Saturday, June 11, 2016


I was texting with a buddy the other day. We’ve been talking about bikes a lot. She has been looking at a lot of photos of bikes, and by extension, bike riders. The men are riding their bikes, or about to ride, or just finished. Almost always the women are near bikes in porn-y poses. The difference is not subtle.

It isn’t just bikes. Women have been used as props to sell every product under the sun. Women themselves are a photographic product, in both the fashion and porn senses. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it’s been so hard for women to achieve equality, in that many men have been raised to see them as image fodder, to be consumed at will.

Sara Gross is the only pro triathlete that I actually know. I’ve participated in some of her swim camps. She has been on about equality in sports, and more particularly, triathlon, for a while. I completely agree with what she says. My buddy had read about that, then said “…had not chimed in, thinking how bad can it really be. The pro world is far from my world.”

I didn’t quite see red, but this is part of the problem. It’s easy to see the sport professionals as from another world.  Male or female, their athletic abilities are amazing. What they have to do to get there is even more amazing. Anybody that thinks being a pro athlete (any sport) is easy money needs to try to follow one around for a while.

But what’s important is that if the professionals are not treated equally, what hope do other women have? In a more general sense, if we continue to allow inequality at the top of any profession, how can we be surprised that it shows up everywhere?

Let’s take a few examples. The male and female winners of the Ironman world championship in Kona each get $110,000. Equal, right? Not so fast. 50 men get a shot at it, and only 35 women. The corporation that owns the race have all sorts of reasons why this is ok, and they’re all bullshit. Go here for more details.

Women’s ice hockey. The Canadian women are dominant with their only close rivals being the USA, and some of the European teams giving them a good game. Some look at that and say it shouldn’t be an Olympic sport. The teams from other countries aren’t good enough, aren’t of “Olympic calibre”, whatever THAT means. That Eddy the Eagle, or the Jamaican bobsled team weren't considered Olympic calibre was not used to argue the sport should be removed. The only way to get better is to play against better players. You’re going to get your tail kicked at first.

The first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon is Katherine Switzer in 1967. It took another 5 years before women could enter without disguising their gender. Coaches at that time thought women were too fragile to run a marathon. I note that Alissa St Laurent recently won the Canadian Death Race, a brutal 125 Km run over 3 mountain ranges near Grand Cache. No, not just won the woman’s race, won overall, beating all the other runners, including the relay teams. She was 90 minutes faster than the next solo runner. It took her 13:51. I don’t think anyone would describe her as fragile. In comparison, I can just barely run that pace on flat level ground, for maybe an hour.

Now to the office. Some people were shocked and surprised when Justin Trudeau appointed equal numbers of men and women to his cabinet because “it’s 2015.” Good for him. Some complained that this was wrong because surely there had to be a man better than one of those 15 women. More on this below.

And Hillary Clinton, winning the Democratic nomination in the USA. You may disagree with her policies and politics, but after more than 30 years in the spotlight, enduring everything the Republicans could throw at her, she is as tough as they come. How much of that abuse was because she was strong and didn’t knuckle under? How much of Sanders refusing to concede that she’s won is sexism as opposed to political calculation.

There is lots of documentation that fewer women are appointed to the board room and other senior corporate roles. Partly this is because the people in those roles want to appoint people like them. “One of us.” That way the game never changes and their actions are validated. The chain of appointing the people you supported, so they will continue to support you in finding cushy roles remains unbroken. That any women are appointed in such a rigged game is amazing, and that any are willing to put up with it is even more amazing.

Now to the women you meet in everyday life. Your sister, your daughter, your work colleague, your running buddy. Their dreams are every bit as big as any man’s dreams. They’re just as smart. They work just as hard. If they don’t, it isn’t because they’re a woman, it’s them personally. We all know guys that are lazy and stupid, why does nobody ever extrapolate from them to all men?

Remember that old saw, you can’t have the job because you don’t have experience, and you can’t get experience without the job? There’s the trap. Men who like it the way it is, say women don’t belong because they don’t have blah blah blah. Lots of men don’t have it either, or didn’t have it when they started out, yet are given the opportunities. Their failures are overlooked as “growing pains”, where a woman’s are taken as evidence that “women don’t have the right stuff.” More bullshit.

That’s why we need to fix gender equality starting both at the top like Trudeau and the Notley cabinet in Alberta, and between kids. It’s come a long way since I was a kid, when the idea there was toys for boys, and toys for girls, and never the two shall meet was just beginning to be challenged. Let them play with what they want. The girl that’s interested in playing with trucks and building sets may become the scientist or engineer that figures out something really important.

All kids need to see role models of women succeeding on their merits. Boys, so they grow up understanding it’s normal, and accept it. Girls, to see that they aren’t going to be shut out just because they’re female.

I’d like it if the whole concept of getting “chicked” were to disappear. Some guys tease each other if it happens to them, that a woman passes them, or beats them in a race. It’s so stupid. Only the very best amateur men can keep up with the pro women in triathlon, and there’s some stupid games that happen there. Even in the age groupers, there are women who can beat most of the men, so what shame is there?

One of the solutions is to have women only races, and I’m not sure what I think about that. As a way of learning the skills without the male ego being involved, it’s a good thing. But it puts across the idea that women can’t compete in the same race, and that isn’t true.  Some women are so happy  and so strong racing that this happens on the way to the podium.

It isn’t just gender equality. Minorities, the disabled, the elderly, the young, all face handicaps on that basis. As a society we need to get past lumping people into such broad groups. Some people are a menace to the rest of use when they drive and should be removed, and their age has little to do with it. Some teenagers are better prepared for adult responsibilities like voting than some 20-somethings. Some jobs might be best done by people with various mental “disabilities” in that it’s a challenge for them, or they have particular skills applicable to the job.

We need to find ways of treating people as individuals, with unique skills. One example I’ve talked about before is driving tests. I think we should put everyone in a car simulator and run them through standard driving tests, starting from driver training to periodic re-certifications. If you fail because your vision is going, then get better glasses. If you fail because you can no longer process all the information required to make good driving decisions, no matter your age, you don’t drive any more.

The same should be true for evaluating academic credentials or other job related skills. If the task is to process information in Word or Excel to produce a report, gender or skin colour is not relevant. The number of limbs they have might be relevant given mouse and keyboard inputs, but there are often ways of making accommodations. I’ve seen people type with 4 fingers faster than I can type with 10.

I remember when I was in high school my mom going to work in an office. They told her what to wear. Even now, some office managers feel compelled to tell women exactly what is meant by business casual. I’d like to think most of us have figured that out, and any exceptions can be dealt with on that basis.

Some science fiction writers had to hide their gender to sell their words, ironic when the arguably first science fiction novel was written by a woman. I’d like to think that if you’re judging the quality of a sequence of words, that’s what you look at, not the author’s gender, or anything else. I’ve heard writers argue it both ways.

Some people make the argument alluded to above, that they seek only the best people for a role. And surprise surprise surprise, it just happens to be a man, time after time. I agree with the best person for the role part, but with women making up half the population, it’s a bit surprising that the choice is so often a man. I’d like to work on ways of anony-genderizing resumes, so the gender of a candidate isn’t obvious, and see how the choice gets made. Though I suppose at that level, just the education and job experience is enough to identify the candidates. Maybe for some public roles, the resume of the winner, and the short-listed candidates should be public, so we can judge the people that chose the winner.

Unless the issue is purely physical, I try to live by the motto, “what’s important about a person is what’s between their ears, and how they use it.” How about you?

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