When we think about where women fit in the world, our history—the history of mankind, that is—isn’t good. Scanning back through the last 1000 years, we have denied women the right to own property, the right to vote, the right to work, the right to have a voice, even the right to be considered people. After all, there once was a time when women, like slaves, were the property of their husbands. Simply controlling their reproductive destiny is currently under fire. Generally speaking, we have evolved a lot, but if this were an elementary school report card, the fact that Saudi women can’t drive would merit the comment, “Needs improvement.”
Unfortunately, the cesspool that can be the world of Internet comments has provided a haven for some of the most vile male urges out there. I’m thinking specifically of GamerGate, for starters. For those not familiar with this crisis of civility, a cadre of trolls went after a handful of women in the video game world. You can find a crib sheet over at Wikipedia. What started as uncivil disses of women quickly escalated to threats up to and including rape and murder. And then the doxing started; doxing someone is digging up their personal info, such as address, driver’s license number and even credit card info and posting it online. It enables identity theft, which is bad enough, but worse, it means that anyone threatening to rape or kill someone now has the means to track down their target.
Women were forced from their homes.
On Sunday, Pinkbike contributor Amanda Batty, best known as a pro downhill racer, announced she was parting ways with the ultra-popular site. Sites lose contributors all the time for all sorts of reasons, but what Batty says is that she was forced out for pushing back not just against misogynistic comments, but also for criticizing sexist writing within the site. What she points out is that just as Western culture is beginning to come to grips with our sometimes awful treatment of women, it’s important to keep our hands to the fire and shows anything that condones or promotes a permissive attitude toward violence against women. Like the women of GamerGate, some Pinkbike readers went so far as to harass her at home.
Batty didn’t share with me the exact threats she received, but they did include rape and murder; one troll went far enough to get the police involved and he is being prosecuted.
Here, I must digress and reference Jon Krakauer’s new book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. He notes that rape is the only crime where the accuser is routinely presumed to be lying rather than telling the truth. My reason in bringing this up is that our evolution as a species is incomplete until we begin to reform attitudes toward rape and how women are treated when they report a rape. It’s a crime that can alter a life trajectory.
When my sister confessed to me over the phone that she had been raped, she cried with such a force that I could feel the tear in her soul. One former girlfriend is an incest survivor, while another suffered date rape. I never got past being friends with the girl I was sweet on in junior high because she was raped by her neighbor. We went to the movies, but we never held hands, never kissed. If you bother to listen to women’s stories, you’ll learn that sexual violence is a pervasive crime.
Part of the difficulty for Batty was being silenced for taking issue with this line, written by one of the editors: “it will, much like your girlfriend after a few shots, do pretty much anything you ask of it.” Pinkbike later amended the line to include “(or boyfriend)” but that did little to address the underlying concern.
That’s not a comparison I’d make, but I’ll defend to my last the site’s right to publish that work. That’s basic First Amendment stuff. Of course, Batty wouldn’t have felt the need to speak up if the editor(s) working with her had shown more sensitivity to the problems she raised behind the scenes. In ignoring her criticism, she was left with little choice but to speak out publicly.
Reading through the 300-odd comments you can see that a number of readers celebrated the line, though, to be fair, a few did observe that it was a less-than-stellar comparison.
It’s probably best to let Batty speak for herself here. Here’s one of her responses:
You know, I generally tend to agree with that sentiment (people are just too f*cking sensitive), but on Pinkbike, from a PB staff writer, misogyny has no place. Jokes are fine, but these sorts of ‘jokes’ aren’t funny — for anyone. They not only objectify women in general, but they create an atmosphere of ownership and entitlement inside of the bike culture, which is the very thing all of us are trying to fight right now, simply to be seen as equal. It’s not just ‘taking a joke’ — it’s about allowing the perpetuation of a rape culture inside of the bike industry.
Go back up and read the line. Is it necessary to making his point? Is I funny? Does it add value to any member of the bike community? Does it reflect positively on how we see the women and girlfriends inside of our sport, or is it a generalization about how all the girlfriends of the men on this website act after a few shots?
For me, I really pray that this bike doesn’t act like a couple of MY girl friends after a few shots — that would be creepy. They get all weepy and sad and then they throw things. Or me, where I wander the bar and hug strangers.
She deserves credit for keeping her sense of humor while demonstrating just how troubling the comment was; too often, those protesting permissive attitudes toward rape seem shrill and humorless, which gives the trolls another way to dismiss them. It’s impossible to claim that Batty can’t take a joke. One commenter accused her of being psychotic and defaming the writer’s character. And while other commenters defended and supported her, there were plenty of truly idiotic comments. She went on to explain:
Rape culture is perpetuated by the fact that Mike Levy implied that anyone capitalizing on a girlfriend being drunk to do ‘whatever you want’ is okay. I’m sorry, but that IS perpetuating rape culture.
Calling a woman psychotic when she stands up to a nonchalant treatment of date rape is something that no community should tolerate, ever. And for a publisher to refuse to push back against such comments just enables, emboldens those trolls. I have no doubt that they wouldn’t tolerate a commenter using the N-word, or threatening gay riders with any variety of violence, so why would they allow readers to abuse one of their contributors?
I should clarify that I like Pinkbike (Levy’s review is terrific, otherwise) and count myself fortunate to call Richard Cunningham a friend. But Batty is right about that being an inappropriate joke. As Ellen Degeneres has said, a joke is only a joke if everyone is laughing. Allowing sexist comments and writing creates a chilly atmosphere for women, so while some may be laughing, unless everyone in the room is laughing, the joke failed.
Batty’s post has sent shock waves through the industry. I’ve communicated with several women who were dismayed to learn of her treatment by both the readers and by the staff at Pinkbike. One woman who holds a fairly prominent position with a popular bike company told me on condition of anonymity:
Many women in the industry have been following this since the day it was posted. Of the women I spoke to, not one of them was comfortable sharing it publicly, citing professional ramifications as the reason why—everyone worried about blowback … and still, Amanda was doxed—it is terrifying and it sucks that we have to choose between standing up for her and maintaining our professional relationships.
There’s a legitimate fear among women that in speaking out about this they will be doxed, blackballed by potential employers and perhaps experience retaliation from Pinkbike. God forbid you should criticize them and then find that suddenly they don’t like your bikes anymore, or that sales of your downhill bike drop off because you’ve suggested that riders should behave like men, not boys.
If women can’t speak out for fear of retaliation, then it falls to men to stand up for what’s right.
I’m going to confess something. I’ve often wondered why Greg LeMond couldn’t bite his lip when his company was at stake. The way I did the math, there wasn’t much use in being right if your company and the means to support you family went up like a match on black powder. In my head, I framed the question in terms of crossing the street. You’ve got the light and the crossing signal, but there’s an 18-wheeler barreling toward the intersection. You can either jump out of the way or insist on crossing because it is your legal right and the truck ought to stop. Being right won’t help if you’re dead. But to me, this is such an elemental example of right and wrong that if I don’t stand up on behalf of women I respect and admire, what kind of example will I be setting for my sons? I write this with full awareness that I’m drawing the crosshairs to me, but if I don’t speak out, I’m part of the dilemma because violence against women thrives in silence. Maybe this is how LeMond felt.
If you want to joke about coercing women into sex, that’s your right, but you should expect to be called out for it. Using alcohol to get women too drunk to say no is finally being recognized for the crisis it is and an ever-present threat that universities are only now beginning to address. Left unchecked, rape is a cancer in a community. Our attitudes about women need to mature and there’s no better place to be part of the change than here in cycling. Women often complain that they feel unwelcome in the bike world, and the moment we recognize that they are rad, make the world a more diverse and interesting place and are fun to ride with, we will all be better off.
Frankly, I’m going to ask Batty if she wants to write for us.