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Status Check

Women’s History Month is almost coming to a close, a month during which we also celebrated International Women’s Day. A day and a month that are supposed to highlight and celebrate women in general and their contribution to events in history as well as contemporary society. A lot of times though this day and the shared information around it, leaves me frustrated and sometimes even angry, seeing we came a long way, but we are still not close. Sometimes we are left with the message: Look what you got. Be happy with that and now please shut up. Sarcastic jokes and comments by men, not deeming it necessary, because gender inequality is a “made up” topic to them do not really help.

So maybe this is a perfect time for a bit of a status check. I am honest it won’t be an objective one because I am a woman and both jobs I work in, be it cycling or the medical field, are not well known for being pioneers in equality.

Let’s start off with a few facts:

  • 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime
  • In Germany alone: Every third day a woman is killed by a man, that’s most likely her partner or used to be
  • In most countries, women only earn between 60 and 75% of men’s wages – for the same work
  • There are approximately 781 million illiterate adults worldwide – two-thirds of whom are women
  • Facts that show that we are not only asking for more money for the same work, it’s not only about being seen or respected. We are talking about important topics like safety, education and a perspective.

I guess since you are reading a Voxwomen blog or you are maybe a woman yourself, you sit in front of the screen nodding your head on equality and shaking your head on the still existing bias and inequality. So here is a short self-check for you:

A father and his son are involved in a horrific car crash and the man died at the scene. But when the child arrived at the hospital and was rushed into the operating theatre, the surgeon pulled away and said: “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son”.

How can this be?

This story – called the surgeon’s dilemma – is often used to demonstrate the way that unconscious bias works. Of course, the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

It worked for me and I am a doctor myself and even work in orthopedics. The way how unconscious this bias is shows us how deep our inner sexism sits. The same works with “imagine a nurse…” “imagine a CEO…” or “imagine a professional athlete…”

What do you see? Or more important: Who?

How shouldn’t this effect every aspect of our daily life, be it our education, the way we lead our relationships, how we plan out our life, but most important on how we see ourselves and develop our aims and dreams.

To be able to outline your demands, you need to know your own value.

But would our society even work if women would demand the same money or let’s say payment at all for the work they do? Isn’t it fundamental for our society to have women being caregivers, mums and housewives for free? Therefore being drivers, cooks, cleaners, social workers, teachers and so much more combined in one person…for free? It’s a demanding job and it’s not even a 9 to 5 job. But somehow it’s looked at as so much less than a “normal” day to day job. Even though these women, as well as other professions, build the foundation and secure the future of a society. Yet this is one of the main reasons for poverty amongst elderly.

So isn’t it a smart move to keep women small, to not let them know their own value to make sure they won’t ask for more?

Provocative? Maybe. But the facts I laid out in the beginning are facts and they should provoke us and change.

There are so much more topics I would love to write down my thoughts about, but since this is a cycling blog, I will now circle back to our little bubble and once again I will start off with some facts (mainly from the 2021 survey by “The Cyclists Alliance”):

  • The number of professional female riders who are not paid by their team has increased from 17% in 2018 to 34% in 2021
  • 38% of the riders surveyed study alongside their cycling career, either completing high school, university or a vocational course.
  • 39% of those surveyed work a second job alongside their cycling careers. ⁠Of those working a second job:⁠

-24% are working less than 20 hours a week⁠

-15% are working more than 20 hours a week⁠

  • ⁠67% of riders working more than 20 hours a week do not receive any salary from their team and 14% receive less than €5,000
  • 14% of survey respondents combine both studying & a second job with cycling
  • By the age of 17 years 50% of girls quit playing sports*

I am riding for a Women’s WorldTour Team and therefore I am very privileged since the WorldTour level requires a minimum salary and I am even more privileged since my team EF Education-TIBCO- SVB pays the minimum salary of the Men’s WorldTour. But for me, a 32 year old rider, after 3 years of nursing school, 6 years of med school and my now 5th year in cycling, this is the first time I earn above a living wage. Last year I worked nightshifts and in the vaccination center to have some more money to pay my rent and my insurance.

Last week I sit there watching a women’s race and I am watching it with a group of male riders, no pros, just male riders, friends. They know me and they know I am a professional female athlete, but they feel comfortable around me and so for the first time I see the race through their eyes. Not filtered through the supportive #breakthebias insta filter, but with the raw and real comments. And it is not because they are bad people or backward thinking, but they compare.

But they do not realise that they compare two completely different settings. They watch a men’s race and they watch well payed male athletes, some of them making enough money to use the advantage of low tax countries. All of them having enough money to spend on a decent travel to the race, altitude camps, altitude tents, aero fittings, bike fittings, trying new material…the list goes on. A few hours later they watch a women’s race and approximately 77% of the riders they see have a job or study next to racing and 34 % are not even payed for what they do. Same same but different?!

We can’t compare women’s and men’s cycling yet, because the level of professionalism is simply too varied. Seeing that there are already a lot of differences in between the men’s teams, making some of them so dominant. Guess how big the difference is still between a men’s and a women’s team.

Apart from this probably the biggest difference between men’s and women’s cycling refers to the last fact of my list: By the age of 17 years 50% of girls quit playing sports!

Professional sport is just not a career option for young women yet, keeping talent away. Instead a lot of riders finish their education or worked a certain time in their job, till they are emancipated enough and can afford to give professional sport a try. Professional cycling as a second career or some sort of sabbatical. There are countless examples in the female peloton. Not really surprising that a lot of riders struggle with a lack of skills be it descending or tactical knowledge, not growing up in the sport or having a long break from racing after the junior ranks.

We came a long way. The last 4 years alone I witnessed so many amazing changes, but being okay with the status quo stops changes and development, so we have to ask for more and we will ask for more. Not only for us, but for every upcoming female athlete and the sport in general.

The word “feminist” is somehow often used as some sort of insult. Even I sometimes struggle to call myself a feminist. A feminist is looked at as very radical, drastic, almost fanatical. The reason, why I would like to close with a quote by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”

So ask yourself: Aren’t you a feminist?

Tanja

*number relates to Australia

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