Submitted by our war correspondent from the trenches. Warning: May offend male cyclists. Hopefully, anyway.
MANSPLAINING: A delightful mixture of privilege and ignorance that leads to condescending, inaccurate explanations, delivered with a rock solid conviction of rightness and that certainty that he is right because he is the man in the conversation.Webster’s Third International Dictionary of Reality
MANSPLAINING: Of a man; to explain needlessly, overbearingly, or condescendingly, (typically when addressing a woman) in a manner of thought to reveal a patronizing or chauvinistic attitude.Encylopedia of Common Knowledge
I think maybe I have ‘splained this all before, but before I was a cyclist, and I’m still not entirely sure that I see myself as this, I was a runner. I spent many hours a week running alone in the mountains (Gasp! Isn’t it dangerous for a woman to run alone, much less in the mountains?) and I got pretty good at it.
I was not running as part of a group organized by men, running with a “mentor” of any kind, on a team run by a board of men who instructed me on proper running mechanics and training, or under the tutelage of a male coach, i.e. a moach, or any other coach for that matter. But somehow, all alone, by myself, without any input from anyone aside from me and my own education/understanding of exercise science and physiology, not to mention the direct knowledge of my own body and how it worked, knowledge gained through decades of athletic competition in multiple sports, I was able to train myself such that that I became fast and skilled enough at this running thing (i.e. averaging 6-ish minute miles for long distances with lots of hills) to win or podium at the races I entered. And I did not just win/podium the women’s category, but the overall category. Yes, that’s right. I beat the men. On some occasions I beat all of the men, and on all occasions I beat most of them. Imagine that?
What’s more, for a few years in my young life I was a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. I managed to be good enough at this male dominated and incredibly demanding fire thing to make it onto a Hotshot Crew. In a hyper-militaristic environment, riddled with hazing, dictated by hierarchies based on physical conditioning and strength, where a strong work ethic was required, and with your daily position in the social schema determined by insane competition at the highest and most demanding levels, I was able to stand out enough to be put in a position of authority. Me, a woman. Often times, the only woman. Put in charge of men, in potentially life or death situations. Who knew?
I thought I had this life/training/athletic thing kind of down. And then …
ENTER CYCLING. I became a “cyclist” after I was spotted early one morning Riding a Bike While Female by a Man on a Bike. This Man on a Bike and I had a bit of a battle going up Via Campesina, and even though I was Riding a Bike While Female, I impressed him enough for him to think maybe it was statistically significant that I could do this super complex bike thing kind of decently, but with a little “help.”
Although I explained to him that I was a personal trainer at work, had a sports background, had just completed one of the hardest full Ironman competitions on the calendar and had been a pretty successful runner, Man On A Bike thought that even so, and in consideration of my current state of ignorance since I was some sort of athlete but not a “cyclist,” i.e. a blank slate, he believed that with the combination of full immersion therapy into a team of knowledgeable men and some moaching, my cycling could probably be capable of improvement.
Based on the size and shape of my “muscles” he assumed I had done very little cycling (he was right about this detail) and therefore knew nothing about … well, anything really, especially the things I told him that I knew about already, i.e. sports and training. He gave me his card and told me to email if I was interested in doing some more riding. Against my better judgment, and nature in general, I did. In our first email exchange, Man On A Bike told me many things, including how much benefit there was to being on a team of men, but that in the process I would get a lot of “mansplaining.” I had never heard the term “mansplaining” before. However, this turned out to be one of the most truthful statements Man On A Bike has ever made to me. Perhaps the only one.
What I discovered very quickly was that even though we women seem to function just fine on our own in life, the attainment of self sufficiency being one of them, Riding a Bike While Female subjugates such impertinent details to the knowledge and superiority of the Man On The Bike. Even when faced with undeniable facts of who you are, what you have done in your life, your education, your career, or the fact that you actually “appear” to be stronger than the Man On The Bike, Man On The Bike will mansplain reality back into manquilibrium for you both at 186K per second.
Riding A Bike While Female puts one in constant jeopardy of various types and manifestations of mansplanation, and they come in various forms. Here are some that I have experienced:
“The Dick Line”
Around nearly every man on the bike is what I call the Dick Line. I see it as a sort of Mason Dixon Line of cycling. As a female, you are supposed to be aware through osmosis or DNA electromagnetism of the inherent boundaries of the Dick Line. Crossing the Dick Line puts you in Dick territory, and is strictly forbidden. This is how The Dick Line violation unfolds.
You are Riding Your Bike While Female when you encounter a Man On A Bike. Man On A Bike is slower than you. As you continue to pedal, you pass him. As you are doing so, you cross his Dick Line and his Dick Line alarm is activated. Man On A Bike’s mansplaining mode jumps into action by forcing Man On A Bike to stand up on his pedals and frantically flog himself to a point on the road ahead of you, once again re-establishing his Dick Line and manquilibrium. Unfortunately Man On A Bike is red-lined and slowing to a crawl at the moment his Dick Line is re-established, creating once again a risk of another boundary violation with woman who is Riding A Bike While Female, so he makes either an abrupt right or left turn off the road to avoid the confrontation, or gets a “mechanical” and has to “stop.” Under these new circumstances no one can be positive that his Dick Line was actually violated, and manquilibrium is restored.
Message: Women are not allowed to be faster than men without consequence.
“Pacing Governed By Genitalia”
When Riding A Bike While Female, one must always be aware that it is not necessary to ride as fast, or dare I say it, faster, than Man On A Bike. In fact, to even desire such a thing as riding as fast, or (gasp) riding faster than Man On A Bike is sort of “crazy” and will require some form of mansplaination to reestablish manquilibrium. As a woman Riding A Bike While Female, our highest aspirations should reach no further than riding as fast as the other females, or within some determined range that can be found on gender divided scoreboards based on mph or Watts per/Kg. But certainly, expressions of the drive to compete with Man On A Bike or, for sure, competing directly with the man, is off the table and will be shut down through various mechanisms.
If at any point during your time Riding A Bike While Female, a verbal statement is made by you implying that you will be someday be as fast as Man On A Bike, you can expect responses similar to these: “You will never be as fast as me,”“You will never beat me on a climb,” “You will never win Telo,” “If you want to be faster you will have to do x-watts per/kg and you will never do that,” and my personal fave fave, “Why do you want to be as fast as me? You only have to be as fast as a Cat 4 woman.” If you happen to be Riding A Bike While Female and accomplish some of the previously stated impossibilities, you can expect the following: “So that’s how its going to be, huh?” “I’m slowing down to wait for my teammate,” “I just took a pull,” or my fave fave “I would be way stronger than you if I trained harder.”
Message: You need to stay weak because, penis.
Occasionally, such as everyday all the time, on some rides, i.e. on all rides Riding A Bike While Female, you might be good at it. Being good at bike riding will activate the Mansplain Hustle, an interdisciplinary mode of mansplaining that requires quick yet rehearsed thinking on the part of Man On A Bike. This is a particularly creative and complex mechanism of mansplaination with multiple vectors, thinly disguised as “encouragement.” In truth, The Mansplain Hustle of Inverted Encouragement is simply the mansplaination of factual reality back into the fictional genre of manquilibrium that puts the man back in the position of authority by flipping events inside out to make the women’s accomplishment appear to be the man’s act of chivalry. Here are just a couple of examples:
“Good Job” The Good Job affirmation must be given to a woman by Man On A Bike any time she is passing his Dick Line and he is incapable of generating the energy to activate his flogging mechanism and ride away from her to an unknown point ahead. Good Job establishes manquiliubrium by letting you know that this is a special occasion, like Christmas, or your birthday, and that it only comes once a year and is totally a gift from him, not attributable to anything you have done of your own volition.
“You’re doing better this week!” This Inverted Encouragement is often done at the end of an interval, at the end of a ride or the top of a climb, when Man On A Bike has been soundly beaten by woman Riding A Bike While Female. The purpose of this messaging is just like the one above, with the added bonus of reminding the woman that the previous week she was not as good or as fast as Man On A Bike. This once again implies that this is a special occasion and was merely a gift from the man that will be rescinded the following week when normalcy will once again be initiated. What is most sinister about this form of “encouragement” is that this is almost never the case. Generally, the woman was better than Man on a Bike the previous week, but Man On A Bike assumes that Riding A Bike While Female is taxing out the tail end of the woman’s skill set and resources, including memory, and she won’t recall kicking his ass the week before. Manquilibrium is reestablished via gaslighting.
Message: You deserve an award just for being out here. So calm down and stay back there.
“Let me explain to you body, your job, your life, pretty much just let me explain”
Every time you are out Riding A Bike While Female, you can expect Man On A Bike to consider this your first day on earth. So if you are Riding A Bike While Female with Man On A Bike (or even a man who owns a bike and isn’t riding it), nothing you have done before that day counts in terms of knowledge or experience. For example, if you tell Man On A Bike that you are a personal trainer, have been for over fifteen years, that you began studying Exercise Physiology at the age of 14, that is has been your lifelong passion from the time you began competitive figure skating at age eight, that you at one time owned your own gym where you were individually responsible for training each and every person who walked through the door, that you taught every type of fitness class that could be taught, and that at your current company you were in the top 50 of over 3000 trainers world wide, you can expect him to try to explain to you, in great and pompous detail, what a fitness interval is.
When you try to interject some of your actual knowledge on intervals, Man On A Bike will, in the most unconvinced-of -your-self-described-background and condescending voice he has at his disposal, ask if you in fact really, actually know what a true interval is. When you again remind him of your background, tell him that there is more than one type of interval, and ask to which type was he referring, he will become completely convinced that you are as ignorant as he thought and will not believe that you do truly know what an interval is until you have broken it down for him in PubMed terms that he himself, does not understand. At which point he will mansplain the situation back to manquilibrium by saying “ Smart, strong and funny. Great combo.”
Message: The Dick Line is Overarching.
One glimmer of distinction from this sad state of affairs is that here, on our local Thursday AM Flog Ride, where we have no gender prizes, the women have no interest in gifts and, hopefully, the men have figured out not to offer them up. Although some of the above actually did take place on this ride at some point in the past, a conversation was overheard on La Cuesta last week at the Flog that made me smile. Man On A Bike was heard telling a woman who had been Riding While Female that she was very strong and that he hoped to, at some point, be good enough to get on her wheel. He offered her no advice, gave no critique, and neither did she to him. It was simply an exchange between two equals. As it should be. Who knew?