Women’s lib

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When I decided to contribute some cash primes to our backyard CBR crit, I figured that the first week I’d donate to the P123 men’s race and the master’s 40+ category, and then the following weekend I’d donate to the P123 men’s race and the P123 women’s race. It made sense to donate equal amounts to the men’s and women’s races because I’m an old school feminist.

But everyone didn’t see it that way. A few people suggested to me, privately of course, that it was silly to give equal amounts to men and women. “Women won’t show up, you’ll see.”

A variation on this theme was, “Prizes should be awarded in proportion to participation. The men’s field will have 120 racers and the women’s field, if you’re lucky, forty. Prizes should reflect that.”

This is the way prizes are apportioned throughout cycling. ‘Cross Vegas puts up half the prize money for women that it does for men.

Why?

Aside from the participation “issue,” people — almost always men — will tell you that women’s racing is boring, that it’s slower, that it’s less tactical, less exciting, less EVERYTHING than men’s racing. This attitude is entrenched on the pro level and it is a given on the amateur level, where women are lucky to have a category in many races. And since it’s so “less” everything, the implication is that it deserves less money.

I’ve often wondered how people would react if you substituted the word “women” for the words “African-American” or “Hispanics.”

My take on women racing is different. Women deserve the same opportunity as men to compete regardless of the numbers who show up. This is such a basic principle that if you are a university and you don’t offer equal opportunity in athletic dollars to women pursuant to Title IX, which was passed in 1972, you will lose all of your federal funding and essentially be forced to close up shop. Universities long ago dispensed with the canard that women don’t want to compete in sports and focused on doing the one thing that matters most in increasing women’s participation: Funding.

Naturally, as the funding ballooned, so did participation at the college level of women athletes across virtually every sport. In other words, you can’t use participation to justify low funding because it’s the funding that holds back the participation. It would be like going to a country where women don’t receive an education and denying them funding for schools because they don’t go to the school. This is the kind of circular reasoning at which cycling excels, not limited to women’s racing.

Cycling hasn’t yet caught up with August 26, 1920, when U.S. women got the right to vote, so of course cycling still thinks that participation can be addressed without providing equal opportunity. They are wrong. One elite woman racer told me that when she sees a flyer offering half the men’s purse to the pro women, she crosses that event off her list. Her list must be covered in black marks.

Truly equal opportunity means that funding isn’t contingent on equal participation. If there is $1,000 in cash primes on offer and only four women show up, the small turnout doesn’t diminish the opportunity or mean that the people who raced got more than they deserved or justify excluding equal prizes from future races. To the contrary, it emphasizes that people who make the effort to race are treated the same regardless of gender.

As Title IX proved, over time equal opportunity in terms of funding means that participation will grow exponentially. It will be nice when cycling graduates to the early 20th Century, but even better when it reaches the modern era of 1972.

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