“Excuse me, madam?”

Two of my friends are travelling around India at the moment, and one wrote a post about being female in the subcontinent. I read it a couple of weeks ago and it really stuck with me and after asking her for permission, I thought I would reblog it on my blog for those of you who are interested:-

Check out their blog: http://www.asia-and-beyond.co.uk/

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My Past, My Present and My Feminism

Today’s Blogtember prompt: Describe where or what you come from. The people, the places, and/or the factors that make up who you are

A while back I presented a paper at the University of Sheffield Law School’s Post-Graduate Research Day. I did the usual thing and panic near the day about what to talk about. I didn’t have a chapter that I felt near enough to completion to be presented, and I like using this opportunity to do something a bit quirky.

While hiking into a boulder area in Font, the idea came to me: why did I choose ecofeminism as my theory of choice? Why did it appeal to me, and, taking that further, what does my past tell me about my present self? (Jackson 1998). I decided to present on that, using photographs from my past to try and explain why ecofeminism informs my research and how it affects my own stories. So, this post originates from that presentation.

My Past

I grew up in Vancouver. It’s an idyllic place (well, I remember it that way) to be a kid. I did all the kid things: ballet, gymnastics, acting, Arts Umbrella, the Emily Carr institute during the summer break, circus school, choir and school. But, I also did things that lot of kids won’t have done.

We had land on one of the gulf islands where I used to spend most of my summers. We stayed in a caravan on the island, usually in a cooperative where my parents good friends lived and spent the days swimming, canoeing, fishing and playing. Of course, I remember the good bits when it was sunny and hot and care free. I specifically remember learning to swim in a lake. Ever since, I find pools really unpleasant.

However, I think the island and its people were so influential on my interest in the environment. Val Plumwood in her last book (2002) used a concept she explains as nested stories -i.e. – a small story is nested within medium and large stories. Using this approach, I can now see three different stories emerging from being there:-

Photo: CanadianKate

Photo: CanadianKate

  1. Me as a small child, playing in what looks like idyllic water and countryside and probably this experience has led to my interest and enjoyment of the outdoors.
  2. This photo was taken in a provincial park, established to protect the cultural heritage of local Indian tribes. There are defensive (we think) works built by the native Indian tribes on the island. They’re built out of oyster shells. Also, following from this, just outside of the picture are two sets of industries which use the natural resources around the island
    1. Small, artisan oyster farmers and local fisherman. Thus, there is an interest to keep this place as pristine as it looks for economic and cultural reasons which had competing interests with
    2. The massive pulp mill which used timber clear-cut from the surrounding islands to make paper.
  3. At this period in time the Canadian Government issued an indefinite moratorium on cod fishing off the Newfoundland coast. I remember, albeit dimly listening to the different voices and perspectives which were in the media at the time over this approach. This moratorium ‘put about 30,000 people in the province out of work and ended a way of life that had endured for generations in many outport communities. It also made evident the vulnerability of marine resources to overexploitation and that existing regulatory regimes were insufficient to protect cod stocks.’

So here, the small story is of me, playing in beautiful sunshine with my dog, while the medium story is one of mitigating ecosystem destruction and livelihoods within the provincial/national and international context. The large story still ongoing. Thus as a child I was immersed in the ongoing debates concerning fisheries and competing interests that I’m now grappling with in my PhD.

As a family, we canoed a lot. My mother loved being on the water and immersed in an environment. There is nothing closer to the sea than being in a small boat like a canoe or kayak (apart from swimming, obviously). We used to canoe to a pair islets near the island and spend the day on the rocks. They were made of granite and housed immense tidal rock pools. I would swim and play in these, exploring for small little animals and what grew in them. I would swim in the water around the islets, and often, we would surprise a family of seals who were basking on the warm granite rock to the other side of the islet from us.

Photo: CanadianKate

Photo: CanadianKate

To get to the islets, we would have to canoe through a gorge. And anyone who has canoed will know that it can take a long time to get anywhere, especially if you time it wrong and are battling against the tides. This meant that I would spend a lot of time looking at the cliffs at the side of the Gorge and wondering what was up there. Actually, there were Pteroglyphs on the cliff that I used to look out for.  At the same time, because I was very close to the water I could see the coastal ecosystem quite clearly, particularly that just submerged and on the edge of the Gorge.

Looking at these images now, and reflecting on how they may have influenced my approach or understanding of both ecofeminism and IEL, I think this period of time was profoundly important for me.

I spent ages looking at the intersection between coastal and marine ecology. I canoed past artisan oyster farmers in the gorge and due to my proximity and precariousness in a canoe, I got a very up close experience of the sea. Even now, when I’m reading fisheries conventions and other multilateral environmental agreements, the imagery that I have in my mind is often that of the west coast ocean environment.

The last time I went back to the Islets, we passed 2 dead seals on the way there. I don’t remember seeing a dead seal when I was a kid growing up there. I think this is because the Island is becoming so popular with motorboats and tourists rather than its original community of hippies, and similar.

Ecofeminism articulates a situated understanding, or contextual understanding of socio/economic/political and other areas in order to understand and suggest ways to move forward.

So these photos, I think represent the start of my interest in being and tied with the surrounding discussions I outlined in the previous slide – my belief that objective, subject/knower approach doesn’t necessarily reflect all the subtleties and interconnections. Drawing on Code, she suggests that ‘in its epistemological mode, socio-moral-political analysis of the geographical, institutional, and material circumstances, historical events, and climatologically shifts that foster or constrain scientific/epistemic practices are integral to ecological thinking.’ (Code L, Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location (Oxford University Press 2006)

Furthermore, I was growing up in Vancouver during a period when there was immense environmental activism happening both in British Columbia and around the world. David Suzuki’s daughter opened up the UN Convention on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, and who’s speech is still so powerful now.

While I was very young, I listened to CBC all the time (as my parents did) and absorbed some of the debates. I also saw the effects of environmental damage (granted, from a more privileged position than many).

As I mentioned in the earlier slide, there is a pulp mill in Campbell River which was about an hour away  away by ferry. This was one of the big industries in this region of Vancouver Island, along with salmon fishing for the area and also provided beautiful sunsets from the factory. However, what you can’t see in this picture is the vast swathes of clear-cutting which fed into this pulp mill. In the wider context, there was significant campaigning and debates going on, particularly over  in Clayoquot Sound in BC, which was near (in Canadian terms) to the Island. While driving to there, I would pass huge swathes of clear cutting and see the scars on the mountain. While living in Vancouver we would see the houses creep up the mountains and the discussion/debate about where/what to do with encroaching wildlife.

Interestingly, many of the ecofeminists who I read and have integrated into my critical framework from have informed or developed their critical analysis and theory through the activism of what Niamh Moore labelled ‘eco/feminist’ peace movements on the Island. In terms of my current research, her analysis and discussion of how the Clayoquot Sound Peace camp was structured and its ‘celebration’ of grass roots action is particularly relevant due to the international approach of my own research and the corresponding interest of the UN in gender mainstreaming and participation.

Niamh Moore argues that ecofeminism influenced the use of consensus decision-making, and the identification of the group themselves to a place. This too, is similar to my identification with the island that I grew up on, as it too,  was organised through committees and a consensus approach.

My Present

I grew up surrounded by mountains – in BC they were always there. I used to go running with my dad in them. We got lost in them once, which was not fun. In fact, we nearly (but didn’t) come across a bear and cougar when stumbling around. Now, I always bring emergency stuff with me. Although, not so much for bears in the UK! Now, I have a tendency to throw myself down them, cycle up them and enjoy being in that environment.

Ellmau Mountains. Photo: CanadianKate

Ellmau Mountains. Photo: CanadianKate

This picture is of Ellmau in Austria and taken in around 2011. I had started my PhD by this point and like most PhD researches, couldn’t turn off my research brain. This meant that at this time, I now looked around me in two ways, both in the present enjoyable (or terrifying moment) and through the eyes of my research.

I went on a road trip to Ellmau to go all mountain-biking and downhill mountain biking  – both of which were super scary and a helluva lot bigger than in the UK. This meant I was really scared for a lot of it, but the sense of achievement if I only fell off a couple of times was great. This picture at the start of an epic day on the bike. The clouds were still thick in the valley. I think we covered a couple of mountains with big descents in one day.

My Feminism

Looking back, I see the mountains through different eyes. I see the reminder of a really challenging holiday where I had to face my fears of going downhill, fast. And also re-examine what I enjoyed in holidays, but I also see a framework and mesh of different environmental agreements, assumptions and basis for protection.

  • I see the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) agreed at the UNCED (1992) where the eco/feminist movement was ‘celebrated’ but still marginalised – I see this sky which extends in a transboundary way and thus needs to recognise different perspectives/needs and contexts; and also fragmentation by sovereignty.
  • I see mountains and their ‘special ecological’ conditions which have been the subject of a number of provisions in the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (1994) , the UNFCCC, and  general documents such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002) Plan of Implementation – but I also see the discourse of ‘sustainable development’ in here – through tourism and the importance of economy/diversity of situation

So through this photo, I can see my past and love of mountains, wilderness and experiences within, and how these inform my academic interest now, and theoretical basis for my research.

I think that many of the experiences that I had when growing up quite probably established the basis of my interest in environmental law. I grew up in a melting pot of ecological/environmental activism – Vancouver during the 90s was particularly an alternative environment.  Clearly the time/place/situation that I grew up in has informed my approach in research. similarly, during the 1990s, Canada was addressing a number of different issues to do with conservation/environmental protection and environmental management – as well as the impact of appropriating the territory of different native American lands.

#augustbreak2013 #number 27.08.2013

image

Photo: CanadianKate

I’m up against a very tight deadline for a thesis chapter. My deadline is Monday, and the closer it comes, the more anxious and incoherent I am. I’m rewriting my theory chapter 1 1/2 years after the last draft and have had 3 weeks to remember ecofeminism and feminist security studies as well as write the thing! I’m find it very difficult to translate my thoughts on paper in any form of coherent argument. This image represents the sum of nearly 3 weeks worth of work. In reality, it needs to be deleted, restructured and rewritten.

How to climb – Like yourself Pt 1

So, I was perusing the awesomeness that is Crux Crush and this post popped out at me: ‘How (and why) to Climb More Like a Dude’. This got me thinking. I climb with fantastically strong people. The benefit of living in the climbing mecca that is Sheffield, is that I often rub shoulders with Alex Puccio, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, Leah Crane, Diane Merrick, Shauna Coxsey, Kathryn Schirrmacher. I also climb with other, not as famous, climbers like Jules Littlefair; and those who are super motivated, but climb for the fun of it and  push themselves.

However, not once have I ever thought – y’know, I really ought to climb like a dude. This may be because I’m already have a thuggy style and I’m fairly strong. I like roofs, over hangs, and things which I can lock-off down to my waist (see below for images). However, it may also be because the community that I climb with share beta and techniques, not based on gender divisions but on the individual strengths of each climber.

Here is Shauna Coxsey ‘locking off’ with her left hand. Source: Climbing Hanger

Helena Aleman. Spanish Climbing Championship (Gijon 2012)

Helena Alemán is locking off with her left hand to pop to the top hold. Photo: Darío Rodríguez. Source: Eva Lopez Personal Climbing Coaching

 There may be a difference in culture between the USA and UK. There is certainly some elements of sexism within climbing in the UK, but often its more of the everyday variety. For example, I’ve been told many times to ‘man up’ if my head is failing on a top move. That said, I’ve also been told to ‘suck it up’ and ‘c’mon Kate, it’s easy!’ All of which can be (un)helpful depending on the context. However, in terms of the difference between climbing styles for men and women, increasingly there is little difference.

Most women I know throw for the crux I’m starting to develop this (on the advice from Diane) but I’ve terrible aim. I’m also noticing greater parity in the training areas of climbing gyms. I see girls on the fingerboards doing pull-ups, on the floor working their core and starting to campus. It seems to me that the focus on training and getting strong is a central element to all climbers who enjoy the sport. Those that dabble, don’t.

One thing that is particularly cultural is vocalising. In general, British climbers are fairly quiet. They don’t shout/grunt/huff while working hard. I think it’s interesting that Crux notes the socialization element of this trait. I wonder if the Brits are culturally trained to be restrained (unless its tennis).   Saying that, with the growth of climbing coaching, focus on breath and breathing during hard moves has led to more noises – mainly in the huffing and grunting variety!

So I guess what I’m saying is that Crux’s tips are really helpful and good advice. They didn’t really need to dress it up as climbing like a dude, as most of the tips are akin to climbing like a ‘thug’ (whether or not that label connotes masculinity and whatnot, I won’t go into – in this blog at least!)

My pointers for climbing would be:

  1. Feel your body. Once you ‘tune in’ to feeling your body, you can start to feel the subtle differences in shift weight and slight changes in foot position which may make the difference in completing a move from getting shut down in it. Just learning to marginally move my hips and weight around has really unlocked a number of moves and techniques that have done wonders for my climbing! See here, for example.
  2. Watch others and get them to watch you. It’s amazing how much info I’ve picked up from watching others climb – not just the sequence they use, but also more subtle things, like where they move their hips and foot position. If you’re struggling on dynamic or popping moves, watch how some one similar to you does the move and try to break it down. Get them to watch you in return.
  3. Get strong. No matter how good your technique is, how tall/short, dynamic or flicky you are, there is no reason not to get stronger. And by this I don’t just mean pull-ups. I mean pull-ups, push-ups, core, fingers, legs and particularly bums. So many moves start in your legs and bum that without working and getting these muscles stronger, you’re not going to be able to do certain styles of climbing. For that same reason, it’s really important to work the antagonistic muscles. There are some really good pointers here, here, here and here for strength training.

Mina training at the Climbing Works. Good lock-off strength on display! Source: The Climbing Academy

  1. Get dynamic. I’m not a dynamic person by nature. I’m thuggy, but my dynamic power is not great so practicing is a must. To me, being dynamic includes being able to flick from one hold to the other; single dynos, pops and then the big ol’ double dyno. If you’re a competition climber, being able to double dyno is pretty important (Watch any of the IFSCWC bouldering comps and you’ll see at least one). I think for more general climbing, being able to flick between holds and pop are more important. This is quite straightforward to practice – find some holds and practice using your leg to generate a ‘flick’ so you can move between them. I am definitely weaker when having to flick with the same leg and hand.
  2. Footwork! Footwork is so important. It’s what generates a lot of the movement and power in climbing and often what takes the longest to develop. I struggle with balance a lot, and this results in scrappy footwork. Best way to practice – climb more!
  3. Don’t beat yourself up. This is probably the one thing that holds me back. I beat myself up. A lot. I find it very hard to keep perspective in climbing and training requires a lot of perspective. It’s identifying weaknesses and working on them. Don’t confuse competitiveness with beating yourself up! Yes, be competitive but only if its helpful to you. Me, I try not to be, because it translates to failure in my mind. I try to be supportive and enjoy climbing with a group of friends rather than trying to beat them. If you are a competitive person and that’s what drives you – then fine. But if you’re not, and you’ve a different way of gaining enjoyment, improving and working, then don’t be! Just remember – you’re supposed to enjoy climbing and enjoy the moves. If you’re not, take a step back and try and figure out where that enjoyment went.

For those who are interested in the tips that Crux offered, here they are:-

1. When in doubt, throw for it. You’re at a crux move, and you’re at a loss. Where are the good feet? What’s that next hold gonna be like? Maybe you’re pumped, exhausted, mentally fatigued. Do you just bail and let go, dropping to the crash pad, or yell “take!!” or do you summon that last bit of effort you have, let go of your perception of the outcome, and just throw for it? Whether it’s their egos, or their perseverance, or a healthy combination of the two, 9 times out of 10 you see a dude make some kind of crazy throw for something, rather than just letting go. And maybe 5 out of 10 times it works!

2. Get competitive. While both men and women are probably equally competitive, women are socialized not to voice it or acknowledge it in the same way. We’ll tend to say things like “inspiration” instead of competition. As in Mary saying, “Cate climbed that 5.12 and I was really ‘inspired’, so I attacked the thing all afternoon until I finally sent the f*%#er.” Or me saying (through gritted teeth), “I’m so inspired by how Amy climbs the same grade as me even though she’s only been climbing for 6 months.” So ladies, let’s just acknowledge it. We’re competitive too, and thank goodness! Do you think ladies would be out there crushing as hard as they are these days if it weren’t for competition? And that’s not just competition within the sexes, it’s between them too. You know part of the reason ladies climbing at the top of their game push themselves is so they can reach grades that so far only a few men have achieved. And that’s to all our benefits. So, make peace with your competitive edge!

3. Get vocal. So maybe not Adam Ondra vocal (click here and check out minute 1:15 if you’re not familiar), but for some of us (like me), and most dudes, it comes natural to make noise when you’re putting in hard work. Again, this may be a socialization thing, but we are taught that ladies just don’t grunt. Something about letting out a grunt, a yell, a loud forceful exhale, heck, a moan even, really helps you dig deep. Or maybe it’s the natural by-product of digging deep? Regardless, it feels good, so start grunting!

4. “Just Pull Up”.  So while we hate getting this particular piece of beta, the dudes have a point.  Yes, men naturally have more upper body strength, and yes, women are known for their technique to make up for lack of said upper body strength.  However, if you can work on your ability to do pull-ups, this will show in your ability to climb.  If you need some pointers to get you started check out this post and you’ll be well on your way. 

5. Push your climber. You know, like in that really sensitive way guys do when they’re belaying or spotting you, and they say really sweet things like, “Just grow a pair!” (meaning ovaries, I’m sure) and, “Quit whining and just go!” And while, as we mentioned, we all hate the old “just pull up” beta we sometimes get from our male partners, there is something to that “sensitive” encouragement sometimes that really can push us that extra bit.

Missy, Crux Crush

So what do you guys think? Is there a cultural difference between British and American climbing communities? Do you think that because we have so many strong female climbers both outside and in the competitive scene that there isn’t the same focus on gender? Or am I just getting a bit too academic in my reading?

Related blogs/twitter feeds:

Mod Carousel: Parody #Thicke’s Blurred Lines

While perusing the awesomeness that is Jezebel, I came across this parody by Mod Carousel of Thicke’s Blurred Lines. As I posted another parody video last week, I thought I’d follow-up with this one.

The justification for the parody are quite interesting:

It’s our opinion that most attempts to show female objectification in the media by swapping the genders serve more to ridicule the male body than to highlight the extent to which women get objectified and does everyone a disservice. We made this video specifically to show a spectrum of sexuality as well as present both women and men in a positive light, one where objectifying men is more than alright and where women can be strong and sexy without negative repercussions. [Mod Carousel]

Awesome elements:

  • Caela Bailey’s vocals are pretty damn good.
  • Challenging gender roles through parody.
  • Some pretty good dancing/grinding by both sexes.
  • The toy police car
  • I can actually listen to the track (which I quite like) without feeling as guilty.

However, this got me digging further into why I find the original so worrysome. While much of this is old ground, I thought I’d put some of my thoughts down. Firstly, the justifications by Thicke on the original video are borderline scary. He says:

We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, “We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.”

People say, “Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?” I’m like, “Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.” So we just wanted to turn it over on its head and make people go, “Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around.”

I find disturbing for two reasons:

Essentially, Thicke is justifying the derogation of women because he is happily married with children. Lets look further into this:

  • He is perpetuating dominant narrative of male privilege – and justifies his privilege by being married and has kids (seriously wtf?!). This justification continues the degradation of women and reaffirms assumption that marriage as a superior position but also integrates all sorts of narratives concerning hierarchy and patriarchy both within marriage and also between those non-married.  I really do not think that being married and having children is any form of justification for the continued objectification of women.
  • As Liz Terry has commented, continuing this narrative has significant implications for pop culture and the younger people involved in it.

Thicke acknowledges the degradation of women and wanted to turn [the degradation?/respect? – I honestly can’t tell] over on its head and make people go, “Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around.”

  • Thicke continues to legitimise the objectification of women.
  • That women’s bodies are beautiful allows men to follow these bodies around and turn them into objects of appreciation.
  • The language used in this statement suggests that dualisms between men/women are being perpetuated in pop culture. Val Plumwood, in her book, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, argues that

‘What is at issue here is not the distinctions between women/men, and human/nature, but their dualistic construction. The concept of human has a masculine bias…because the male/female and human/nature dualisms are closely intertwined…The dualistic distortion of culture and the historic inferiority of women….in the west have been based … on a network of assumptions involving  range of closely related dualistic contrasts’ [Plumwood, p. 33]

Plumwood outlines these assumptions as 1) identifying women/female with physicality and nature (women = nature assumption; 2) this association is inferior (inferiority of nature assumption); 3) women and nature are conceived in terms of ‘a set of dualistic contrasts opposing the sphere of nature to that of reason or the human’ (dualistic assumption). [Plumwood, p. 33]

This is evident in Thicke’s justification for the basis of the track, and also integrated within the music video itself: Women = bodies, and these bodies should be showed off for the appreciation of men. Furthermore, it continues to propagate assumptions and narratives that are based upon key dualisms that are integral to major forms of oppression in western culture. For example, the dualisms of human/nature, mind/body and civilised/primitive. These naturalise gender oppressions and are often preserved in our conceptual framework as ‘residues, layers of sediment deposited by past oppressions. Culture thus accumulates a store of such conceptual weapons, which can be mined, refined and redeployed for new uses.’ [Plumwood, p. 43]

Similarly, Karen Warren, in her book, Ecofeminist Philosophy : a Western Perspective on What it is and Why it Matters, argues that conceptual frameworks ‘have functioned historically to maintain, perpetuate, and “justify” the domination of women, other subordinated humans, and nonhuman nature.’ [Warren, p. 46]

While a conceptual framework doesn’t necessarily function to perpetuate the domination of women; it is a set of beliefs, values, assumptions and attitudes that shape and reflect ones views of oneself and ones world. It ‘functions as a socially constructed lens through which one perceives reality.’ [Warren, p. 46]

Thus, an oppressive conceptual framework is simply one that functions to maintain, explain and justify the relationship of domination and subordination. In this case, when the framework is patriarchal, it functions of justify women’s subordination by men. Warren outlines five different features of such a Framework as value-hierarchical thinking, oppositional value dualisms, power conceived as power-over, perpetuating the practice of privilege and sanctioning the logic of domination. [Warren, p. 46-47]. Many of these elements, which are excellently summarised in Warren’s writing are evident in this music video and the justifications by Thicke.

  • This devaluation of women to the point that they are ‘bodies’ which are ‘beautiful’ continues to reaffirm that women are subordinate and distinct from men. And I believe that this will have massive implications concerning the continued debate concerning rape, consent and autonomy. It reflects the debates concerning abortion in the USA, and in the UK as well, and the everyday sexism that is endemic in the UK.

I think that Lisa Huyne nicely encapsulates the dominant narrative of the song, which I believe integrates a number of the themes that I have discussed above.

Basically, the majority of the song (creepily named ‘Blurred Lines’) has the R&B singer murmuring ‘I know you want it’ over and over into a girl’s ear. Call me a cynic, but that phrase does not exactly encompass the notion of consent in sexual activity … Seriously, this song is disgusting—though admittedly very catchy. [Lisa Huyne]

I think this will be the last post on blurred lines, but probably not the last post about feminism, eco/feminism and their use within everyday life.

Ask First: Response to #Thicke’s blurred lines

This is an awesome and hilarious video in reply to Robin Thicke’s annoyingly catchy tune with undeniably unpleasant lyrics. For a good critique of the song, have a look at Andrew Chow’s comments in Policy Mic from 2 months ago: http://bit.ly/18ruy3y

Credits:
Dance Dance Revolutionaries:
Alia
Beige Taupe
Brendan Anckaert
Cat
Emily “Bass Face” Davidson
J. Mary Burnet
Kaitlyn Ruth
Kaleigh Trace
Ma’am Stash
Rebecca R.
Smarzipan
Swayback
Tamara Huxtable
Vee
Directors: J. Mary Burnet & Brendan Anckaert
Videographer & Editor: Brendan Anckaert
Written & Performed by: Kaleigh Trace & J. Mary Burnet
Thank you One Block Barbershop (oneblock.ca/) and Venus Envy! (venusenvy.ca/Halifax)

Strava and Competition

I came across MTB4her.com’s article asking where the Women Strava users were.  The article suggested that there were significantly fewer women using Strava to record their MTB rides compared to men. The writer concluded that Strava

‘is just another way that women riders can help make their presence known and being involved in the mountain bike community by showing that we ride just as well as the men, showing that we are a strong force within the mountain bike community.  For many different reasons, women riders should embrace the modern technology and convenience of using Strava.  Whether you like the social aspects of meeting other riders or use it for training or goals you wish to reach or just keep track of fitness, female mountain bikers can really use Strava to their advantage and help create a larger presence online and on the trails.’ [Michelle Lambert]

I’d been pondering this as well. And considering that I live in one of the best areas in the UK for both MTB’ing and road cycling, I wonder why out of the 1217 logs of the Froggatt TNT segment, 76 of them are women. I think that much of it is to do with the way that it’s sold, either by word of mouth or through advertising.

Michelle emphasised the collaborative aspects of Strava and how it can be used to ‘follow and communicate with any other rider on there, so as a result you can meet mountain bikers of similar abilities and riding interests.’ However, if you look at the home page, more often than not there are pictures of men, often in a group.

Strava Screen Shot

Strava Screen Shot

I don’t think that I’ve seen an image of women in a group featured yet. So, what does this mean? Well, I think it’s representative of the fact that many people do treat Strava as a source of competition. Here’s an anecdote which supports this: I went out for a ride recently and managed to beat a male friends time up a segment. He found out and then proceeded to go and retake the time, quite possibly because he was cycling past, but I also think there was some underlying competition there. He couldn’t let a mere rookie girl have a better time up a hill than him! And to be fair, I’m no where near as fit as he is, so it was probably a fluke.

If women don’t particularly like competition (which I’m not sure that I agree with), even though Strava can be used to support each other by giving “kudos” and to simply track your own progress; the whole emphasis on taking QOMs, logging fastest times and the celebratory tweeting/facebooking of such achievements can be intimidating and serve to marginalise segments of the population. Obviously, these are all activities that you don’t have to engage with, but as the dominant approach and ‘face’ of Strava, it hides the other side of the site.

I have to say, I often question why I use Strava. I don’t particularly like competition and have a less than wonderful self-esteem. I also hang out with super fit friends who go off and do things like the dragons back and the Fellsman. It used to be that cycling was my sport and I was happier sharing and logging segments through social media. Now that my friends also use it and are taking up cycling, I’m a bit more ambivalent. I see it as something to beat and the whole competitive nature really rings true. However, how much of that is simply my psyche wanting to push vs the overt competitiveness that is engendered through the structure I’m not sure.

On the other hand, Strava is awesome for seeing how fit I’ve managed to become. I’m constantly struggling to balance cycling (be it mountain biking or road cycling) and climbing. In order to improve in either I have to dial back in the other. Strava is great to see that incrementally I am improving, both in technique and legs. That is a personal pleasure to see, and one that doesn’t have to be compared with anyone else.

As for ensuring women have more presence – that I totally agree with. To me, it seems that cycling is one of the last bastions of misogyny. The fact that it isn’t really acknowledged within the governing bodies of the sport is also a problem and case in point is the recent petition to get a dual event going for the Tour de France (see articles here and here). Some of the justifications for not having one are arcane as well, which is ironic really as the suffrage movement and women’s cycling movement coalesced during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. There has clearly been a lot of recent air time for women’s professional road cycling, but in mountain biking this still remains marginalised. If Strava can improve this in a supportive way, then I’m all for it.

Anyway, Mtb4her’s post has got me thinking, and I’ll come back to this issue at some point, I’m sure.