus is being placed on women in mountain biking. Awesome, right? The problem was that a bunch of people, really-great-not-sexist-at-all people, had a vague notion that women needed to be represented better or more or just. . . something in our media. They identified a void, but the solution wasn’t quite there yet. Being that I have the prerequisite ‘soft tissue’ the request was put to me a few times to provide ‘women specific content’.
I will admit that I saw an opportunity in this niche, and we all have rent to pay, but at the same time it just didn’t feel right to me. The few times that I have attempted to write a ‘rah rah rah up with women in mountain biking’ type article they have felt soulless to me. The type of read where the words are arranged well and the punctuation is stellar, but you walk away and immediately forget about it. Like a technically great photograph that leaves you nothing more than… ‘meh’.
For example I once wrote, ‘We are not solving global warming or preventing teen pregnancy; we are just riding bikes. However, it would still seem that the lack of women competing in this style of mountain biking is something we feel passionately about.” This non-committal, third party assessment of the concerns buzzing in our industry about the lack of women in downhill racing was my way of trying to fly the flag.
The problem is this; yes, I have a vagina but that makes me as similar to other women as my secluded childhood and imaginary friends make me similar to the guy who yells at me while going through my recycling. I really don’t feel like I know the first thing about what other girls are interested in. I grew up as a tomboy, my first fisher-price toy was a chainsaw, and I aspired to be a 60-year-old fisherman when I grew up – which to this day accounts for my fashion choices. My sister on the other hand was a beauty pageant queen. A girl who knew how to walk in high heels and who could completely transform the way she looked in under an hour. These are skills that I am still equal parts envious of and intimidated by in most women. So, from a very young age, I knew that I didn’t know everything about being a woman – and I’m still not clear on exactly what issues relating to mountain biking are specific to women.
The other thing that made my palms sweat and my Spidey sense tingle around the idea of writing women’s specific ‘from my vagina to yours’ articles is that I never wanted to be pigeonholed – and I’m using the Webster’s, not the Urban Dictionary definition here. I have never wanted to be seen as just a ‘female writer’. And I don’t mean that as ‘just a woman’. I mean it that same way that saying ‘sorry, I only write about Enduro now’ would severely hinder my career – minus having to wear a fanny pack.
I didn’t see equality as me being hired because I appeal to women, I see it as me being hired because I have a pretty solid sense of where a period should go. Tina Fey landed a role on SNL because she is funny, not because she is funny just to women.
When it comes to mountain biking, we don’t need to be women first. We are riders first. A riding trip is just that, a riding trip. No gender identification required. There needn’t be a specified women’s riding trip with the requisite cowboy hat, bikini, and side boob photos. Boys and girls can ride together! No segregation. And most importantly, women in the industry can be profiled without being asked what it is like to be a woman working in the bike industry, or how they feel about women receiving equal payouts on the podium. Those gendered questions can be replaced with the more interesting and personality revealing ‘who inspired you to ride bikes’ and ‘what are your goals for this year’.
Marching bands, neon signs, and gratuitous cleavage actually make mountain biking less accessible to women. They single us out, point out our differences, and become polarizing. But realizing that mountain biking is more about the experience and love for the sport, than about whether you sit or stand, will further unite us as an equal and more accessible community.
Subtly shifting the way we view ourselves as part of this community and industry is the first step in changing the way everyone else views us. I have never considered any of my articles ‘women specific’. When I write about my grandma being the inspiration for my outdoor adventures, or about the incredible person that Tara Llanes is, or about my friend Marilee
who embodies the love of biking that we all feel, I choose to write these articles in a way that everyone, not just women, can relate to them, and in doing so a larger audience is inspired by women.