I was riding side-by-side with Mike (his real name) and I asked, “Do you follow women’s racing at all?” The Giro Donne was on at the time, and I had been following along casually. “No,” he said. “I have no interest. It’s slow and boring.”
So I said, “You can tell the difference in speed, on television, as a group of cyclists rolls along a narrow road?”
Here I launched into one of my pet theories about sports as entertainment and the red herring that sex represents. To my mind, all entertainment depends on narrative, which is to say that our ability to engage with a bike race depends entirely on our ability to overlay some compelling narrative. Usually, that means recognizing some set of characters and imputing qualities to each of them that describes the interpersonal dynamic and conflict taking place.
What’s the story here? That’s the key question.
I would call sex (not gender, which exists on a continuum I’m told) a red herring, because to say you find women’s racing boring is like saying I don’t like female characters in my entertainment. At best, it’s saying that I don’t like athletic female characters in my entertainment. I suppose, on some level, that’s a valid opinion/preference to hold, but I don’t really buy it. I think what people (mostly men) mean when they say I’m not interested in women’s racing is, ‘I don’t know who any of the characters are, so I don’t know what the story is.’
Mike more or less conceded this point, because he’s an enlightened guy, and he probably recognized that I would go on and on talking about it if he didn’t find some way to placate me.
The endemic media has done a better job covering women’s racing over the last year. I suspect this is part noble intention, part sense of fairness, part love of the sport as a whole, and part reaction to the story of men’s pro racing, whose various characters and plots seem to get more convoluted and less compelling year after year.
This week’s Group Ride asks, are you watching the women race? Reading stories about them? If you’re not (no judgement), why not? I think that a big part of the challenge for women’s sports is simply in the pre-existence of men’s sports. Most of us already know what stories we’re following. We’re not really looking for new stories, even though there are good ones, right there, in front of our faces.