Thursday, December 1, 2011

Discussing Our Bodies in Mixed Company

Women Wheelers!
image via kaputniq

Yesterday I came across a series of delightfully entertaining illustrations by kaputniq, modeled after a Victorian instruction manual for lady cyclists. "Women Wheelers! Don't say 'Feel my muscle,'" warns one. "Don't ask 'Do you like my bloomers?'" admonishes another. While things have changed since Victorian times, in some ways maybe not so much. When I wrote a post on female saddle discomfort some time ago, I received comments and emails from male readers indicating that they were made uncomfortable by the topic. To a lesser extent, the same happened when I brought up the subject of bras in a recent post, and likewise whenever I mention my leg muscles or (heaven forbid) butt in the context of cycling.

During the time I have spent around those who ride bikes, I have observed that male cyclists are not shy about discussing their bodies - be it in real life (conversations that take place in bike shops and at various cyclist gatherings) or on the internet (discussions in forums and blog comments). Thanks to this, I know all about their "taint" and their infertility worries, and how they have to move stuff out of the way when dismounting a bike with a tall top tube, and so on. No big deal. It's a good thing that men feel free to share such things. 

However, female cyclists are unlikely to discuss their bodies in a similar manner, except in the vaguest of terms. Until very recently there was virtually no public internet dialogue about female-specific bicycle discomfort, and I rarely hear any such talk out loud. I don't think I'd be out of line in saying that it is still considered inappropriate in our society for women to be "immodest" - which is how discussing our bodies in mixed company is perceived. If a female mentions her toned legs, let alone her private parts, even in the context of cycling it can easily be interpreted as flirtatious or sexually provocative - whereas if a man does the same it is interpreted as merely clinical.

Despite the double standard, it is clear that female cyclists want to discuss these topics - and to do so using concrete terminology instead of polite abstractions. There is a growing feeling that information is unavailable to us because of our own embarrassment to share that information with each other, supplemented by a palpable male discomfort (or excitement - which is more intimidating?) when we do share it. While I am not the right candidate to spearhead a revolution in this regard, I am relieved to see that there is one underway. From the frank discussion of yeast infections on bikeskirt, to Elly Blue's article on menstruation in Grist, to an entire compilation of female writings about their bodies and cycling coming out in zine format (Our Bodies, Our bikes - order your copy here) it's as if a floodgate has opened, so to speak - mixed company be damned. Let's hope the trend continues. It should not be any less socially acceptable for female cyclists to discuss their bodies than it is for male cyclists.

69 comments:

  1. Wow. I'm a woman and would not have guessed you'd get flak for such conversations. Thanks for this well-written argument on behalf of frank conversations about bodies, and for getting rid of this gendered double-standard.

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  2. In my former profession (I treated sex offenders) I had to be very comfortable talking about body parts and my colleagues and I always used anatomically accurate language to refer to body parts. The term "private parts" almost seems ridiculous to me.

    To reframe things to a bike context, how can we (men or women) talk (ask or advocate for) about what we need in a bike, what does or does not feel confortable for our geometry, if we use vague euphemisms to describe our anatomy. I think it would take an incredible amount to ego to conclude that because I comment that a saddle creates numbness on my butt or a particular messenger bag strap crushes my breasts that I am being flirtatious. I'm not sure that I'd know how to respond if a reader contacted me to say he or she felt uncomfortable with my accurate language. It's certainly not something I'd apologize for.

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  3. I cannot emphasize enough how happy I am that people are talking about this.

    The other day, Shawn and I were talking to some friends-of-a-friend about saddle choices, and I pointed that some women (like myself) can't ride a Brooks saddle on a bicycle with drop bars. And it went something like this: "Oh really? Why?" "Because then my weight is resting on my labia, no matter how much I adjust the saddle." "Oh! That's no good. Thanks for the heads-up." And Shawn told me later that an older woman nearby gave a start and stared at me when I said "labia."

    I am done using euphemisms. It's not "soft tissues." It's my genitals. It's my labia.

    I noticed Elly linked you on her blog. I know Elly (and we rode together on our mutual first randonee!) and she's an awesome person, so I'm glad to see the back-n-forth linking.

    Also, during the tour, I had *awesome* legs. They're skinny and always will be, but the definition in them was fabulous.

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  4. True! (Oh, and yes, I think there's a fine line between male discomfort and male excitement when it comes to talk of female parts.)

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  5. I think the posts you've mentioned having written in the past were done so in a tone completely suitable to mixed company and I can only assume that a small percentage of us can be a little precious from time to time. I for one found the posts interesting and feel that how cyclists contact their saddle can impact greatly on their enjoyment of the activity, and therefore, it should be a perfectly valid matter for discussion. It's never dawned on me that the appropriateness of this discussion may be dependent on the shape of the bits in contact with the saddle. :)

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  6. As a long term fitness person, I noticed that double standard long ago, it is just not right. I realised that you can only talk about female specific problems when only women are around, unfortunately. One example is running or doing impact aerobics after childbirth and the consequent loss of bladder control (sorry, male readers). It is very common among women and often goes untalked about but can be only mentioned in women only groups.
    How do you think it would go if you had a post about men's hygiene-bicycling-related problems on here, do you think the women would complain?

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  7. b. and BB - About the saddle & bra post, I don't mean that I was criticised for those necessarily, but more like "tee-hee I didn't expect to read about that with my morning coffee" or "wow that was heavy." A few emails asking me to "warn" them next time I was going to do that, so they could skip the girly posts, ha-ha. That kind of reaction indicates discomfort to me more than anything else.

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  8. I'm so glad you posted the info about "feminine discomfort" when riding. I hadn't really experienced it at the time, but I can say that my Brooks does indeed hurt on long rides, even on an upright Raleigh. I hear ya, April! It was nice to know it wasn't just me when it began to bug me.

    As a high school English teacher, I often teach books with very explicit content (the classics are sexy!) or scenes that are suggestive and need to be pointed out to the teenagers because they are both integral to the plot and are NOT hitting them over the head to be sure they "get" the content. Not long ago, a fellow teacher started teaching a class I had originated, which featured an ancient text with a powerful and very important sex scene. She approached me with a question: "How do you, you know, teach *that* scene?" I stared at her, incredulous. "I just talk about it. It's in the text, right? And it's really integral to the plot." "But it's sex!" she said. "So?" I just couldn't imagine what the problem was. I mean, the kids all read it, you know? It's not like millions of people hadn't read it over literally hundreds and hundreds of years. She had been thinking of skipping the whole chapter! The reason my students love and respect me is because I'm honest, and forthright. I just talk about it, if it's important. That goes for books, relationships, issues they're having with friends... whatever. We'd all be a lot better of if we took this approach to everything, I think.

    Honest women rule!

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  9. rideblog - Ha! I have a very vivid memory of my 11th grade English teacher explaining the beginning of The Return of the Native to the class, and everyone going "Oooh so THAT's what they did!"

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  10. I think it's safe to suggest that people who are made uncomfortable should consider being more open minded on anatomical subjects or just get over it. Approximately half the population is female and the other half male and we're all people.

    It's my opinion that the guys discussing moving their genitals out of the way are probably just "bumping chests" and trying to out-macho the other men. Granted a real accident of that nature is likely painful but it shouldn't be a common issue for anyone.

    I think ladies should be comfortable discussing practical solutions to issues that others are likely to experience. We should all go back to talking about how wonderful bikes and wool are. :)

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  11. It's your blog, so why shouldn't you write about the things that are important to you. Guy's who are bothered about such conversations should toughen up and stop being such pussies for their own good.
    It's not like you wrote a post about putting an SRAM group on your Moser or anything.

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  12. Ahh, I didn't translate this . . .

    "When I wrote a post on female saddle discomfort some time ago, I received comments and emails from male readers indicating that they were made uncomfortable by the topic."

    . . . as this

    'I don't mean that I was criticised for those necessarily, but more like "tee-hee I didn't expect to read about that with my morning coffee". . . '

    I thought you were talking about a form of disapproval based on their discomfort and that you had received some flak. Thanks for clarifying. In some ways I think the above is more understandable. I guess I would like to avoid the discussion of sweaty scrotums or jock straps with my first morning coffee. That's not about gender issues or prudishness. It's just plain, old early morning unappetising! :D

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  13. I spent a couple of years in college as the only male flutist in the school. If I had any squeamishness about women talking freely and openly about all sorts of female specific physical problems then all those sectional rehearsals I attended would have cured me of it!

    When a good friend of mine started cycling for the first time I directed her attention here for answers about just the sorts of things you've been addressing and it's really helped.

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  14. I'm glad to chime in to say Velouria is tactful and informative when touching on the finer details of comfort.

    As a bike shop employee, I've found folks to be troublesomely obscure more than overly blunt. I've seen far too many people(ladies) suffer for the sake of their manners; I wish more people were as plain spoken as April.

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  15. The posts were totally fine from this dude's perspective. We're all human, everyone should feel comfortable discussing the least discussed and most stigmatised of all the cycling injuries.

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  16. I didn't notice men to be really more open about discussing their "private" issues than women, but that may be a cultural thing. Or just me.
    Anyway, aren't men more confortable publicly discussing it because they don't feel like they are in a mixed environment ? I mean, bike shops or internet bike forum used to be mostly male. And still frequently are. Thus the locker room mentality.

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  17. In a recent article in Adventure Cycling magazine, a male touring cyclists went into detail about taking care of your bottom on long rides, what he tried and what worked. Women want to know these things, too. For women, however, Chamois Butter doesn't work for some women - they get infections. I found out from a local dealer that there is a new similar product out just for women. Bring on the information and hang the double standard.

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  18. jvt - do you also find that sometimes even discussing bikes with women's-specific geometry turns into a minefield with some customers? Some folks get flustered (or offended) by anything that implies that men and women might be proportioned differently, let alone have different needs in underpants.

    I've generally found the "athletic" crowd to be pretty matter-of-fact about body issues. Runners are even more so than cyclists, especially distance runners. Distance runners seem to love swapping both horror stories and advice, which can probably get a bit terrifying for some of the non-runners who get caught sitting next to them at the pub.

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  19. For learning about, comparing notes and receiving support and suggestions for dealing with "female only" cycling issues in a supportive, constructive, non-judgmental group, the Team Estrogen forum is the best resource I've found. (I was about to qualify that by saying "best online resource" but then realise, er, no, it *is* *the* best resource I've found so far. Indeed, very possibly the *only* such resource.)http://forums.teamestrogen.com/index.php

    Rebecca

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  20. BB - Gah, I have a talent for getting myself into semantic traps. I did not mean it quite like that either. It was a medley - jokey comments and I guess what can be described as passive aggressive ones, all of which had discomfort as the common thread. But there was no outright scolding or criticism, is how I meant to clarify it.

    But anyhow, this is not about my blog specifically; I was just using reader response to those posts as an example to make a larger point.

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  21. philippe - I think you're right about the locker room mentality. Although I've been in situation where a roughly 50/50 crowd still had male cyclists loudly discussing perineal this and itchy that. I've also witnessed women shamed by male cyclists (in a jokey way again) for mentioning their period in a mixed group, with statements like "ew" or "hey, too much information!" Considering nowhere's male flutist experience, maybe women need to dominate the crowd in order for the male locker-room mentality not to emerge.

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  22. Liz - La Femme chamois creme from Mad Alchemy rocks!

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  23. Going to Evan's comment about discomfort/excitement, I wonder whether some mens' reactions to this is rooted in a certain expectation that women are responsible for men's reactions to them - the 'women should be modest because we men just can't control ourselves' thing of which there are plenty of fairly extreme historical (and current) examples.

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  24. I think part of the shock from men comes from a realization that they're not in the majority culture anymore. I don't mean to imply that they're chauvinistic jerks; I just think that some have lived in a male-oriented world for so long that they don't realize what another view would look like.

    I remember this ah-hah during a visit to New York as a teen. I was raised in a culture dominated by Christianity, but knew that people of other faiths existed, obviously. When I actually saw the Hasidic Jews -- extremely devout people -- treating Sunday as just another business day, I was embarrassed to realized the depths of my ignorance from living in cultural dominance.

    Fascinating when that stuff catches us unawares.

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  25. Besides the other comments, posts such as this provide a useful and credible resource for me to refer female students to for further information on how to approach issues I have no first-hand experience with. In point of fact, a dedicated sidebar item would be even better.

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  26. I very much agree with David P's comment - women are often taught that they are responsible for the feelings and behaviors of men. It was certainly what I was taught by the women in my family - that men should not be titallated, discomfitted, or inconvenienced by "immodest talk." Sadly, the women in my family were unable to talk about their bodies even with each other. Maybe it was being a child of the 70s, but I somehow still grew up feeling comfortable with frank discussions.

    As a woman with a very obviously feminine body - that is, large breasts - I have had to come to terms with the fact that just by being out in public with this body can be viewed as sexual by men. Since my body has been much the same since about age 12, I've had many years to get used to this fact, and most of the time - as long as my safety isn't threatened - I can ignore comments and stares. But, you can imagine that as a result, I have very little sympathy for men who are squeamish about frank discussions of the "soft tissues."

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  27. I love this post. And go on talking about your body girl! It is NOT our job to make sure certain males of the species continue to labor under the delusion that women are all delicate flowers. I'm so tired of women's bodies being considered gross, rank and unnatural when looked at as anything other than objects of beauty and desire.

    Vive le revolution!

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  28. Another thought... Velouria, please feel free not to post this comment if you feel it will take the discussion too far off track...

    I hate to single out Johan T because I'm pretty confident that this was NOT his intention. However, I want to point out that people often insult men by describing them in feminine ways. In this case, the word "pussy" was used to imply that a man who can't handle a frank discussion of women's bodies is weak or ... feminine. The unintended side-effect of this is the implication that I, as a woman, am also inherently weak. Again, I'm confident Johan T had no such intention. But, I wanted to bring it up because it is so easy for any of us to casually reinforce the idea that women's bodies are inferior and gross compared to men's.

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  29. I have to say, anyone who felt uncomfortable with your mention of feminine cycling woes needs to grow up. Our bodies are different, our passion for cycling is the same. it's 2011 (almost '12) people!

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  30. Veloria - I always enjoy these posts.... it is good to get people talking about the issue, even when it is just talking about talking about female issues

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  31. If we can discuss genital numbness then there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to discuss labial chafing. As far as I'm concerned, any man without emotional space between embarrassment and arousal in regard to female biology has a problem.

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  32. This sort of gender shame and shaming permeates everything. For instance, when the vulva gets mentioned at all, the word 'vagina' is often used. Which, as it was recently pointed out to me, is totally the wrong word (vagina=the birth canal)! Apparently people feel so uncomfortable with the outer manifestation of female genitalia that we don't even know/use the correct word for it! So, good on you and other bloggers for talking about these vital aspects of cycling!

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  33. I was personally pleased to see that you had chosen to address bra issues and clothing material choices; I am always interested in sensible clothing that works on a bike. As a man it had no direct bearing for me so... I simply moved on for the day trusting that you would continue to typically present other relevant and insightful posts. Bravo for the subject matter and bullocks to the complainers!~

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  34. Thanks for raising this discussion. Amen to everything you say.

    It's silly that we should feel the need to censor ourselves when we talk about our bodies, both sexually and clinically, when it's impossible to turn on the television, or even surf the internet, without having images of women in suggestive poses advertising everything from yogurt to perfume! We can't choose whether or not we see those images (wheras, if you don't want to read about chafing labia, it's pretty easy to avoid articles titled "discussing our bodies," or "female anatomy and cycling"). By talking openly about our bodies, our womanhood, and our sexuality, we can begin to reclaim our bodies as our own.

    I went on a two month bike tour this summer. It was great, and I learned a lot about what my mind and body are capable of, had some great experiences, and got some monster leg muscles that, it turns out, make sex a lot more awesome. So there! :)

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  35. Velouria, you are arguably the most gracious and diplomatic writer in the cycling blogosphere. Who better than you to breach delicate topics?

    But that said, while there may always be at least a slight sexual undertone whenever intimate physical details are brought up in mixed company, one would hope that the civilized and polite tone that you bring to the discussion might inspire the same among your readers. In any event, no one who is uncomfortable need continue reading. Hard to imagine why you would need to issue warnings in advance.

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  36. I definitely think there is a social tendency in certain circles to blame a woman (or the victim of any harassment or violence) for provoking the abuse. For instance, a dear friend of my wife and I once had a youth pastor tell her not to wear her purse strap between her breasts because she would be causing guys to sin. What a burden to put on someone! Suddenly the spiritual health of all the men in your life depends on how you wear your purse?!? I don't think so.

    I think it's good to talk about these things respectfully in mixed company so that we don't have the kind of secret creepy weirdness around them that happens when you try to kind of hide and suppress things, or make them 'forbidden'.

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  37. portlandize - Not that I agree with the pastor in any way, but I think the tradition of putting the responsibility on a woman is rooted in sheer practicality: It is easier to get women to worry about the spiritual health of men than it is to get men to stop "sinning." Part of it is hormonal/genetic, part is socially entrenched from an early age, but the bottom line is that this approach makes the pastor's job easier - and so there is no incentive to change the approach.

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  38. Oh, I totally agree - it's similar to the idea of making cyclists wear helmets and reflective gear and bright lights instead of trying to get people to drive in a sane manner. It's much easier.

    It's not just a problem in religious circles either, that was just the example from my experience that came to mind.

    In general though, the path of least resistance is to use fear to make one group of people submit to the dominant behavior of another group.

    In any case, the more we can all talk about this stuff respectfully in public, the less room there will be for that abuse to happen.

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  39. Now I feel bad...no one ever asked me if I liked their bloomers

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  40. Maybe if you go on a tweed ride?...

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  41. Thought-provoking post. Just b/c it has not been written about does not mean it isn't talked about. I know women who discuss these issues extensively and explicitly. Print is not my chosen method of discussion for discussing my body myself, but a good frank conversation w/ a fellow female cyclist is another way these issues do get broached and explored. We may not take minutes, but we do talk.

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  42. I haven't read the rest of the comments yet, but I just want to say, "Right On!" to you and to Ellie and to all female cyclists and bike advocates/ promoters/ educators out there. As a male-bodied and male-identified cycling educator who hopes for a liberated and equitable cycling culture I am often frustrated by the double standards in place around these discussions. Bike riding is a physical activity and it involves our bodies and our bodies are sometimes a battleground for all sorts of internal and external conflict. I am a bigger guy and have a hard enough time feeling strong, pretty and just okay when talking about my own body and its comfort and I am on the privileged side of this issue. Most of my male-bodied students get some chance to discuss their own chafing, sweating or chamios. I want my female students to have the same freedom. I also strive to find ways to be able to have these conversations together.

    Anyway, thank you for writing about this, V.
    You are my hero!

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  43. "I received comments and emails from male readers indicating that they were made uncomfortable by the topic. "

    What a bunch of hypocrits! They kept reading right? And they will probably continue reading when topics even more olé olé will be discussed. Whatever.

    I learned a while ago that you cannot live by people's expectations. I grew up with a mom who kept repeating: "short skirts/tight clothes will get you raped".
    While I am not a fan of skanky clothes either, each and every person should always be in control of themselves and take full responsibility for their acts. You cannot blame somebody else for your mental/sexual/both issues.

    I don't wear bras (female submission tool) and I don't care about male (or female) stares. There is no law enforcing these devices: be responsible for your reactions and behaviour.
    Similar, if you cannot read a post on genitalia, menstruation etc. skip it and do not annoy the others with your issues. Maybe your mom poped you out of her ear (FYI all the rest of us came out of a vagina)!!

    ANd BTW, if we want to psycho-analyse male crotch stories along with all the innuendos that go with them, their entire purpose is to draw attention (and stares) to their crotch area: female stares, i.e. "what d'ya think baby", other male stares, "Mine is bigger than yours" but also, and more often that we suspect "what d'ya think baby".
    So, they are uncomfortable when females seem to be taking the lead at that game, when it's only their perception and we're only trying to solve serious issues.

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  44. V, thanks for this post.

    I've been challenged by trying to know how to talk about this sort of thing with my 8th grade daughter. I got some similar advice about being frank and matter of fact in a tactful way. It changed my perspective about what being sensitive and rational with my daughter might sound like. It hasn't made me her go-to guy for all things menstrual or anything, but it has made for much more relaxed conversation about all sorts of things to do with growing up, sex and what modesty really is and why it's not about your clothes.

    Anyway, Part of the advice I was given was, when these subjects would come up in conversation just try to be a tiny bit more frank and specific than my daughter and see if it seemed to encourage her or make her pull back. I was surprised when she who has typically been very uncomfortable talking about puberty, her (visibly) changing body and all related subjects suddenly seemed to be really willing and happy to talk about (some of) it. It got a little tough to try to continue to be that little bit more frank and specific than her and it almost felt like I was in an arms race of gender semantics. Almost all the little euphemisms disappeared and while there are still things she doesn't seem too eager to share with Dad( to my relief), we don't have to avoid some of the basic details of her life that would be hard for me to be left out of.

    My 16 year old Nephew is a different story. I know girls develop sooner physically, emotionally and intellectually than boys but there must also be some big societal/cultural thing going on here too. He's a "smart kid" and all that but there is just about zero awareness that when we talk about our bodies that we might choose to be just a little serious and respectful about our own anyway. I mean I'm sort of a pig myself and everything, but you absolutely cannot have any kind of conversation with him about any aspect of anatomy, hygiene, dating etc. without having to witness him being instantly and comprehensively possessed by the spirit of Beavis and Butthead. "HEH Heh, you said testicle, heh heh, UH, Like I heard this testicle joke, heh heh heh..." And we were ostensibly having a discussion about field-dressing a deer I shot. I can't imagine how a 16 year old girl with her brain in the "ON" position could overlook that sort of thing long enough to see the better parts of some poor dumb slob. I know he's going to eventually gain some sort of consciousness but I don't think it's going to come from watching You-Tube.

    Spindizzy

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  45. Awesome post on a serious issue. I agree,women shouldn't have a standard different from men,it's ridiculous. Now,I'm a normal fully fuctional straight guy,that said,I'm neither embarrassed nor "excited" by when a fellow cyclist (female) discusses these things-if I can contribute,fine,if not,also fine-and frankly those that can't distinguish between a female cyclist talking about discomfort in certain areas of her body and being flirted with...are immature pricks,there's a huge difference between the two subjects.

    No one should be made to feel uncomfortable discussing such in mixed company,and some people should understand the huge difference between a "riding buddy" and "bed buddy".

    My 2 cents,anyways,carry on :)

    Disabled Cyclist

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  46. I think it is quite funny that male readers would complain about being uncomfortable when you talk about lady issues. For goodness sake your blog is called lovely bicycle, you are a woman cataloguing your experience as a cyclist! You started out on cute lady bikes and have evolved and collected many drool worthy bikes which may have attracted male readers more into the techinical aspects of bikes and bike porn.
    It's important to have a dialogue about itchy soreness in the nether bits from a day of cycling, or cycling during your period and other such things.
    You make it quite clear what the topic is on your posting, so if it doesn't pertain to a guy, maybe he should look at something else until next time. Gosh, guys, just don't read it unless you have a cycling wife/partner/girlfriend who often grimaces in silence over some 'discomfort' from biking.

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  47. Spindizzy, just as 8th grade girls can be the meanest human beings you've ever met (and the most devious!), my 14-16 year-old male students have to literally be reminded constantly that talking about sexuality/sex/gender is not always a cause for giggles. Boys that age are really just discovering their sexuality in terms of its relation to other people (thus the endless accusations that other boys are gay if they are behaving outside the social norms). Girls start figuring that stuff out much earlier.

    By senior year, about 80% or so of my students have grown out of this, in both genders, and are reasonable adults, at least in the company of other adults. I'm guessing V's comments were from the 20% who never quite make it to the adult phase :).

    Really, you should hear the freshman boys in my Modern Asian Literature class when I announce that we're going to read "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress." Seriously, it reduces them to gibbering idiots for at least the first 5-10 classes. It's so predictable, I try to get it out of the way by talking about the name of the book for at least a month before we actually read it, mentioning it in conversations about the other books we're reading. That way, by the time we get there, they can take the book somewhat seriously. And you have to admit, it is kinda funny.

    If you keep talking about it (and remind him that behaving that way is stupid, infantile, and developmentally normal -- god, do teenagers hate being told that last one!), he'll grow out of it. And V will never have to hear from him :).

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  48. Velouria, thank you so much for bringing up this topic. As you may recall, after my surgery, I came to you (via e-mail) to discuss some of the issues you mention in this post. One reason for that was, of course, the fact that I was a new member of the club, if you will. But another part of the problem is that there are simply far fewer women than men who are long-distance or everyday cyclists.

    Even more to the point, I think, is the fact that so much equipment, and so much of the infrastructure and the terms of cycling were created by and for men. Those who set, and are benefitting from, the rules don't see the need to discuss them and sometimes think that those who discuss, let alone question, them are whiners, complainers or kill-joys. Or, worse, they see our questioning as transgressive. I guess it's the cycling world's variation on "victor imperatus." To be fair, there are men who might sympathise with us when we talk about labial pressure. But they still can't empathise.

    Because we are still greatly outnumbered by men (in the realm of serious cyclists, that is), we are still seen as being at least somewhat transgressive, if not merely eccentric. As someone who's been on both sides, as it were, I have experienced the difference between the reactions of people to male and female cyclists. I am reminded of it when some male driver shouts, "nice legs, honey," and tries to escalate it, and when I fix something on my bike during my commute, when I'm wearing a skirt and blazer.

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  49. CJ the word was used intentionally for two reasons one of the reasons being the subject matter at hand was discussions of female anatomy so the word tied in nicely. Reason two; the word is used primarily for men who behave in a weak manner, such as being very sensitive and easily hurt. Therefore the perfect noun to use for these types of men.
    I realize that the meaning of "weak and sensitive man" may be associated with feminine (there could of course be an association with cats as well) but only in the arcane sense that femininity is defined from the IMO silly ideals of the upper echelons of some societies in times past. Note that most women in these times did not go around fainting and being delicate. Most women that did behave in this "sophisticated" way did so not out of their nature but because it was expected out of them and there was a stigma "low class brute" in deviating from that behavior.
    Since I personally don't subscribe to the notion that women in general and certainly not by nature are overly sensitive and easily hurt (some are, most are not) the thought never crossed me that anyone would take offense, seeing how suitable the word was in the context and because the modern view of feminine behavior does not conform to 18th 19th century upper class ideals (except perhaps in the minds of pussies choking on the morning coffee at the mention of saddle sores or labia).

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  50. Montrealize:

    Bras aren't always a tool of oppression. I started wearing them in high school because otherwise most of my clothes rubbed my nipples raw. As my breasts grew, I started wearing them because it was uncomfortable not to. The sensation of my breasts moving/bouncing when I walk fast or walk down stairs or ride my bicycle on a bumpy road is really unpleasant, and so I wear something that holds them in a little.

    For a few days before my period, any movement of my breasts HURTS. Without a bra, it would be painful to ride a bicycle at all.

    I know that women with smaller breasts often prefer to go without bras, and that's fine--I agree they should have the right to not wear them. But bras aren't always a "female submission tool." For some of us, they're the exact opposite.

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  51. Velouria, I feel your posts on women's issues are tactful and very insightful. I have worked in bicycle retail for the past 10 years in an area that has a large (and growing!) female ridership. Needless to say I field a lot of questions about women specific fit and comfort issues. As a man, resources like your blog help me understand, in detail, issues I have no frame of reference on (your bra post was particularly helpful). That information helps me answer questions in a professional, respectful, frank, and hopefully informative way.

    When I find myself explaining how and why chamois cream is used to someone the same age as my mother (and why there are special kinds for women), I feel it is important to know at least two things:
    1. What I am talking about.
    2. How to convey that information like a gentleman, without dancing around the subject.

    Thank you for your fantastic blog and wonderful insights!

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  52. It is good to see you have the courage to discuss issues that obviously are of concern. If the subject is never discussed, then the concern/problem becomes hidden and the solution less likely to be found and shared. It also has a negative impact on assessing the scale of any problem if people feel unwilling or uncomfortable to talk about it. You have to break eggs to make an omelette!

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  53. My wife has the exact same issues April is describing, and I had thought about commenting on it, but decided not to earlier :)

    For women with larger breasts, keeping them "under control" is often important for comfort, and is not just a submission to cultural ideals.

    I agree with April, you should have the right to not wear a bra if you prefer, and not be thought of as 'provocative' or 'obscene' for doing so - but so should someone be able to wear a bra for very practical reasons and not be thought of as a 'slave to society' for doing so.

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  54. Velouria wrote:

    > this approach makes the pastor's job easier

    plus it absolves the pastor from dealing with his own arousal.

    There's a zen teaching story that illustrates this very nicely. Two monks came to a stream crossing and there was a beautiful young woman in a silk kimono. One monk offered to carry the woman across and she accepted. He put her down on the other side and the monks went on their way.

    The first monk reminded his companion that they were monks on a pilgrimage and that they should not have contact with women, especially beautiful young ones. The second monk replied: "I left the young woman back on the bank of the stream. Why are you still carrying her?"

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  55. 'Despite the double standard'

    I don't think there is a double standard.

    When I was a serious club racer even the merest hint of belly fat on one of our number would elicit taunts of 'you fat b*****d' from the rest of us.

    This was taken in good cheer.

    I dread to think what might happen if a woman cyclist said such a thing to another one.

    WW3 probably.

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  56. Pete - but if your team mate said "man, my muscles are tight" while stretching his leg out and running his hands along his thigh, would the women in his presence feel he was being flirtatious? Unlikely. But it does happen the other way around. That's more of the sort of thing I am talking about, as well as what the Victorian ladies were warned about.

    Women and fatness, oh my. It is usually a lot more subtle. Like "Oh Mary, you are looking so much more HEALTHY this season!"

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  57. Velouria, I really admire you for wading in where angels fear to tread... This is SUCH important information both for women and for men who know (or sell things to) women! I truly believe the very best thing to do is exactly what you're doing. Your straightforward and calm approach to these topics is neither coy nor aggressive. Sooner or later, ALL of the readers of your blog will recognize that such issues are discussed here, on an equal footing and frequency with any other potential topic of cycling-related discussion. Better yet, I think you will inspire other bicycling blogs to follow your example until it becomes unremarkable to discuss such things. Also, if I remember some of the comments on your previous blog posts, they frequently took the pattern "I blushed as I read your post over my morning coffee... but then I brought my wife/girlfriend/daughter over to read it and she found it very helpful..." I do think eventually we'll all get comfortable, on this blog at least! ;}

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  58. Johan T, you seem to be missing the point. "Pussy" is offensive because it's a female body part and you're using the word as an insult. Why is a vagina associated with being "weak, sensitive, and easily hurt"?

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  59. (Feel free not to post comment since linguistics wasn't the subject from the start)
    b. I tried to give my reason as to how I believe the connection has been made once upon a time. According to Wikipedia there may also be a connection between the "weak" meaning and the word pursy if you want a more thorough investigation of the word you could perhaps ask a linguist. Note that other words for vagina, especially one starting with "c" has a meaning similar to prick and more or less opposite to pussy when used to describe personal qualities and behaviour. So you have two opposite meanings referencing the same bodypart. Again ask a linguist for an explanation of such inconsitencies. Note that I did not use the word as an insult but as a descriptive noun.

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  60. I am a guy, been riding for many years and I'm not put off. I feel we all have something to learn both about ourselves and the other sex. Maybe some of the more uncomfortable men should so to a showing of the Vagina Monologues. I did some years ago with my wife and became a Bob. Gotta see it to know what a Bob is!!! common . It's just our junk down there.
    Emile

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  61. "should someone be able to wear a bra for very practical reasons and not be thought of as a 'slave to society' for doing so."

    For the time being bra wearers are the vast majority. The day someone will be able to wear a top or a dress with no bra without being thought of as a slut, then we'll have a debate.
    Right now, there is no debate. All there is is a big majority conforming to some social rules (happily, gratefully or not but conforming nonetheless) and a minority being judged.

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  62. @Montrealize: a bit of a generalization there, don't you think?

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  63. I am not sure I agree that braless is always perceived as "slut," even if you are limiting this to N America (because, come on - in many European countries even in a professional setting women don't always wear bras and no one thinks its weird). But anyhow, I don't think that even in the US "slut" is always the association. Sometimes it's "sloppy dresser," or "artist" or "hippy." It depends on what the outfit is and how the woman carries herself.

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  64. "@Montrealize: a bit of a generalization there, don't you think"

    Not generalization, more like exaggeration. Of course, what did you expect?

    "I don't think that even in the US "slut" is always the association."

    Maybe not V, but in honesty, I have never heard the other ones. Especially when you get into this whole nipple showing nonsense.
    All I have ever heard is this type of association, whether in academic environments or professional environments. I have even worked in places with bra requirements built into dress-codes. And I have attended quite my fair share of nipple showing dramas with forced emergency scotch-tape rescue procedures.
    And I don't live in a conservative environment, far from it.

    Europe is something else; most folks I know go topless on the beach, and first lady Carla Bruni attends presidential events with quite some nipple display!

    The fact remains though that about 90% of women wear bras, which cancels out any notion that they might do it out of necessity. Not when the norm is so strong and compliance to that norm so massive.
    It is the same with shaving one's legs (which I don't do) or armpits (which I do) or genitalia (which I don't do).
    Only when those who do not comply with the social injunctions are not viewed as anything in particular and no association is made whatsoever can we start to talk about choices, options etc. Until then, all we have are compliant people, willingly or not.

    Even *I* cannot always react in a normal and matter-of-fact way in front of some other girl's bushy armpits, wooly legs and in-your-face beaver, even though I am a big advocate of these. All the while, mens' don't bother me.
    If that's not social conditioning (and oppression)...

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  65. So until 90% of women are not wearing bras in North America, you won't believe that anyone might possibly be wearing one out of necessity, or even comfort, rather than bowing to social norms?

    I suppose then you also don't believe people who are physically disabled when they say they aren't able to realistically ride a bicycle for transportation, just because they're fitting into the 90% majority of people who don't ride bicycles for transportation?

    It's one thing to say that there is a bias one way or another (and certainly, there is), but I don't think it helps anything, insisting on having this kind of exaggerated and generalizing discussion.

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  66. "So until 90% of women are not wearing bras in North America, you won't believe that anyone might possibly be wearing one out of necessity, or even comfort, rather than bowing to social norms?"

    No, that's not what I said.
    A disability is medically declared and objectively assessed. A "need" to wear a bra is a subjective thing. You can't compare the two, which would be very insulting for the disabled. But I know you were not; you were exaggerating...
    I know that *some* women "need" to wear bras, for medical reasons sometimes. They usually also have received a chiro/ortho/osteopath assessment. That is not the issue. The issue is given that *so* many women do wear them, and (almost) every single one of them convinced that they "need" to wear them, how do you tell the need is a real need vs. a socially constructed need? Especially that most of them won't even try without...

    Take the male example. Men do also have dangling parts that require special equipment in various activities: rugby, martial arts, dance...
    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Jockstrap_Front,_Side_and_Rear.jpg
    http://www.dancedirect.com/fr/Products/Homme/DANCEBELT/homme-danse-gaine-trousse-wear-moi-dancebelt/

    Do we see these items being advertised in GQ, with some beautiful men, say David Beckham, posing half-naked trying to convince other men they need to wear these items out of context?

    Older men also sometimes need to wear protective items as they experience testicle ptosis, very painful:
    http://www.orthopedie-herubel.fr/suspensoirs/166-suspensoir-poche-fourreau.html

    Actually my husband's grand-mother was lucky enough to grow up in days and place where women would still knit these for their husbands.
    Now, has Calvin Klein developped a line of these, trying to convince all men they "need" to wear these to prevent ptosis? Do we have full blown bilboards advertising these things in the open, for all to see and enjoy?
    I would enjoy eyeballing some naked hotties wearing these things...

    Ok, that's need. Those who need, find a way to know about these items and use them. Others may or may not have heard of it, but don't all use them, let alone own them. There is no pressure from all parts. My husband wears his on the rugby field, and leaves it at home when he goes to work. And nobody is sliding him any kind of odd look at work for not wearing it. Female coworkers do not assume he is making advances because his testes are not tighly controlled by these items. And boy, men dot not discuss the colour, material or sizing of their suspensoirs around the coffee machine.

    All right, now that is my understanding of need. Anything beyond is a social construction:

    - To make more money selling bras and other "needs"
    - To dominate the female body and turn it into an object to sell stuff and more "needs"

    When more women will be able to not wear a bra without having to do it "a certain way" to avoid looking skanky... Or better, when more women will be able to wear bras to run, cycle etc. and then leave them at home when going shopping or to work, then we can talk about choices.

    But you know, we do have to agree Dave. It is just my opinion.

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  67. I know, we don't have to agree, though in general, I think we mostly do agree (with maybe a variation in quantity, not quality).

    I certainly agree with you that there are social norms and rules centered around women dressing, looking and behaving in certain ways that aren't there for men, and I agree with you that this is not a good thing (and I think that was your main point).

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  68. Ok, so boobs and testicles are not the same thing, right? Just checking.

    I'm super arrogant but I don't think you should worry if someone is bothered by you talking about body issues on your bike or otherwise no matter your gender. My approach to these is that it's too personal for me to discuss with anyone but a close friend or my husband (not that I think it is "wrong," but I am just a more private person) and I wouldn't talk about it much to either men or women. So I extra-appreciate that you or others will talk about it online because otherwise I have no way of finding this stuff out.

    Another body issue that is important to discuss but not mentioned here so far is about being a plus-sized woman who rides a bike. There is very little gear out there and it's very expensive most of the time. Such a shame, because for people like me who aren't SUPER athletes or whatever, but still like to ride our bikes for fun or commuting, it's a good form of exercise and not too difficult. But all the gear and reviews seem to be geared toward tiny girls and it seems like there is an assumption that larger women don't get into biking or aren't part of the target audience.

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  69. @Angie well, if you're "plus-sized", you're either incapable of cycling (and rather unhealthy in general), or only interested in doing it to get smaller, right? :)

    My wife is on the large side as well, and while she doesn't cycle for recreation or sport (she's just not interested), we don't have a car, so she walks and rides a bicycle basically anywhere she goes. So, she also hasn't really had trouble with finding cycling-specific clothing, because she hasn't looked for it, but even regular clothes can be difficult to find large enough - really, larger than size 14 can be hard to find sometimes.

    I don't understand how the women's clothing market can be so limited to smaller sizes when so many women are larger than the sizes commonly available. It just seems ridiculous to me, if nothing else than from a business point of view. I suppose there's a lot of cultural perception and societal influence going on there.

    My wife used to work at Sock Dreams, and they got SO MANY requests for plus-sized tights and other items that they just didn't have because nobody made them. I don't understand how nobody has decided to nail that market yet.

    The other issue my wife has has, is that often plus-sized women's clothing is just scaled up from the small sizes, so that it's meant to fit someone with very straight lines, only larger, which also doesn't work.

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