#sockgate has once again allowed the ugly dragon of sexism to rear its head in the bike industry. Before you turn away thinking that this is just another rant by a woman about something that I’m ‘oversensitive’ about, I’d suggest you challenge that thinking by reading on.
What’s most disturbing about the reaction to ‘just a pair of socks’ is that it’s a trap that people repeatedly fall into when they just don’t ‘get it’: telling someone who has an adverse reaction to a thing that they shouldn’t feel said reaction to that thing.
The biggest issue I have with this response is that at the heart of it lies the demonstration of a lack of empathy. You know what empathy is, right? It’s that thing you hope to get from other people when you crash and get hurt, or your bike gets stolen, or your dog dies. You want people to express their understanding of the situation you are in. You want them to realise how difficult that situation is. You want them to recognise your feelings about the subject. You want them to tap into that part of them that knows how much it would suck if that situation happened to them.
What you don’t want is for someone to tell you that your pain is stupid, or an over-reaction, or not warranted. You don’t want someone to minimise your feelings because they themselves don’t feel the same as you.
And this is what happens all the time when it comes to things like a pair of socks, or a ‘cycling’ calendar with scantily clad women, or lack of pay equality for pro racers, or any one of a number of other things that reflect the male domination that exists at every level of the sport of cycling.
It isn’t necessary to find a pair of socks offensive in order to accept that other people do, but here’s why you should find their use in the bike industry to be objectionable: kids.
Those of us in the bike trade know that the longevity of our support can only happen with more women and kids on bikes. And getting more women on bikes will lead to more kids on bikes. More kids on bikes means more adults serving as advocates to get things like better infrastructure, better legal protection for cyclists, safer routes to school, and proponents for cycling inclusion in any discussion around healthier lifestyles. Of course men play a role in these as well, but in the same way you wouldn’t come between a bear and her cub, don’t tell a woman to accept that her child might be in harm’s way by walking or cycling to school.
So when you put a pair of bikini-clad women on a pair of socks, and hand them out at the largest trade show in North America, you are sending a message to women and girls that cycling has an element to it that still looks at them as objects, and fails to recognise the potential contribution they can make to the sport-and society-by becoming cyclists. It perpetuates the institutional sexism within cycling in the same way that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples perpetuates institutional LGBT inequality in governments.
Every time something like these socks happen, it chips away at the progress women have made in this industry. It stings those of us who are striving for equality, again and again. And when people respond by telling us that we are being too sensitive, or have no sense of humour, it discourages us from continuing to fight for the things that we know must happen in order for cycling to achieve Dutch-like standards in the UK and North America.
If that’s not enough to convince you, then ask yourself this: would you give those socks to your daughter, or your son? Would you wear those socks in front of your daughter, or your son? Would you hang a Cyclepassion calendar on the wall of your child’s bedroom? If the answer to those questions is ‘no’, then why not? If it’s not offensive to you, then why wouldn’t you be ok with showing that type of item to your kids?
Once you think about that, then maybe you’ll understand why people like me do a substantial amount of head shaking when we see yet another example of how the industry falls on the wrong side of a gender issue.
If what you want is for cycling to continue to be nothing but a giant sausage fest where men can be men and belch and scratch their junk with impunity, while failing to recognise that there just aren’t enough of that gender getting into cycling in order to keep us all swimming in the latest and greatest bike gear, then please, by all means keep telling those of us who are ‘too sensitive’ to lighten up, because it’s just a pair of socks.
If, on the other hand, what you want is a sport that will continue to thrive into the future, will be welcoming to all types of people, and will provide enough voices to normalise cycling within our society, then tap into that empathy you are capable of producing, and understand that it must suck to be a woman who wants to be represented by something other than two half naked chicks on a pair of cycling socks.