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Archive for March, 2011

Half a week is not a long time. Well, I suppose it depends on perspective — waiting five days for a restaurant chef to cook your meal qualifies as “long” — but generally, that’s not a long time. Still, it’s long enough to throw me into cycling withdrawal. I have been on a brief hiatus while my bike is in the shop for five days, probably begging mechanics to convince me not to ride it so hard, and it’s been weird.

Luckily, the professional cycling season is in full swing to keep my mind occupied. This past weekend there were several tuneups for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, the spring’s biggest races. And they did not disappoint.

On Saturday, Fabian Cancellara won E3 Harelbeke after catching two breakaway groups and riding them off his wheel. It was vintage Cancellara. Here’s a video:

If you don’t have nine minutes to spare, or don’t feel like listening to nine minutes of Flemish, here’s a shorter version:

Cancellara’s win put the cycling world on notice: he’s in great form and the favorite for Flanders and Roubaix.

Then, on Sunday, another rider let the cycling world know about being in form: Emma Pooley.

You probably thought I was going to say Tom Boonen, didn’t you? Boonen won Gent-Wevelgem, and he may be a threat after all for the big spring classics, blah, blah, blah.

For people who follow professional cycling, the media focus is placed primarily on men’s cycling. I don’t think I’m saying anything new. If you play Word Association and say Armstrong, most people would say Lance, not Kristin. People know Contador, Schleck, and Cavendish, but not necessarily Vos, Wild, and Abbott. Myself included. I just had to look two of those women’s names up.

Men’s cycling has a longer history, and TV coverage of professional cycling is devoted mostly to men’s races, at least in the United States. I’d love to have some US station show E3 and Gent live, and not have to go online to find a streaming channel with grainy footage. But I’d also like to see the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, which Pooley won with a 69km-long breakaway.

I don’t care who you are, that is tough and a great accomplishment that should garner more attention than it did.

Writing about this makes me think about media attention and how something generates interest. Let’s use a massively successful sports organization, the NFL, as an example. It generates tons of interest for many reasons, one of which is the physical spectacle. You don’t have to be a Seahawks fan to enjoy that Marshawn Lynch video above.

But the NFL also wouldn’t so successful if it didn’t have rivalries, franchise histories, and statistical records. The same applies to other American professional sports leagues, and it also fits cycling.

Fans like the sport because of the sprints, the breakaways, the climbs. They appreciate how tough it is to win a long one-day race in crappy weather, marvel at the legs and smarts required to take a sprint, and know the punishment of a grand tour. It is an immensely fan-friendly sport at all levels.

But at the most elite levels, cycling would not generate the amount of interest it does without history and human interest.

Consider the 2011 Paris-Roubaix. It suddenly becomes a lot less interesting if you don’t know the history of the race and mythology behind the cobbled course. What if you didn’t know that Cancellara is a dominant rider and Boonen won it three times? Imagine watching the race if you had no idea that Garmin-Cervelo built a team to win it, and that George Hincapie is to P-R what the Red Sox were to baseball before 2004.

Essentially, if you strip away the context and the history, it’s just a bunch of guys racing 260km over a brutal course. And while you’d still be interested, you’d have to develop your rooting interests from scratch.

That’s how I feel with regard to women’s cycling. I’ve spent the last eight years or so reading about professional cycling, but it was always about the Tour, Lance, and men’s events. I don’t have much of a clue about primary women’s races and top riders. And I don’t know precisely where to place the blame for that. A few options:

A) The sport itself. Most of the sponsorship dollars go to men’s teams and supporting men’s races on TV. Also, there is not a great number of top events, both abroad and in the states.

B) Culture. The sports world largely considers women’s sports and female athletes to be illegitimate, or at least second class. Additionally, there has not always been a framework for women to be athletes, and that framework is still not widespread.

C) The media. News outlets devote most of their resources to covering the men’s pro peloton.

D) Myself. Until recently, I wasn’t trying very hard to find news about women’s cycling.

E) All of the above.

Like a lame and easy multiple choice question, the answer is E. It almost seems like a circle of blame. But I do think a lot of it hinges on C.

You could say that the sport can’t be blamed, because sponsors won’t randomly give money to something they don’t think will be a good investment. But there’s a lot of opportunity for growth in women’s cycling, and some sponsors do support women’s cycling programs.

You could also say that the media can’t be blamed because news outlets often don’t have the resources to cover everything. Lord knows that’s true for many news staffs. But it’s not equitable at all, and I don’t buy the argument that you devote coverage to what’s popular. You’re the media; you decide what’s newsworthy.

And you could say that I can’t be blamed because I was raised in a society that vastly favored men’s sports. But even after realizing this, I’ve never demanded better coverage of women’s cycling.

Nothing will be equal until there is a cultural shift. The women’s cycling fan base will not grow without consistent exposure from media sources, but it also won’t grow if people continue to think it’s inferior. Of course, it’s not inferior. It has the same qualities that makes men’s cycling exciting.

So the attitude needs to be “Let’s check out the women’s race,” not “Oh, it’s the women’s race.” Do I think the same number of people who like men’s cycling must like women’s cycling, and with the same passion? No. But I do think women’s cycling must be given the same advantages as men’s by everybody.

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My mom rarely arrives home before 7 p.m. Most days it’s closer to 8 or 9 and, occasionally, she’ll pull into the driveway at 10. She’ll get out of her car with 130,000 miles that’s missing the hubcaps to the two right wheels, grab two arm-loads full of bags and materials, and trudge up the driveway.

She’ll go up the steps, both feet touching each one, then push her way through the door, almost falling, and drop the bags to the floor. Some days she’ll just hoist them onto the top step and shove them across the room with her foot.

She’ll feed the cats, put some groceries that she needs for the next day in the fridge, iron her clothes for the morning, eat some popcorn or ice cream, then go to bed, exhausted. And then, about 10 hours after entering the door, she’ll exit, off again to her overpaying, part-time teaching job.

*****

Recently, I’ve been thinking about power — not only who has it, but how those who have it want to exploit it. It seems that, lately, a lot of powerful people and entities are exercising that power, either to gain more control or prevent the loss of it.

A perfect example is this mess with Wisconsin and its public employees; namely, teachers. Governor Scott Walker’s plan to end public workers’ collective bargaining rights has drawn a lot of attention and sparked a lot of conversation. Here in Pennsylvania, new governor Tom Corbett proposed a budget that would freeze public teachers’ salaries, and stop raises for earning masters degrees. The Keystone State has a pretty tumultuous history with teachers unions — there are more strikes in this state than any other. And every strike always leads to the same conversation: Are teachers really worth that much?

You hear stuff like…Don’t they get paid enough? They have great health care and a good salary, and it’s next to impossible to fire a bad one. And anyway, who do they think they are, asking for more money when there’s cutbacks everywhere? They get summers off when I have to work year-round.

Personally, I think it’s horseshit. Are there bad teachers? Sure. Finding a way to perform smart evaluations of teachers would be fantastic for everybody, and figuring out a way to employ the best teachers/reward them would be great. But those complaining about how much public teachers make, in general, really ought to re-focus their rightful economic anger. And anyone who claims teaching is a part-time job probably ought to do some math.

My mom teaches cooking, culinary arts, and parenting classes, and works, conservatively, 12 hours a day. Those hours include teaching classes, performing other obligations like hallway and bus lane monitoring, cleaning up the kitchen spaces, organizing, doing laundry, creating tests, grading tests, creating projects, grading projects, and grocery shopping, and that’s not even a complete list.

So, 12 hours a day, five times a week = 60 hours.

If the standard work week is 40 hours, and the standard number of weeks worked per year is 50 five-day weeks (take two weeks off for a combination of vacation, sick days, and holidays), the standard person works 2,000 hours per year.

If the standard teaching year is 180 school days, that’s about 26 weeks. So, for 26 weeks my mom works 60 hours, or 1,560 hours.

My god! Wouldn’t you know, teacher critics are right. My mom is cheating taxpayers out of their hard-earned…but, oh, damn, you know what? It’s not 60 hours per week. Because every couple weeks my mom will go in to school on a Saturday or Sunday and spend about 10 hours re-organizing her department’s office space. So, let’s continue to be conservative and say she does that 10 weeks out of the school year — that’s another 100 hours.

So, with the total number of 1,660 hours, she still falls short of being an actual full-time worker.

Except…damn. I forgot the work she does while not at school. I’m talking about the hours she spends at home testing recipes, creating worksheets, and planning. And wouldn’t you know, I’m forgetting the hours she spends during the summer preparing for the school year. And if you added all of the hours she works — strictly the hours — you’d find they total at least as much as your average full-time employee, if not more.

But then you have to consider what kind of hours they are. They are not easy hours. It is not babysitting a bunch of kids. She cannot go through the motions. She has to do things like take up a special needs class, simply because the school required her to, even though she has no formal training. She has to put up with kids who take her classes because they think they’re easy, kids who routinely make jokes they know she won’t understand. She once asked me what a blumpkin is because one of the kids in her classes mentioned it.

And then you have to consider that her salary really isn’t that much at all. It’s certainly not enough to fix all that’s wrong with the house she returns to every night — a half-finished roof, a leaky washer, a faucet that only stops dripping if you position the handle just so, old and drafty windows, several broken light fixtures, and an out-of-commission bathroom. And as soon as she’s saved up enough money to fix one of the less major ones, an alternator stops working or trees need to be removed before they fall on the house or her knees become so painful that they need to be replaced.

And so she has to prioritize. What does not present immediate disaster gets put off, what can be worked around gets put on the back burner. All the while, those problems do not go away. Often they get worse. But you can’t do anything more when you don’t have the money. And it breaks my heart, because when she spends so much time trying her best to make sure someone else’s kids receive the best education she can provide, she can barely get by.

If you want to try to quantify a teacher’s worth, if you want to try to tell me what’s an acceptable salary for a teacher, go for it. You won’t have much success. Because you cannot tell me that $50,000 per year is rich, and you cannot present a convincing argument that teachers, as a group, should give up a cent of their pay because the very rich have set up a system that somehow makes people resent middle class workers for making middle class wages, that makes people defend tax cuts for the people who have caused their wages to decline for decades.

What my mom makes as a teacher does not afford her a carefree existence, able to spend her summers kicking around in a pool all day. It allows her to stay afloat.

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Today is International Women’s Day, and also Feminist Coming Out Day. Well, I have hesitated to say it before, but I am a feminist. Yes, I am. Why? Well, why not? Why would I not be in favor of striving to live in a society in which women’s accomplishments or failures are not attributed to the fact that they are women, in which they actually earn as much as men for equal work, in which they are not constantly judged for their looks, in which they have full control of their own bodies, in which society does not tell them certain jobs are for them, in which gender roles are not thrust upon them from birth, in which they have the freedom to embrace anything and not be put down or shut out, in which even progressive men do not get to decide what’s good for women, in which it would not be notable to have a female president or CEO or senator because it happens frequently, in which victim-blaming does not exist?

As a man and a feminist, I have to recognize how my privilege directly relates to ways in which women are disadvantaged in society. So as I sit here and declare that, yes, I am feminist, allow me to let you know what this feminist has looked like across the years.*

(*Trigger warning — Not sure if it’s necessary, but better to be safe.)

Fifteen years ago

I’m in grade school. During recess, the guys usually played some sport, because that’s what middle school-age boys do during recess. Except for that one girl, who usually joined us when we played soccer. She had shorter hair and liked to play hard, and I’m not exactly sure where she fit in. She didn’t display characteristics we had been taught were female, and she couldn’t be a boy. And if you didn’t fit into that binary, well, you weren’t doing gender roles properly.

Ten years ago

I’m a junior in high school, sitting in Latin class, having just finished a hard exam for a hard AP course. The kid next to me remarks that he punched a hole in the exam and raped it. This was an all-male Jesuit place that bred class and male privilege, including in me. Not everybody displayed that behavior, but I wish now that we had been introduced to feminist principles when we talked about becoming men freshman year. I wish I had recognized what an awful thing that exam remark was, and said something.

Eight years ago

I’m a freshman in college, on the phone with a girl I’m sort of seeing. She said that her friend had been taken advantage of by my friend, both of whom were drunk after a party. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I didn’t speak to that friend again. This was about a year after a good friend told me of her sexual assault through coercion, and also my first real introduction to drunken hookup culture — an innocuous name for something with real problems and, often, lack of consent.

The girl on the phone also mentions that her name is based upon the fact that her dad wanted a boy.

Later in that school year, there is a rape off campus. Later yet, a distraught girl asked me if I thought she was ugly because people had told her that so often.

Six years ago

My mom convinces my sister that she should major in a subject that will allow her to be financially stable. It’s a necessity she knows from experience, because you do not want to put all your eggs in a partner’s basket only to have the weaving come undone.

Five years ago

I’m in my mom’s car, having just gotten off the train. Several hours earlier, my doctor told me over the phone that I had no testosterone in my whittled-down, emaciated body. Even he was shocked. It answered some questions about why I looked the way I did and raised quite a few more. I was so shaken I had to leave my internship for the day. So I boarded the train with dozens of other people and rode home alone. And when I got off that train and climbed into the car, I melted into my mother’s arms.

Here I was, a college graduate with two degrees, a grown dude, crying to my mom, wondering if I was a man.

Three years ago

I scoff when my sister tells me she wants to build a fence.

Two years ago

My sister’s in grad school in the city. She tells stories about guys rolling down their windows to throw cat-calls her way. She also tells stories about a gas station attendant who asks if she has a boyfriend, if she’d get out of the car to show off her body. She laughs. But I don’t know any guys who have to put up with that.

At this time I’m working in the newsroom of a sports news service, but I’m at home when a friend tells me there’s a video of Erin Andrews on the internet. And she’s naked. Turns out, it’s a video taken through the peephole of her hotel room by a stalker. People go on a victim-blaming spree, saying that Andrews does tend to wear revealing outfits, much like they blamed her when some hack reported that she wore a sundress to a summer baseball game.

A year ago

I start to read Jezebel regularly. I’d wasted many hours on Gawker, and only occasionally flipped over to Jez. But the more I visit, the more I tend to want to visit. It starts to influence how I think about things, and I start to think about feminism and gender roles more and more, also because I have a very good friend who thinks about them as well. We talk about them a lot.

Still, the stories come. During the span of a few weeks in the fall, I deal with stories involving a Florida football player who texts his girlfriend that it’s “time to die,” a Mets pitcher who violates a restraining order by texting his girlfriend dozens of times, a quarterback who texted pictures of his penis to a woman, and a quarterback who is accused of sexual assault for the second time. During the same football season, TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz gets blamed for wearing a tight shirt and jeans into a football locker room. She apparently forgot her burqa. Co-workers refer to women’s college basketball games as “the bitches.”

This year was the tipping point. I started this site to write about some of this, and think about volunteering at a domestic violence shelter. While investigating how to volunteer with one organization, I discover that its site has an escape button that automatically leaves the web page. In what sort of world is this even necessary? I start to volunteer.

*****

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of feminist issues throughout the world, but all the episodes have helped shape how I think. I view feminism mostly through a sports prism at the moment, because that’s what I deal with on a daily basis, though I continue to hear personal stories from friends and read a great amount.

So what does this feminist look like? Someone who wasn’t always one, who has been terribly wrong and full of male privilege. But one who does not think feminism = man-hating, one who has used principles of feminism to resolve body-image issues, and one who is still learning about it every day, committed to being progressively better. Because I am a man after all, not a hero, not a savior or anything like that. Just a small piece in the feminist puzzle. To paraphrase Tony Porter, my being a complete man depends on each woman being a person, as I am.

Today

Someone in my newsroom mentions that ESPN announcer Doris Burke should stick to announcing women’s basketball. When I press him on the issue, he admits he’s never listened to her call a game.

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The former Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, has somehow been given the opportunity to write a weekly sports column for the Philadelphia Daily News. And the experiment is, shockingly, not working. Each installment seems like he just submitted it to his high school newspaper.

Here’s his latest.

The thing is about 700 words long, and it’s not worth going through the column, graf by graf, to show why it’s ridiculous. Why? Because it’s just not interesting. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve written my share of stinkers and boring published stories. But this is a high-profile gig for a major newspaper, and it’s embarrassing to basically print this:

Do I think the Phillies can win the World Series? Yes. They have some great, potentially historic, pitching. Numbers, numbers, numbers, numbers. More numbers. They gon’ hit a little. But they need to not break their elbows and wrists and shit in order to win. Otherwise someone else might.

I think I actually fell asleep when he mentioned Vida Blue. And sure, you’ve got to appreciate any column that assumes pitching records and ERAs are comparable across eras. You’ve definitely got to appreciate any column that includes this sentence: “I believe we will exceed them, with Joe Blanton having very solid numbers.” The Phillies will have the best pitching rotation of all time, if only Cupcakes is very solid.

But Rendell’s is basically a Mad Libs version of a sports column. You could take the same assertions, fill in the appropriate team name, and use it at the beginning of every baseball season for ever and ever. Hell, you could do it for any sport.

Still, because Rendell hasn’t figured out that the best columns are the result of reporting, and seems to favor that say-nothing-new writing style, I’ve prepared his next column.

Lockout! I can’t believe it. The NFL and the players didn’t figure out a new CBA, meaning we won’t be seeing our Birds in action this year. Football is America’s sport, and this is a football town! Sorry Phillies. I could have made this column interesting by comparing the labor negotiations to my experience as governor, but instead I’ll just mention that I have fond memories of sitting in the 700 level of the Vet. Oh, what a glorious rathole that was. Keith Byars! I LOVE WATCHING FOOTBALL WITH A CHEESESTEAK IN MY MOUTH, NOM NOM.

There you go, Ed. Really, only 600 words left to fill in.

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