Women’s pedaling and peddling a familiar line

Outside magazine takes a long look at the world of women’s cycling, but it’s less about the sport and more a curation of wailing about why it doesn’t get the media attention its supporters believe it deserves.

No story along these lines would be complete without the obligatory academic feminist stock quote, in this case from Susan Douglas of the University of Michigan:

“Derek Jeter doesn’t have to pose in Playgirl to increase his visibility. There is a real double standard here where women are still prized first and foremost for their sexuality and how conventionally sexy and beautiful they are.”

The last time I checked, Derek Jeter is a baseball player, so I’m not sure what mentioning him here has do with cycling. Douglas’ complaint was that female cyclist Liz Hatch presumably had no choice but to pose suggestively for the male-oriented Maxim magazine in 2008.

Judging by the photo spread and accompanying video, it doesn’t appear that Hatch minds any of this at all, nor was there was a cultural gun pointed to her head during the process.

As I wrote in my recent book beyond “Beyond Title IX,” the agony aunts who bemoan the  so-called “sexualization” of female athletes are more than out of touch. They completely misunderstand a younger generation of women who revel in the fact that they are women, and who don’t have hangups about displaying traditional notions of femininity, beauty and sexuality.

But The Sisterhood and academics like Douglas, a baby boomer whose specialty is “analyzing media texts,” insist that we’re all being duped by the commercial media when we see the sultry poses of women like Hatch. Douglas’ latest book, “Enlightened Sexism,” claims that, as one endorser put it, women are not really being liberated by their liberation.

Obsessing over issues like this does nothing to raise the visibility of women’s cycling, or to examine it seriously as a sport. Outside writer Scott Rosenfield made some passing references to the business, marketing and promotion of women’s cycling before going off on a cultural tangent, leaving me disappointed for more than the reasons stated above.

As I watch the daily Tour de France coverage — and the breathtaking French scenery that’s the main reason I tune in — he gave me no better understanding of the distaff side of the sport. These women do deserve to have their story told, but he didn’t provide that.

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