Heaves a great big sigh.
Total Women’s Cycling, I thought better of you.
Today’s article on women’s specific saddle research starts with this headline
I used to be a Christian. This morning, having run out of positivity on the Internet to accompany my morning coffee, I turned to my friend, Reverend Beverly Dale, who helped me process the joint loss of my marriage and my religion five years ago, to see what was up in the world of sex positive Christianity.
Reverend Dale, or “Rev Bev” as she was affectionately nicknamed by her students back at Penn, is a magnificent woman. A sufferer of emotional, physical and sexual abuse throughout her childhood, she never lost hold of her Christian faith and now uses her experience and her triumph over the injury and the shame to guide others on a path of joy and freedom never before experienced inside the walls of modern Churchdom.
The linked video is of her sermon “A Veiled Gospel Truth: God as Erotic Passion.” In it she references St. Augustine as the father of modern Christian body shame and sex negativity. Saint Augustine was a notorious misogynist. What struck me was her claim that he fathered not only the anti sex and anti body philsophy that governs modern Christian thought, but that he also fathered the anti-woman ideology that pervades our society.
The typical Story goes like this. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden*, an eternal paradise where they would want for nothing. In order to remain in the garden they needed to obey only one rule: Eat not the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I like this part because it can be translated to “the conditions to living in paradise are only that one must not know the difference between good and evil, only to be.” Woman, however, was weak of mind and became tricked by the Serpant. She ate of the tree and then in her shame made Man to eat as well, thus orchestrating his fall from grace. Woman, therefore is the cause of Man’s sin. If you can control the woman, you can control the sin and thus regain your righteousness.
It makes sense to me that to truly have freedom in our life we must learn to love completely and without restraint. I think the male hatred of the female is actually an extension of the male hatred of his own body and his inability to control his impulses. The reason why our society hates the feminine so much is then because the feminine becomes a representation of everything society hates about itself. But the male and the female exist in balance, harmony and perfection. We were created that way, to complement each other, with each one being completed and made greater by the other. To deny the feminine is to deny the part of one’s self that is passionate, warm, flowing, and creatively powerful. These qualities are indeed difficult to control and in our control oriented society they become faults. However, a world without passion, a world without creativity, a world in which we are afraid to dive into the luscious depths of our very existence is a world not worth living in.
Paradise is living without the ability to distinguish between good and evil. It is the place in our hearts where we accept ourselves without caveat or criticism. It is a place where love flows freely. Of course we all want entrance to this place. We all want to be loved freely and without caveat. The first step on the path to paradise then is to accept and love our selves — the male and the female within us — for if we do not know how to love our selves, how can we know how to love another? Or what it feels like to be loved? We run the risk of walking right into paradise, and then back out again because we don’t know how to recognize it when we see it.
*According to Sex at Dawn, they were actually thrown into a garden, but that’s a different discussion.
Historically, men and women have always existed in a kind of balance with each other, with each gender filling in its own roles that together make society work. Over time, those roles have changed, and depending on location they have started from different places as well. Recently, however, I get the distinct impression that the role of the female is being stamped out and made to be irrelevant. Our society is becoming completely yang and we are suffering for it.
Taking a grand view, the devaluation of the feminine in western society can be traced back to agriculture. Nomadic humans were “fiercely egalitarian,” as Brian and Jethalda put it in their earth shaking volume Sex Before Dawn. Sharing of work and of bounty was the most efficient way to moderate the risks of the ancient environment. Depriving women or other members of society because they were weak was simply not an option. For one thing, the smaller stature of the female enabled her to nurse young children on the same caloric intake of her male counterparts. Moreover, modern studies of female labor have proven that pregnancy and the presence of nursing infants had nearly no impact on the average 18 pounds of food per day that women gathered. Hunting, on the other hand, was comparatively more risky both in its costs and its rewards. To devalue the feminine in a hunter-gatherer society would be to expose yourself to many a hungry night.
With the advent of agriculture, women were able to nurse for shorter periods and thus became more fertile. Children were able to work on the farms from as young as four or five and so producing many children became economically advantageous to the increasingly isolated and independent family unit. Disease and malnutrition also increased with agriculture making the viability of each pregnancy less reliable. The result was that women became domesticated, along with the animals they depended on for food. Men, on the other hand, were relatively unaffected physically by the shift to agriculture.
The beginning of gender imbalance arrived with the technological shifts associated with independent, agricultural based living. Furthermore, because agriculture was a much more stable source of food on a short run scale, the focus on sharing decreased and competition increased. With each family unit responsible for itself, there was incentive to hoard food and to exchange it for services, favors or other necessities instead of share it openly. With agriculture was born capitalism.
And capitalism is responsible for the continuing degradation of the feminine. Where once fertility was a valued trait in a women, it is now a liability. Children do not increase the prosperity of a household but rather suck its resources. Producing children also becomes a trade off, putting women’s very physical nature at odds with their desires and desirability in the work force. Economic obsession with marginality and comparative advantage has also lead to the conceptual division of fertility from male and female. Where once it was believed that a child required a man and a woman (or in some places many men and a woman) to create and raise, operationally we behave today as if the entire weight of reproduction is carried on female shoulders. It then becomes a natural economic imperative to value male labor over female, particularly in industries where children are considered burdensome to production.
I think it is no accident that today activities which are considered difficult, requiring of high skill, or respectable are given male identities while equivalent activities that are mundane, or necessary but not difficult, are associated with the female. For example professors are men while teachers are women. “Cooking” is something you have to do at home so that you can feed yourself or your family and many women cook, but men are chefs. Similarly, supporting roles are assigned to women while forefront performance roles are given to men. Lawyers are male and paralegals are female. Bosses are male and secretaries are female. Sewing is a women’s task, but fashion designing is controled by men. When you look at the distinctions, there is very little difference in the actual activities involved in many of these paired occupations. For example, what does a chef do if not cook? How does one create new fashion without sewing the clothes? Can a paralegal properly type up a court decision if she does not understand the laws about which she writes? These distinctions are not in any way related to the fundamental nature of male and female so much as they are imposed from the outside in order to support the status quo of a highly competitive performance male, and an accomodating female.
The trouble with economics is that it is built upon the idea that competition is fundamentally a good thing because it raises us all up to our individual potential and guides our choices in such a way that without needing to hold a committee meeting, we can all corrdinate our activities with each other to achieve maximal bounty. What economics does not acknowledge, however, is that the rules that govern our interactions with each other — market rules, commercial law, human capital investment — are made by the very actors that are bound by them.
The difference between economic government and democratic government, however, is that in a democracy each human is worth one vote whereas in economics, each dollar is worth one vote. So in the end, equality is always a very precarious equilibrium. It only takes the tiniest sliver of advantage for one individual or group to be able to amass a majority of the wealth and once this happens all the surplus can be devoted towards shifting the rules in such a way to protect and grow that majority. Corporations are guilty of this, but men are guilty of it, too. Sadly, women are also guilty of participating in the fray. Indian culture is a prime and awful example. A woman’s value is derived primarily by the success of her eldest son. In old age it is her eldest son who will care for her. Thus a woman is driven from the start to neglect her daughters and her sisters and pour all her devotion into the men in her life — her husband who controls her present and her son who controls her future. This sad truth is a reality that was created by a society that had a surplus of power and a lack of incentive to protect equality.
I claimed that the dominance of yang over yin in our modern world was hurtful to all of us, not just our women. Men who are comparatively more yin, that is more passive and accomodating, or more gentle, are devalued just as women are devalued in general. This argument was made by Emma Watson to the UN in a recent presentation on women’s rights, but even this is not the whole story. We humans need to be complete and to live complete and full lives that accept, cherish, and nurture all aspects of ourselves. A man who has been forced into a mould that does not fit is an unhappy man just as a woman who has been squashed into a box that cannot contain the whole of her being is an unhappy woman. Yet man and woman will seek each other out and seek happiness in each other. But how can we find happiness in another when none of us know happiness ourselves?
The suppression of the yin in our world is a form of socially expressed self loathing. It is a hatred for the acceptance of the Way Things Are and a willingness to find happiness in one’s current circumstances. It is a disgust for our personal weaknesses and our inability to change the things that hurt us. It is a denial of the pain we experience on a daily basis, pain which defines us and brings us life even as it hurts us. I will even go so far as to say that the love affair with yang is a form of hubris, believing that man is superior to the nature that created him, and the nature that still defines him today. It is the belief that we as humans know better than the environment that carved out our existence so many millions of years ago and that our power to control is greater than the power of Nature to destroy, to kill, and to rebirth again.
Man can no more live without woman than humans can live without the earth. I believe that the future of humanity lies in our ability to restore the balance of Yin and Yang in our society and in our world.
Perhaps it was the Always* commercial, or some other commercial, that inspired me to redefine what it means to ride like a girl. I’ve been searching for people to ride with who can help me grow as a cyclist. I want to challenge the professionals one day and I know I can’t do it alone. In a forum on a new group I’m checking out, one of the members made a comment that some guy was slow and “rides like a girl.” To the group’s credit, another member quickly corrected him, but the seed had already been planted. To ride like a girl is an insult? Nonono. Let me explain to you what riding like a girl really means. To ride like a girl is to love the sport of cycling like no man has ever loved. We are so few and they are so many that to even dream of riding a bicycle is like walking into the lion’s den. They would eat us alive and shit us out again without even a second thought if we gave them a chance. And we give them a chance every time we get on the road. “Can we ride with you?” “Sure, but this is a no-wait ride.” BITE “What pace are you planning to hold?” “Today’s an easy day, so something like 16-17 mph.” CHEW “I want to race, but there’s no women’s class. What should I do?” “Just jump in with everyone else. That’s how we learned. Trial by fire.” SWALLOW “Everyone is so much faster than I am. It’s very scary, is there no other option that’s more my level?” “Look, if you don’t have the balls, don’t ride. We are not the babysitters club.” SHIT And there we are, shredded, watching as the men ride off into the distance. And what do we do? We climb back into the saddle. We push on the pedals. We ride. We ride for the love of the bicycle. We ride for the need for speed. We ride for the joy of feeling our bodies propel the bike through the air, over the road, down the trail. We ride because we are made to ride. Some women will quit. After the kind of welcome we receive into the sport of cycling, who can blame them? But those of us who continue to ride, we are furious. We survive the burn, burn after burn after burn, because we are propeled by an inner fire a thousand times hotter than anything outside. With smaller legs, less muscle mass, and smaller lungs, we climb the same hills. Our hearts beat the same rhythm. We put in the same time. And each hour of work produces less speed and less progress than any a man’s body would put out. The hills feel bigger, the miles feel longer. And yet we ride. We push past the barriers of our own bodies, the barriers of an industry who considers us as nothing more than marginal revenue sources, the coldness of a culture that simply doesn’t believe that we should be allowed to play, too. And we excel. We fly. We get dropped, and we ride alone. We crash, and we pick ourselves up. No sponsor? No problem. We’re used to taking care of ourselves. All this we do with the energy that comes from a deep seated love for riding. Only a girl could endure all of this and still ride on. So do it. Go on. Ride like a girl. I’ll ride with you.
* Originally I thought Dove was responsible, but it was Always with their campaign #likeAgirl. They’re at it again and you should definitely go check them out.
I’d like to start by saying that I am embarassed to be writing this post. However, in the name of honesty and self awareness, I’m going to do it anyway.
I am still very, very sad over the events that went down with my shop. It has infected every aspect of my riding and because of my inability to clear the air, it has grown and metastisized like an aggressive cancer. I’m afraid if I don’t get this thorn out of me soon that it will swallow me and make repair impossible.
It’s not just that the manager dropped me like baggage in the middle of unfamiliar territory with no support, directions or even a heads up. I’m mourning the loss of a dream that I didn’t know I was carrying until it was awoken by these people, and then crushed again so quickly after.
My dream, of course, is to become a strong, powerful top female athlete. I have always wanted to excel with my body, but I have always been told to give up the idea. With no support or role models, I grew into a very strange young woman who was so used to making decisions in the black hole of social isolation that she had lost the ability to comprehend common sense. Goals, training methods, life choices, all became a jumble of nothing in particular all because I never had any feedback that I could trust to guide me. That changed when I was invited to join the cycling team. I thought to myself, I am finally strong enough to be able to play with others! I am finally good enough to be allowed to have guidance. Finally, finally, it’s ok for me to dream of the heights of my physical potential!
With the idea of devoting every cell of my body to this one goal, this goal that no one could ever take away from me, this goal that was so beautiful and so pure that I could use it as a foundation to organize the rest of my life around, I became ecstatic. Suddenly I had a purpose that was wholly mine, that fulfilled me and gave me joy.
And then just as suddenly as this dream was uncovered for me, it was crushed with the realization that, no, even my own personal best, even the height of all my potential actualized, my sweat, tears and pain, are just not good enough for me to be able to have friends. Because friends don’t dump you like excess baggage when they want to play. Because friends don’t ignore you when you beg them for help. Because friends don’t tell you that you can’t play with them because you’re a girl and they don’t have time for that shit.
And that’s what it comes down to, really. I had a dream that I had finally found friends to play with. And then I woke up to the blaring reality that no, no I really don’t.
It’s been two days since I’ve ridden Pikuro. My legs were trashed. They were so sore and tight that it hurt to lay face down on my bed. That’s probably a sign that I should have stretched them out better, but exhaustion took over.
Last night as I was laying in bed to sleep I started imagining myself doing jack knife turns with smooth ease on Pikuro. It was an odd image since they are more a mountain bike thing, but Pikuro and I have a bond. Jack knifes became drop offs, and log hops, and bunny hops. Then there were wheelies and that thing where you climb onto a stair that’s really tall. When I woke up in the morning I wanted to ride so badly that it hurt, but my legs are still trashed.
I settled on a gentle ride to work. It’s gotten a lot warmer now and I can ride in short sleeves finally. It means I have a lot more control over my pace during a ride, too, since I don’t have to adjust for the wind/layering/body heat combo lag to balance out.
Just two comments on today’s commute.
- I found another road cyclist (good weather cyclists!) and decided to pace him along the main stretch of road from my ‘hood to the city. After a single stop light I couldn’t handle his slow pace and I burned him. He didn’t catch up to me for another six kilometers where I was waiting for the light to cross onto the river path.
- I spied myself in the rear window of a car while pedaling up the steepest hill of the route. Out of the saddle, thighs flexing, head ducked down in attack position — I am a beast! I exclaimed to myself I am one mother-fucking-sexy BEAST of a cyclist! How dare those boys suggest I’m not strong enough! How dare any one suggest I can’t tear up the roads and burn it on my baby-girl! I will take them on!
2a. I spied myself in a shop window later and I noticed I have some really sexy thighs. Not quite the same flavor, but I’m proud to be a strong, beast of a cyclist, even when I’m displaying my sexy thighs.
I would like to start by saying that I love Pikuro with my whole heart. She has never betrayed me, always been strong, never complained, and always volunteered for a challenge. I love this bike.
The boys, on the other hand, were much less praiseworthy.
I had gone into the shop after work on Monday to see if there would be practice for the Sado ride we are doing in just over two week’s time (a 210 km loop around Sado island). So far we have done a single ride of half the total distance in practice and I’m really nervous. I give up and go home without an answer only to get called just as I’m going to bed and told to be back at the shop at 6am the next day. It’s an hour and a half from my house. We were going to ride from Enzan station to the top of the highest paved road in Japan. I was thrilled at the idea, but tired and worn out. I agreed on faith, hoping that since the pansy girly-girls at the shop were doing the Sado ride that I would be able to do the practice ride, too.
Barely fifteen minutes into the ride they disappear around a corner without a word. Luckily the road was pretty obvious, because they didn’t bother to give me directions. While I knew I would be dropped eventually, I told myself that they would come back soon to check on me and make sure I wasn’t lost or overwhelmed or something. I said to myself, of course they’ll come back! They’re so much stronger than I am that the extra miles will barely be a workout.
An hour goes by, then two. I look down at my GPS and I’ve climbed nearly a thousand meters in under fifteen kilometers’ distance. A map by the side of the road marks the peak at 2300 meters. I could only carry one water bottle and it was already dangerously light. There were no shops, no vending machines, not even any intersections in sight, just this long, steep, winding road disappearing off into the clouds.
Parched and exhausted I reach the Kotagawa Dam, and the first intersection in nearly twenty kilometers of riding. All the public toilets are bolted shut. There is no water. I am only halfway to the top. I sat down in the grass by the side of the road and tried to hold it together. I had no idea where I was and no idea where they were. Do I turn back? Do I push on? The gentlest grade on the entire ascent was 4% and the mountain road was tight, often only a single lane, and dirty with the dried leaves and seeds of a winter without traffic. With no cell reception and no backup, a flat tire or a slip on the way down could be disastrous, but my legs were already quivering with exhaustion.
After a nap in what turned out to be a grassy field of deer poop I decided I would ride the two kilometer scenic route to a flower bed around the corner. It would wake my legs up a bit and get me back in the zone to handle the very spookey descent ahead of me. Five kilomters and another 300 m of climbing and there were no flowers. Fuck it, I’m done. I’m fed up and pissed off and I’m going home. I did my best to ride clean and smooth on the descent, but the road was so dangerous that it was hard to really enjoy myself as I kept expecting a car to appear right in front of me around every turn. As much as I could see, I focused on my newfound technique: brake, eye the inside of the turn, keep your focus inside until either you start to creep toward the outer edge or the turn opens up, then look at your exit and set up for the next curve. I did well, though my knuckles were locking up and my shoulders were on fire by the time I got down.
Not knowing what to do, I headed for the train station and hoped for a place to get water. The boys showed up twenty minutes later, but after all that I had been through I was livid, fucking furious! I could not even speak to them for fear I would fly into a rage. It had been over four hours since I had any contact with any of them and they didn’t even bother to tell me what route they were planning to ride.
In the end, I still enjoyed the physicality of the day. I love my bike. I love feeling my muscles clench and churn, and the response of the bike surging forward with every pedal stroke. I love knowing that it is the power of my own body that drives the momentum underneath me. At the same time, I wanted desperately to have a group to ride with — to ride with friends.
A girl on a bike is a lonely, lonely creature. There is no culture for female cyclists, no products that suit our bodies, no events appropriate for our skills. I searched in the States, and I’ve been searching in Japan. At first I said to myself, you just need to get a little stronger. You’ll be amazing as a woman, but you’ll still only be able to ride with the beginner and weaker guys, but it will be a ride with a group in any case so set this as your goal. I did that. I got stronger. I got faster. I took on challenges that most other women would cringe at and what did it get me? It got me dropped without a word in the mountains in the middle of nowhere with no water, no support, not even a goddamn map.
I don’t curse my bike, the road or even the sport. I curse the privilege of the Y-chromosome, the infrastructure, and the dehumanization of women. I curse the blithe and cavalier attitude of the boys who say to me, “look, we didn’t treat you any differently than anyone else. If these other guys couldn’t keep up, we would have dropped them, too.” And they have the audacity to complain that women don’t want to ride with them! Dear boys, this is the world that you create. Stop being such fucking assholes about it.