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Why Do I Have To Race Men Or Not Race At All?

A couple of weeks ago I took place in the Red Hook Crit in London, a closed circuit track bike race with a pretty fearsome reputation and very high standard. I was one of nearly 70 women who entered, and I’d done so because I’d seen other girls riding at the previous event in Milan and thought, ‘that looks fun – I wonder if I could do that too?

Last October’s Red Hook Crit event in Milan had a far smaller field, with riders numbering somewhere in the mid teens, but seeing those ladies doing their thing was enough to make me consider racing and ultimately take the plunge this summer.

Just a year prior to that race, I’d have been disappointed in Milan, because there wasn’t a women’s category at all. That spark of interest would not have occurred, I wouldn’t have entered RHC London and those who joined me in doing so might not have either.

 

Juliet Elliott Fixed Gear Charge Ti Plug

 

It was a similar story with Steel City DH in Sheffield. Last year, I’d been approached about the event as the organisers were keen to have a strong women’s field and were actively seeking out female riders to invite and encouraging us to enter. I was unable to attend that year, but after following the event online and hearing how amazing it was, this year I signed myself up. Again, the event had grown and I was one of around 70, making up one of the biggest female fields ever seen in a UK mountain bike event. The girls were happy and the guys were amazed, wondering ‘where on earth had all these women come from?’

So far, so good, right?

 

Wrong.

These events are not the norm, and if I’m blessed with a daughter when I have my own family, I’ll have to explain to her that she’ll have to make do with cheering her brother on most weekends, because ‘there aren’t enough women to warrant stand alone women’s races,’ apparently.

I’m so bored of that same old line being trotted out by organisers. Of course there aren’t enough women entering races if there aren’t any races for them to enter – how can a race scene ever grow if there’s not even a seed there to begin with?

We have to begin somewhere, or this situation will never change. The organisers of Red Hook Crit and Steel City Series saw that and have been rewarded handsomely, not just with our gratitude, but with our money too.

The point is, women ride bikes and many want to compete but organisers may need to take new and different approaches to build a thriving women’s scene. Because historically there is no such scene, they need to help lay the foundations of one; they need to take the plunge and build something great from something initially small. By not bothering to try, they’re failing you and I and sending a strong signal to woman that we’re not worth the effort.

In a country in the grips of what some call an ‘obesity epidemic,’ I think that’s morally wrong.

 

What’s the point in campaigns like Sport England’s This Girl Can, designed to encourage female participation in sport, when there aren’t incentives or indeed demands that governing bodies give us opportunities and there’s little infrastructure to help grow women’s sport? I’m not even talking about equal opportunities; just some opportunities would be nice, because let me tell you, This Girl Can’t when it comes to track racing where I live – I have to race the men or not race at all.

Maybe you’re wondering why I think we should get special treatment and ask organisers to make an extra effort to help us? Maybe you think that women need to just step up and get involved, make some noise, demand their own events, or ‘man up’ and just enter the same events as the guys to ‘show they’re serious.’

I’d like to know why we have to campaign to have the same infrastructure as men? It’s like it’s ‘our fault’ for being female so we have to sort the problem out ourselves – shouldn’t equality be a collective effort for the good of us all?

Do you fancy telling your mum she’s just not as important as your dad? Your daughter she’s not as worthy as her brother?

 

As I said, some organisers have taken steps to redress the balance and it’s paying off – for them and for riders like me. And I began writing this article as a positive celebration of what’s been achieved by events such as the Red Hook Crit rather than another ‘grumble piece,’ keen not to just have a moan about the state of women’s cycling. I know there are a lot of pieces like this already out there… and I felt the need to apologise for what might be seen as another angry rant. But surely having an understandable response to this situation, that of sheer frustration, is justified?

So enough already. I’m angry and that’s that and we should be; sometimes it really sucks being a woman. Though there are many, many more important issues of gender inequality that need tackling than whether or not I get to race at the weekend, as a female cyclist living in a supposedly forward thinking nation I am just so frustrated at how totally unfair things are for my half of the population.

 

Juliet Elliott Fixed Gear Portrait Cycling Active

 

So what do you think? Do you think it’s up to the competitors or the organisers? Do we need legislation, voluntary pledges, a dedicated task force? Maybe you’re an organiser frustrated by low female turnout at your events – I can understand that too, but could it be symptomatic of the cause?

I’m not claiming to have any of the answers and I’m certainly not pointing fingers; I wouldn’t know where to point them anyway. I just wanted to get this out there as we need to keep talking about issues like this. Because I want to race women not men – racing other women is hard enough already!

EDIT: It’s great to read so many comments below and on Facebook – thank you for sharing your thoughts.

I’m adding this footnote due to some of the more negative responses this piece has received  – not  particularly in the comments below, but on reposts or shares dotted about the internet. Some people seem offended that I have an opinion on this matter, feeling I don’t have a right to say anything about this unless I am actively doing something to change things. If you happen to be one of those people, hear this:

Everyone has a right to an opinion, and by sharing mine I’ve helped sparked conversations and inspire debate, so I am actually doing something.

As for the other point:

I have trained as a British Cycling coach so that I can help with the development of womens cycling. I have run a series of free coaching workshops for women. Myself, my husband and my friends are in the process of organising more local women’s events. I actively promote local races and try and encourage female entrants. I write this blog that aims to do the same thing. So, erm, yeah. Where’s the emoticon for two fingers?

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