We need an equal story to be told - Women in mountain biking in 2022
With today being International Women’s Day, I thought I would share some things I have been mulling over of late around women in cycling. I started DirtyheartMTB with the intention of promoting anything and everything that would get more women on bicycles. The goal and the dream has always been to shift the narrative from men being the main pillar of events, news and features, to women AND men getting equal coverage and exposure. I find that most, if not all the press releases are written with the men’s race in mind and the women seem to follow on from that, as an afterthought or a, “Oh yeah, we must mention the women’s race!”. Most of the headlines from these releases feature the men’s category winners as the overall winners of a race. It leads the reader to believe that those riders were competing against everyone else in the race when we all know those riders were competing against the other men in their category. A very big difference. There are other categories and riders who are winning the race in their respective categories, but the titles remain completely focussed on the men’s race. Are we still accepting this as the norm?
Some events are worse than others, with little or no coverage of the women during or post-event. It is so shocking to me that events can have a motorbike and media following the entire men’s race but somehow cannot do the same for the women. I’ve always thought how easy it could be to have a person at each waterpoint who provides updates on the women’s race to the organisers so that they can update the viewers during the event, heck…I’ll do it! Is that too much to ask? Are we asking for something that no man will ever have to ask for? Yes, we are, and that is one of the major problems elite women face in women’s cycling. They have to ask, and it appears that the members of the opposite sex are given without having to ask. We must change this narrative, and fast.
We have always, as a media platform, released only the race results of the women at all the major cycling events. I do not mention the men’s results at all. (They get enough coverage as we know). Someone asked me the other day if I am not just portraying a feminist approach to the subject? Why exclude the men? I come back to my point above. Women have to ask. The number of times I have seen people asking event organisers for an update on the women’s race is astounding. It shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t be a second thought. We shouldn't be asking. I shouldn’t have to explain myself when I release women’s results and not the men’s. In fact, there shouldn’t be a need for a platform that has to focus on women’s racing. It should be celebrated. Women should have their seat at the table and sometimes it should be at the head of that table, dammit! By providing only women focussed coverage I am hoping to elevate the quality of coverage women receive in our sport.
My heart bleeds for the countless elite women I have watched fight for equal pay, for sponsors to see their value and for the media to pay them attention. When is the last time you read about a pro male athlete with consistent top 5 finishes, who could not find sponsorship or was wanting more media coverage? We currently have top female riders in this position. Don’t get me wrong, sponsorship in cycling is a tough game with many elements at play but we all know that women have to work ten times harder to find companies and people willing to invest in them. Again, the women are having to go out of their way to ask for something that the opposite sex, it appears, is often just given.
I am however seeing a new interest in women’s cycling which gives me a glimmer of hope. Young girls are riding bikes and hopefully will fall in love with riding their bikes and grow within the sport. Covid hasn’t been kind to the youth segment with the ever-popular Spur MTB league not being held and children unable to take part in events or get coaching. Let’s hope the school mountain biking league picks up where it left off and continues to allow the youth an opportunity to become competitive in the sport. It is an incredible initiative that is vital to the growth of mountain biking in South Africa. Another big focal point is the growth of cycling amongst women of colour. It has been inspiring to watch and to see more women who get on a bicycle and realise its magic. Hopefully, this will inspire a whole new generation of riders to join the community. All these pockets of progress give me the warm and fuzzies.
There are many women’s cycling initiatives out there aimed at getting more women on bikes and inspiring a new generation of female riders. Inspiration is valid, don’t get me wrong, but don’t confuse it with fighting the inequality that so blatantly exists. We need more women, and men, to step up and take valuable steps to level the playing fields. To ensure that the narrative changes and that riders are given an equal opportunity from grassroots level all the way up to elite level. No more asking. No more convincing that this needs to be done. All we need is for the cycling fraternity to start taking action. Races, events, organisations and media need to start delivering a message that is all-inclusive. If you can post 10 updates to your social media about the men’s race, you can damn well post 10 updates about the women’s, mixed, youth and other categories too. Let’s start there. Let’s make the way we think, talk and report about mountain biking all-inclusive – blatantly! Maybe the world will sit up and notice the fierce competition and the intricate tactics within women’s racing and highlight that as much as they do the men's. Maybe the sponsorships will role in for all riders, based on their merit and value and what they bring to the sport, rather than their social standing or sex.
With all of that said, I still believe in the collective power of women. We are stronger than we believe and more powerful than we think.
Now is the time to convince the world of that.
But until we, as women, don't have to ask anymore, I will keep fighting for our rightful place at this table.
All Images by DirtyheartMTB