Pink it and shrink it – a male perspective on sexism in cycling

Pink it & shrink it

by Robert Thorpe

Working in the cycling industry as a man, I was shocked when I first heard the phrase ‘we simply used to pink it and shrink it’, in relation to ladies cycling clothing. Seriously! Yes, women who wanted cycling clothing etc, were expected to buy and wear smaller versions of a men’s design – just in pink. Add to this, that even at a World Tour level, there still isn’t complete parity within pay and prizes; and, if you walk into any cycling store here in the U.K., I guarantee that the ladies’ clothing section is smaller than that for men. I’m sorry guys, but we’re still sexist overall. Not as individuals, but certainly as an industry. On a positive note, thanks to brands like DS Pro – a women’s specific performance brand – and also, world leading players such as ALE, and Lake Cycling shoes, it’s now easier to find women’s specific clothing and shoes; and, it’s getting better all the time.

An athlete’s perspective

Having been involved with sport as an athlete since I was aged about 8, I’ve grown up around girls and later, women, wearing sportswear. I simply see the athlete, and they all appear normal in my eyes. I don’t see Lyra as a form of sexually enticing tease-wear, designed to thrill me; no, I see it for it is – sportswear. And, whilst I’ll happily state that many ‘people’ in Lyra look quite nice; I say so because I’d like to believe that I look okay in Lyra too. So much so, that I have a deal with my wife, that the day she tells me that Lyra no longer looks good on me, I’ll stop wearing it! I even try to match my socks, shoes, and helmet colours – hey, style is never optional! I’m nearly 58 years of age, and I can’t cycle at the speed I once did – so, I might as well try to look good.

The fact is that yes, some women look truly sensational in Lyra sportswear. Those women probably also look truly sensational in a bath robe, or even wrapped in a potato sack – they simply look sensational, and that’s out of their control. Either God or their DNA made it thus, and they have the right to look and feel amazing, without being objectified by every man that seems to have a problem controlling their sexual urges. Some of the messages that my family, friends and colleagues have to put up with, often daily, are abhorrent and quite simply disgusting, and most definitely, unacceptable.

The social media sewer

Social media can seem at times to be a sewer for male testosterone, such is the level of sexual abuse suffered by female cyclists. Working for an online publication, where our writers are predominantly women – based on their ability – I frequently answer messages from online men, wanting to ‘get to know me better’. As you’d imagine, they’re somewhat surprised when I answer!

All too frequently I’ve had people I know, and sometimes friends, making lewd and unacceptable comments about women cyclists. Yes, I have challenged them, and I’ll continue to do so. I also find it confusing when men make comments about how a woman in Lyra is presenting herself, when they make no such comments about a man doing exactly the same. No, there’s no level playing field, and the online world in particular is overgrown with men who probably need counselling about their sexual inadequacies. It’s often like a virtual version of the school disco, when the boys simply stand around the edges looking dumb, watching the girls dancing, and not knowing what to say, other than ‘can I get you a drink’, or ‘did you see the football!’ Guys, women are intelligent people, and they won’t fall for those one-liners. They’re also fed up of being objectified and not being taken seriously.

Accepting the norm’

As a man, I grew up in a household with 3 sisters, a mum who was 1 of 3 sisters, a grandma who had… sisters’, and as part of an athletic club, where my sister also ran. I studied literature at university – in lectures filled mainly with women – and most of my friends are still women. Why, because in general, I can be guaranteed a far more meaningful conversation than I can, listening to a drunken man talking about football, sex, and mono-syllabic nonsense. Did I mention too, that my wife is 1 of 3 sisters.

The new revolution

Yes, women have a right to wear what they like, and to look as God-damn stylish and yes, sexy as they want to. They have a right to ride a bike without being abused verbally or online, and they deserve a right for the cycling world to finally recognise the ongoing injustices that women athletes suffer at all levels.

‘Pink it and Shrink it’ is no longer acceptable, and yes, it is getting better, with brands like DS Pro. Many of the world’s top athletes are women, and they’re household names – and, they deserve better. They have the right to be free (and safe) to go online, to show themselves off, and to feel proud, without some men sending them dick-pics. Don’t get me wrong; by all accounts, some women send images of their boobs to men, when they find them attractive. I haven’t had any, so maybe I ought to re-assess that question I asked of my wife about me in Lycra. Maybe she’s just being kind to me 😉

We thankfully live in a form of democracy, and you’re perfectly entitled to disagree with my thoughts. What you’re not entitled to do though, is to keep feeding the inequalities that still exist in cycling, in society and in life online. Join the new revolution, and wake up to the fact that women wear Lyra, and they look good too. They ride bikes with strength and power, like the wind – and the female peloton is racing ahead faster than any other cycling sub-group!

As Bob Dylan quite rightly sang:

Please get out of the new [world] if you can’t lend your hand
For the times, they are a-changin’

And, it’s looking very God-damn pink 😉

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