Captain of my own…wha??

Anyone who reads this blog has probably figured out by now that I have a lot of opinions, I’m pretty firmly in the feminist camp, and I get a bit miffed when guys get some sort of sense of superiority because they happen to have a pee-stick. If you didn’t know that by now, well…now you do.

And there’s a point to knowing that. But first – GAH. It’s been a while in the posting department, because my brain is in full on meltdown mode right now. In fact, I’m writing this blog post because I need a break, since I’ve been reading the same paragraph over and over for the last half hour, and I can’t keep looking at Pinterest and Facebook, because that’s ultimately the opposite of productivity. Writing a blog post at least gets some of the gunk out, or at least I hope it will.

Meltdown mode is courtesy of the fact that my comprehensive exams are in 7 1/2 weeks. I’m making good progress, it’s true. I’ve gotten my three minor questions written, and I’m building the bibliography for them. I’ve drafted the 5 major questions, and can probably finish those this week. I’m also working on an independant study in critical theory that is a little bit of an overlap with my minor. I’m still going to PT. I’m teaching. I’m taking a grad seminar. I’m lead graduate teacher for my department. And, I’m the de-facto tech support for the class I’m teaching (I only “teach” three sections, of 18, for a class of almost 400 students.) Yeah. That’s a lot to do.

But all the same, I am trying to stay on the bike as well. This past Saturday, I got in a gorgeous ride to the Chatfield Reservoir, on a beautiful sunny morning. It was about 30 miles round trip, and this is what the halfway point looked like:

not terrible

So yeah. Riding has been happening. I’m thinking that I have put on…almost 100 miles since the accident. And that’s good. But still, I am super anxious and tense and nervous on the bike. Not when I’m going straight, flying along, and having a good time of it, but any time I have to concentrate, do something, be aware of possible interference, or do the mental calculations that are required when riding on the bike path around traffic of the two wheeled and two/four feet variety.

Riding ostensibly helps me feel less anxious about the rest of the stuff I need to do (comps, schoolwork, plan for my research trip, work with my research group, etc.) and it does. I feel more clearheaded. I feel more calm. I feel focused. But, I also feel tense and anxious on the bike, and I feel calm after a walk too.

So, that will not do. I started training this week with a coach, because I need to feel good about being on my bike. My coach, Andrea Tollefsrud, is the owner of Women on Mountain Bikes, in Boulder. Despite the name, she’s also a road coach. And she’s PATIENT. Which is good. Because me? I’m high strung and self-judging as all get out.

Last night was our first coaching session. My anxiety was SO HIGH on the way over that I almost turned around and chickened out. But, I’ve been trying to keep in mind her motto “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” I feel the fear quite often. And so I did it anyway. I showed up, changed into my jersey and shorts, and we were off. A short ride through Boulder brought us to a church parking lot, where she was able to assess a few different things:

  1. My seat was crooked (two hard hits and that got fixed)
  2. I stop and unclip beatifully (unclip, brake, stop, foot down, standover the top tube) but only on one side
  3. I spend too much time in the big ring
  4. I don’t trust the bike, and it’s clear in my movements when turning
  5. There may be some lingering PTSD type issues from the crash
  6. My handlebars are weirdly angled

So, two of those things are mechanical issues – seat’s straight now, handlebars getting checked soon. Stopping with my right foot down looks good, but I need to be comfortable on both sides, no matter what. Issues 3, 4 and 5 I’ll go into here.

Andrea set up a cone pattern in the parking lot of the church, and wanted to see me ride some paths through it to assess my fit, handling, and weak points. First of all, we could see that I don’t like turning. So, turning became the mechanism through which the rest of the lesson would be delivered. Because I spend all my time in the big ring, I’m kind of mashing out when I need to power into something, and not getting enough of the pedaling momentum to keep me balanced and moving when going slow – which leads to instability. I’m definitely not ready to do track stands yet, but it would be nice if I could avoid those slow falls that my knees know all too well. The stress of trying to stay upright leads me to be too fixed on the bike’s position, rather than focused on my own. In doing the turns, my whole goal was to learn to keep my body weighted and positioned in the center, and let the bike frame do the leaning into the turn. I’d be good good good then Bam – anxiety would strike, and I’d lose confidence. Andrea was great though, and she said that in two hours, she saw an improvement, and that she could “see greatness.” Which might have been smoke up my ass, but hey, I’ll take it.

We had a nice bonding moment early in the training session as well, which is what I was referring to at the beginning of this post. See, I used to be a photographer. I still am, I guess, but I don’t spend nearly as much time doing it as I did in my previous life. However, any female photographer will be able to tell you stories of having their skills and knowledge doubted by a man. It’s called “mansplaining“, and that Rebecca Solnit article on alternet that is linked there will give you some more descriptions and examples of it. As she puts it in the leader,

“Mansplaining is not a universal flaw of the gender, just the intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

So, in photography, anyway, I often had (older, “wiser”) guys come up to me on a job, while I’m standing there unpacking $5,000 worth of lighting equipment, and approximately the same in lenses, tripods, radios, etc. in order to do a short, and always, always *always* – I would get asked “Are you sure you know how to use that?” After a brief, polite chuckle, said wise man would explain some aspect of photography that I had already learned at some point in my 12 years of professional photography work, during my BFA in photography, while working in a studio shooting commercial work, or while teaching photography to others. It NEVER failed. At a wedding, a press conference, whatever. And I quickly learned to recognize the act of mansplaining, though as Solnit points out in her article, an abundance of caution, respect for knowledge, and social training can still shut me up in situations when it’s probably more important to not coddle the tender old dude’s feelings.

Why do I mention it? Because last night, when Andrea and I were discussing a specific point in the mechanics of the process of turning, some guy on a blue and yellow Serotta comes through the parking lot, and rides our pattern. Andrea makes a blunt comment about it being rude, and interrupting the lesson. So, the dude stops his bike at one end of the pattern, and watches us, for about 5 minutes. Fine. Whatever, a little odd, but maybe he’s trying to pick up a tip or two himself. When we stop again, he rides the pattern again, and then Andrea says directly to him, “That’s amusing, but we’re actually doing a lesson here, and this isn’t a social hour. So I’d appreciate it if you didn’t waste my client’s time.”

At this point, old dude stops and says “Ok, but two things.” and proceeds to tell me (and Andrea) that turning is easy, and I am the captain of my own ship (WTF does that even mean?) …and then starts to describe the foot through the outside of the turn – at which point Andrea said “I’m not there yet, and she’s not ready for that information. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to override my training method.”

Dude looked insulted that we didn’t want his precious gems of knowledge, and rode away.

It’s mansplaining, all over again, pure and simple. Like Rebecca Solnit’s experience of being told about her own book, like the guys who questioned my photography skill, and like so many simple social comments and pressure – mansplaining hurts ladies. It’s been happening all along, and society has done a GREAT job of making it a norm, so that when women get huffy about it, we are deemed shrill, stuck up, snotty, rude, or worse.

That orange makes a terrible apple!

I actually have a mental connection I’d like to make to all this, which is why this blog post is So. Damn. Long. (thanks for reading if you’re still here) – mansplaining, bike culture, lack of support for women’s teams, and (here’s where I get smart) and the concept of genius in art. In 1971, Linda Nochlin wrote a seminal essay on women in art, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” The main concept that most undergraduate art historians get of her article is the old Einstein thought making its way around Pinterest these days, about the inappropriateness of judging “genius” by a single marker. That’s part of it, but even more relevant here is that Nochlin is criticizing the structures put into place to even determine what a great artist is, such as the academy system, and the method of training artists. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (you probably know this little piece he did, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel….) was, like all male artists at the time, part of a training system that not only provided them opportunities to work as an apprentice, but also to have access to nude models. Nudes were considered an ideal art form. Women artists were prohibited from drawing from a live nude – so that’s already one area of success closed to them.

In the competitive biking world – we have the same thing. People try to say that women just aren’t as fun to watch as men. The races aren’t as exciting. They aren’t as “competitive” and can’t get enough sponsors. But all of this is still just the system holding on to its own position of power. Instead of support for women cyclists, you get guys who want to come in and explain to the little ladies just what they’re doing wrong, even though one of those “little ladies” has over 28 years of racing and training experience. Women and men shouldn’t be judged exactly the same, because they’re not the same. They don’t get to that podium the same way. When a British guy wearing a yellow jersey comes riding into the center of Paris at the end of a certain stage race, 3.6 million people watch it live on television, not to mention the thousands of people in the streets. When 6 women ride in after doing the *exact same thing* just one day before, they are mobbed by “family and friends” and get a “few extra minutes” from police to be photographed in front of the Arc de Triumphe.

I’m not the first to say it, and I won’t be the last – the system needs to change. Women’s cycling needs to be supported system-wide. When women get the same opportunities as men, then we’ll see who the real geniuses are.


5 thoughts on “Captain of my own…wha??

  1. Beautiful essay! I love it. I work with all men and sometimes they are incredibly stupid in their perception of a perceived lack of knowledge on a woman’s part they “mansplain things” to the point where a person’s politeness is worn so thin you want to gauge your–or his–eyes out. It’s an amazing dichotomy.

    Congrats to getting back on the saddle–you’ll work your way back. Keep going! Woot!

    • The thing that shocked me (and Andrea and I talked about it extensively after) was that there was so much hesitation on our parts to just tell him to take off, right at the beginning. We actually allowed him to start to tell us the “just two things” rather than being firm and saying “Sir, this is a lesson, please do not interrupt.” If the table had been reversed, you can bet he would have been adamant about not wasting his time.

  2. The end of the trail is so beautiful. I miss riding at Chatfield.

    I’m glad you are getting out and riding. The coach sounds really cool and has awesome insights.


  3. Thanks for stopping by my blog and following, I am SO GLAD you did because now I know about your blog. You had me at “and I get a bit miffed when guys get some sort of sense of superiority because they happen to have a pee-stick.” Seriously–it’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking my water because it would have ended up all over my screen!

    I have nothing else to say besides I was doing fist pumps while reading this ENTIRE post. You were just so spot-on. Thank you, thank you! I hope that I am able to effectively write about my experiences and thoughts as well as this in my post, because this is exactly why I even started my blog!!

    • Yay! Glad you enjoyed reading it! I am glad I found your blog too. More women cyclists! 🙂 I look forward to reading more, and having more conversations with you!

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