I’ve said it before, but seriously–where are the women?

Perhaps you remember that this summer, I had a chance to take a spin on the Death Ride down in California. It was a pretty sweet ride that, because of its out-and-backs, give me plenty of time to see most of the other riders both in front of and behind me. And of those riders, it sure seemed like I saw an awful lot (an awful lot) of men, and not that many women.

So fast forward to today, when I stumbled across the official 2013 Death Ride stats, as posted on their website. Ready?

  • 2,316 men; 467 women.

Rounding up, only 17% of people who rode the Death Ride were women. No fricken wonder it felt like everyone I saw was a man! They all WERE!

Not that I should be particularly surprised, I suppose. Of the members of Randonneurs USA, for example, the USA’s non-competitive, long-distance cycling organization, 18% are women. USA Cycling, a competitive riding organization, has 13% women. Even if you switch sports and hop over to ultra running (where I thought women were much more heavily represented), the numbers I could find float somewhere between 25 and 30% women. For some reason, I thought that there were many more women involved in endurance sports. What’s going on?

Granted, these numbers are often about membership in something, and it’s definitely possible to participate in long-distance cycling or running or whatever without actually being a member of any organization. But when the same sorts of numbers seem to manifest in rides (among others, like the Death Ride) as well, I start to wonder.

What’s the deal, yo?

I know there are many ladies who are into endurance sports. Women are good at endurance sports. Why the underrepresenation? Is it simply that–generalizing, here–women have different priorities? Is it a matter of chicken-and-egg visibility? That is, if you don’t see women doing something, you assume that as a woman you’re not welcome? Do women come to these things later in life, say, if they’re going to have kids?

I really have no idea. I’m baffled. And I’m not sure why it bothers me so much. All told, I don’t really mind biking or running with a bunch of dudes–but it smacks of inequality to me, somehow. I mean, it’s not (I don’t think) like anyone is actively trying to keep women away from endurance sports. On the contrary, I’m sure most organizations spend a fair amount of time wondering how to attract us. But something is going on, whether ingrained in social expectations or just in what seems attractive or feasible, and I don’t like it. I want to believe that every woman feels like she has the option be like and do anything she darn well wants–and it’s crazy to me to believe that really only 20 percent of women want to be participating in any sort of endurance sport.

Though maybe it’s true? I have no idea.

There was a fun stat from the Death Ride that I think is awesome, gender aside: the oldest person to finish it–keep in mind, this was 130 miles, with more than 15,000 feet of climbing–was 84 years old. That’s pretty awesome. If only that person had been a woman! ;)

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