Pink Brain / Blue Brain?
Pink Room / Blue Room
There was no cycling for me yesterday. Instead I spent the day painting my daughter’s bedroom. I had promised to do this back in March but with Covid-29, lock down and all that, it hadn’t happened. My daughter is not one to forget a promise so last week we donned our masks and headed to the shops to choose paint.
I quite enjoy painting rooms. I hate the edging but I love paint rollers. There is something very satisfying about changing the colour of a wall.
However, by the time I realised it was going to take three coats of paint to cover the pink walls with the grey and blue my daughter had chosen, I was getting a bit fed up with it.
I was seriously cursing pink.
Painting a room three times over gave me plenty of time to think. This was actually good timing because I was trying to work out a response to an email I recently received about Mummy’s Gone A Cycle.
I have been writing Mummy’s Gone A Cycle since 2016 and by now you would think I would of understood that people do actually read it, not least because I can see how many people read it through the wonders of site statistics. Yet I am still surprised when people talk to me as a writer, or recognise me as the author of Mummy’s Gone A Cycle. A couple of years ago I started racing criteriums and I wrote about the experience, in part to try and encourage more women to give racing a go. At one race a total stranger came up to me for a chat, having recognised me from the photos on my website. I was slightly horrified, and very glad that what he had to say was positive.
Nobody likes to be criticised, which was possibly why I was so taken aback by the email I received this week. To be honest, the message wasn’t really that critical and I do believe that it was sent in the spirit of wanting to point out something I may have missed or misconstrued. Yet I was still taken aback and struggling to work out how to respond.
If you have been reading my ramblings for a while, you will be aware that I have a big focus on women in cycling. This is something which I am passionate about. Whether that be supporting beginner and novice women on bikes through Breeze rides, running women-only coaching days, encouraging more women to try club cycling, writing about some of the incredible women on bikes in history or supporting women’s professional cycling.
This focus has nothing to do with promoting my website. It is not about finding a ‘niche’ to write about. It is about what I believe. This is a good job since Mummy’s Gone A Cycle is not a commercial website and it makes no money. In fact it costs money. It also takes time; lots and lots of time. I started a website because I wanted to write. I continue it predominantly because I enjoy writing.
So, I was taken aback to receive an email stating that my gender focus and the title of my website ‘may be construed to reinforce negative stereotypes that women require additional or different support to males.’
As I painted over the pink again and again, I thought about this. Do I reinforce negative stereotypes in my writing? Do I reinforce negative stereotypes in the way I live my life?
After all, I had painted my daughter’s bedroom pink (and yes, my son’s bedroom is blue – it has Star Wars stickers on the walls).
Pink Brain / Blue Brain
When my daughter was born I was adamant that I was not going to surround her with pink and sparkly princesses just because she was a girl. Then I tied myself into all kinds of knots when I realised that I hadn’t thought twice about surrounding my son with tractors and trains and diggers from the moment he was born. I put my dislike of princesses and my acceptance of tractors down to the fact that princesses are all about looking pretty, being rich and ‘getting the boy’, whereas a tractor is a tractor. The stereotypes for little girls seem so much more value judgement laden than those for boys. This is what I found offensive.
I got into even more knots when my daughter grew old enough to express her own likes and dislikes. It turns out she is just as opinionated as me, and she really, really likes pink, sparkly shoes. Should I tell her no because she is choosing a stereotype?
When it comes to my children, I do not think it is wrong to allow them to dress in clothes or play with toys which are a gender stereotype…if that is what they choose. What is wrong is to deny them the clothes or toys which do not conform to the stereotype. My daughter does wear sparkly shoes and play with dolls. She also loves the Power Rangers and building dens in the woods and makes the most incredible creations with Lego. She loves ‘Curious Pearl, Science Girl’ books, Greta Thunberg is her personal hero and she tucks her dress into her pants when she rides her bike. She likes to wear at least three superhero dress up outfits at once. She is very much an individual and I am proud of her for that.
Three years ago I painted my daughter’s bedroom pink because she asked me to paint it pink. I painted my son’s bedroom blue because he asked me to paint it blue. Yesterday, I repainted my daughter’s bedroom blue and grey because she asked for it to be blue and grey. If my son decides he wants his bedroom painted pink the next time I am up for redecorating, I will paint it pink. (Actually at the moment, he says he wants is black – I do draw the line at black…and I wonder if he has been reading Adrian Mole).
If I had to take a guess right now at what my children might be when they grow up (they are six and eight at the moment, so it is a little soon), I would say that my son will be an author and my daughter will be an engineer. I would say that because he loves books and is incredible with words, and she has the most amazing thirst for knowledge and wants to know how everything works.
I would say it because of who they are, not who they should be.
What Do Women Want?
I do not believe that ‘women require additional or different support to males’. The email came with links to an article and a video, which I read and watched. I would absolutely agree that a history of badly conducted neuroscience which tries to prove that men’s and women’s brains are different is damaging and has no place in our lives. More than twenty years ago I wrote exactly that in my dissertation on the history of intelligence testing.
I think the important word is ‘require’. When it comes to women in cycling, I do not believe that women require additional or different support, but I do think that some women want additional or different support. I think this because it is what some women tell me. Not all women, some women. Being a woman is a part of who I am, but it is not who I am. I am an individual before I am anything else. To talk about what all women do or do not want is clearly a nonsense. We do not all want or need the same things.
I want to support women in cycling, but I have never assumed that all women want or need support with their cycling. I do not believe that I am reinforcing negative stereotypes by offering support.
These are some of the things I spend my time on:
- I run women-only Breeze rides. I do this as a volunteer (the same as every other Breeze Champion) and I do it because of the incredible feedback I receive – not about me, but about Breeze. About how the opportunity to attend women-only rides was exactly the opportunity some women needed to start their journey into cycling.
- I run women-only coaching sessions. I do this because I have been asked time and time again to do so. I do it because they are generally better attended than the exact same sessions which I run as open to all. I never run a session without offering it as women-only and open to all. I do not run men-only sessions because I have never been asked for them.
- I started the Recommended Cycle Clubs project to encourage more women to try club cycling. I did this because I hear from so many women who say that they would love to try cycling with a club but they feel too intimidated. This does not mean that there are not plenty of men out there who would also like to try club cycling but feel too intimidated. I hope that the information in the project will also encourage them, as I state on the project page.
- I write about women in cycling. I do this because I enjoy writing. Over the years I have been encouraged by the positive comments I have received. I don’t always write about women in cycling, if you use the menu at the top of my home page, you will find links to all kinds of articles.
The women-only activities I run are open to anyone who identifies as a woman. Perhaps I should say that more. I don’t because it seems long-winded and it also seems obvious to me that that is what I mean. I may well be wrong about this. I talk about ‘women’ because that is what I know. I will admit that I am completely ignorant of transgender issues in cycling. This is not because of any kind of bias from me, it is simply because this is not something which has found its way into my life as yet.
Women are not the only minority on cycling. But they are my minority because I am a women. This is what I know and therefore what I tend to write about.
Mummy’s Gone A Cycle
As for the name, ‘Mummy’s Gone A Cycle’, this was my daughter’s first sentence and that is why I love it. The mummy referred to is me. It is not meant to imply that cycling is different if you are a parent. It’s not meant to imply anything other than how difficult it is to think of a good name for a website. If the name offends you then I apologise but I won’t be changing it. Being a mum is now a part of my identity, as is being a woman, as is being a cyclist. I do not speak for every mum, I do not speak for every woman, I do not speak for every cyclist. I speak for me.
Besides, ‘I’m Gone A Cycle’ doesn’t have a great ring about it.