The latest initiative from Make it York and Visit Ryedale is a woefully misguided attempt to encourage more women to cycle. It’s more #thisgirlcan’t than #thisgirlcan.
My heart sank when I read the press release emailed to me this morning, entitled “The great British bike-off: York & Ryedale find the perfect recipe for girls on bikes”.
By the end of the second paragraph my hackles had risen with this outdated, patronising sentence from the President of British Cycling Bob Howden: “[York & Ryedale] is the kind of place where girls really can have fun, on two wheels!”
The third paragraph did nothing to soothe my irritation with this bit of generalising claptrap: “Women demand much more from their cycling,” adds Michelle Brown, Tourism Marketing Manager of Make It York. “It’s not about pounding the pedals or roughing it on holiday for bragging rights. According to research*, there are three magic ingredients to an enjoyable cycling experience for ladies – it needs to be fun and friendly, and it needs to feel safe.”
I’m sorry – it’s not about pounding the pedals? It’s not about bragging rights?
Ok – I must have got it wrong! Perhaps I’m the only female cyclist who uses Strava. My bad. I apologise to the rest of the fairer sex if I’m giving womankind a bad name, chasing after QOMs and turning the air blue when I don’t beat my rivals. I must be wrong, to be pushing myself hard when I cycle, breaking a sweat, working to become a stronger, faster cyclist.
Then comes this gem:
“York & Ryedale are surrounded by some of the best cycling country in the UK so, to get girls out exploring in a fun and friendly way, the region has created a series of tea-room trails. Designed for gentle escapism, not leg-busting, they feature award-winning, top-class tea-rooms famed for cakes, bakes and connoisseur-grade coffee and tea that, not make great places to meet up with friends and family, but are also ‘safe havens’ along the route, where cyclists know they’re going to get a great welcome – and a spot of well-deserved luxury.”
Well. Thank goodness I can look forward to some luxury and pampering when I’m out in my bib tights. Lord knows that what I long for when I’m on a weekend ride is to park my sweaty, possibly mud-splattered derriere on a floral armchair.
What is this nonsense? Who are these female cyclists seeking nothing more than gentle escapism?
But that’s not all. Oh, no. There are some added attractions for ‘girls on bikes’.
How about “exceptional sightseeing and selfie moments en route”? Thank goodness – after all, if it’s not on Instagram it didn’t happen! I only choose routes based on the selfie opportunities they present. Erm…
But better than that, there is a support team so that “there’s no need to break a nail” – and no, I am not joking. That is actually a sentence in this press release. Heaven forbid one of us should break a nail. Do they have a makeup artist on hand, too, to touch up our lipstick and dab away perspiration ready for those selfies? How about someone to fix your helmet hair?
I’m not saying supported rides aren’t a good thing – it was fantastic going on a supported ride with Yorkshire Velo Tours last year. It’s the condescending justification that gets to me.
“There might be a few hills, but don’t let this put you off – there’s no shame in getting off to appreciate the view on the way (and even more excuses to replace that energy with a tea-room treat at the end!)” – now, look. I’m not a great hill climber. And Lord knows I’ve struggled with some of the climbs in God’s Own Country. But this is just so condescending. And with a population which is growing increasingly fatter and ever more prone to Type 2 Diabetes, can we please stop with this obsession over cake? For crying out loud – we’re grown women pursuing an outdoor activity, of our own choosing. We don’t need sweet rewards. It’s one thing to enjoy tucking into a piece of cake and a cuppa on a tough ride, but we’re being told we don’t need to ride hard, we can get off for a rest on hills, and take shorter routes that won’t wear us out. How are those calories from multiple tearoom stops actually going to be burned?
I’d love to see an end to this twee dumbing down of cycling. Cycling isn’t about cake. Grown women don’t need incentivising with sweets. What we do need are more strong role models for girls to see as they’re growing up so that breaking a sweat – and a nail – is normalised and seen as healthy and enjoyable rather than something to avoid. Let’s not encourage women to hold themselves back. Let’s not encourage softness and the idea of the passive, gentle female stereotype. We’ve had little else for centuries.
In 2017, #ThisGirlCan do a lot more than eat cake and preserve a manicure.