A popular British cycling magazine has apologized for including a photo caption that read “token attractive woman” in its latest print edition. The caption in Cycling Weekly appears superimposed above the head of Hannah Noel, a member of the Hinckley Cycling Race Club in Leicester, England.
“I made it into Cycling Weekly, it seems not for my ability as a female cyclist but as a ‘token attractive woman’ – I’m absolutely gutted and disappointed in the magazine,” Noel wrote on Facebook (via the Telegraph).“It’s not really the reason I’d want to be in a magazine, it’s sexist and derogatory to female cyclists.”
In its apology, which the magazine released only after the caption went viral on social media, Cycling Weekly editor Simon Richardson insinuated the caption was an error and blamed a lower-level employee for its inclusion.
“Unfortunately during the magazine’s production process, a member of the sub-editing team decided to write an idiotic caption,” Richardson wrote in the apology posted to Twitter. “The caption is neither funny nor representative of the way we feel or approach our work. Sadly in the rush to get the magazine finished it was missed by other members of the team and eventually sent to print.”
Richardson added: “We would like to apologize unreservedly to the rider in the photograph, the Hinckley CRC and all our readers. This appalling lack of judgment by an individual is just that, and not a reflection of the CW office.”
For many critics, however, the apology proved inadequate. Like Noel, they’d like to see women included more often in the magazine, which contrary to Richardson’s remarks, they say appears to have a culture problem.
Cycling isn’t a sport in which women always feel welcome. One need only look at the Tour de France, the world’s premier cycling race, to realize women don’t get the same respect as men. Unlike the world’s top marathons that allow men and women to run on the same course, women are kept off the Tour de France course. Instead, women compete in “La Course,” a one-day event that largely serves as the warm-up act to the final stage of the men’s Tour.
In fact, the longest race women might face in their season is the 10-stage Giro D’Italia Femminile. Even the Olympic road courses are different for men and women. Men can ride a maximum of 280 kilometers. Women, meanwhile, must settle for a maximum-length course of 141 kilometers.
The reasons for the discrepancies are outdated.
“The early 20th-century and late 19th-century views that women’s bodies were physically weaker and incapable of physical exertion like men’s imposed all kinds of different rules on sports for females,” Linda Borish, an associate professor at Western Michigan University who studies American women and sport history, told ESPNW last year.
Female cyclists got an extra bad rap, due to the machinery on which they rode.
“The bicycle was called ‘the freedom machine’ by some, because it allowed women the ability to move from place to place without chaperones,” Borish continued. “Others called bikes ‘prostitution on wheels,’ so expanding the use of cycling into the rigorous athletic world went against the predominant beliefs of what women should do at the time.”
Seeing as though it’s the early 21st century now, however, one might think those old mores would change. That women even have a World Tour shows the international sport’s governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale, has evolved, but many say it’s happening too slowly.
Cycling insider Suze Clemitson chalks that up to the sport’s “boys’ club attitudes,” which extend from the bottom to the top of the sport.
“[UCI President] Brian Cookson’s abject failure in empowering the sport to deliver the kinds of fundamental reforms that women’s cycling needs to give it true parity with the men’s sport will probably not harm his chances of re-election to the leadership of the UCI later this year,” Clemitson wrote for the Guardian in July. “Because men’s cycling still exists in the 1970s, a decade the women’s sport is desperate to escape.”