Up until today, I’d decided not to write about #sockgate, a social media furore created by these socks:
It's not because I think putting a pair of socks into a goody bag (given to every attendee) at a trade show with half-naked women stitched into the fabric is ok. Far from it.
It’s just that I’ve written so many articles about the relentless sexism in cycling that it just feels like such a shame to waste yet more characters on the sexist a-holes who think it’s ok to undermine women’s place in the industry.
Truth be told, I would rather use my keyboard to write (hopefully) helpful advice to encourage more women to cycle. I don’t want to give these people the time of day. But unfortunately, they’ve had to go and do something so damn stupid that it can hardly be ignored.
I'm going to try to keep it brief.
These are the offending socks:
Much has been written in response to the socks – this (we believe) being the original.
Save Our Soles’ owner has replied on Facebook, explaining that there were women in the team behind the sock (neither here nor there) and adding: “The sock was meant to be fun while in Las Vegas."
The problem here is that it is clearly not just about socks.
Interbike is a trade show which male and female cyclists attend. Thinking it is acceptable to put an item into the goody bag which objectifies women implies that you care very little for the female proportion of the attendees, and would basically rather that cycling remained an activity for men to enjoy.
The socks are just another example of women not being considered, or taken seriously, by the cycling industry.
1) There are far too many examples of women not being taken seriously within pro cycling:
- The male winner of the Tour of Flanders Alexander Kristoff recevied £14,365. When Elisa Longo Borghini won the Tour of Flanders she got £871.
- Male cyclists have the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities over a trio of three week cycling tours, all of which most of us get to watch on major TV channels. Women are treated to the ten day Giro and a bonus crit race on the final day of the Tour de France.
- Outside of cycling, sometimes women get some extra column inches when they manage a feat the men haven’t succeeded in for 25 years. If they can't top it and win the World Cup they get told to go back to the kitchen.
- Race organisers still think it’s ok to have a scantily clad podium girl plant a kiss on the cheek of the winning man, and worse, they think the winning women might want to stand next to shivering girls in bikinis after winning a bike race...
- Despite the fact apparently no one wants to see female athletes on TV, they do get plenty of attention when they take their clothes off, or when some magazine decides to feature ’50 Hottest Female Athletes’. As though all those hours pouring every ounce of effort into the pedals mean nothing unless the rider is able to fulfill the fantasies of some bloke who works in IT and can't find a girlfriend.
- In answer to those who will no doubt point out that David Beckham appears half naked for Calvin Klein and Gee Atherton looked pretty hot posing naked on his bicycle – those athletes ALSO get recognised a damn site more for their sporting prowess.
2) The socks are an example of women being made to feel unwelcome in cycling. There are already too many examples of this:
- When you go to buy a jersey from a major cycling retailer, there are 214 options for men and 107 for women.
- When a woman goes into a cycling store, the poster in the window is usually of a man and most of the kit is for men. There’s often a rail of ‘women’s stuff’ and a few token ‘women’s bikes’. Of course, women can choose ‘unisex’ stuff, most of which was created using a data set of the average man’s measurements.
- Because of the above, we've got some awesome women's only bike shops - of course many men get upset about these because there aren't "men's only bike shops" - ignoring the point above.
- Women are in the minority at cycling events. That's not always a great feeling, hence the need for women's only events such as Cycletta and women's only cycling clubs. If all women were 'perfectly happy' riding with predominantly men the events and clubs would not be the success that they are.
- When cycling websites aimed at men and women dare to do a good thing and point out that all this is a bit wrong, their male followers shout them down immediately and complain that 'feminism' has no place in cycling
- When retailers, shops or websites create any sort of event or campaign for women, to help sort out all of the above, there are always men there ready to claim it's "sexist" because there is no “men’s only version" – completely ignoring the fact that almost everything in cycling that is unisex is basically created for men.
We're better than that. Let's move on.
All of the above is why sockgate is not about socks. But you know what? Let's not dwell on it any longer.
The good news is that there ARE a host of fantastic women's cycling events, some very welcoming women's cycling clubs, and amazing women's cycling shops. Many unisex bike shops can see that women are a growing market and ARE trying to cater for them, as are race organisers and brands. There are people (men and women) striving to make cycling better and more welcoming to women.
All of these great projects mean that women are feeling more and more welcome in cycling, and more of them are getting involved and taking part - gradually infiltrating and flooding the existing 'man's world'. In doing so, they're making it a much more welcoming place for women to inhabit.
Like an endless cycle of improvement, that means provision is growing, and even at the highest level, the sport is getting stronger.
The socks might seek to undermine the growth of women's cycling, but we're not going to let them. We're leaving the sock men to their sad game, we're too busy being awesome on our bikes.