18 Dec 2017

VOICES: STOP USING PUSSY

WORDS x Hanna Jonsson
PHOTOS x Sarah Sturm

“Don’t be a pussy”
“I was just being a girl”
“Man up!”
“Grow some balls”

It’s all too common to hear someone say these things when riding bikes or hanging out and they all have something in common – they are expressions that ultimately mean women are lesser, inferior, weaker and not equal.

While the world is (slowly) becoming a more gender equal place, our day-to-day language is not. Only last year I heard a high-profile rider at a race say “I was just being a girl”, when he explained to the crowd why he’d crashed out during his qualifying run, and just minutes later, when the next rider came down, the commentator said “(rider’s name) can take any woman home after that run!”. Old-school sexism remains firmly within our language and as it continues within our sport it continues to perpetuate the wrong culture. We need to take a stand against it.

Join the revolution.

It feels like we are in a mini-revolution at the moment, with so much happening for women in mountain biking: “Ride like a girl”, “Ferdagirls” and more frequent video edits coming out with sick female shredders. The days when biking was a macho-male dominated sport feel long gone. Yet, something still doesn’t seem right. While bigger steps are being taken to level the playing field between men and women, barely anyone recognises that we reinforce sexist values on a daily basis simply by the language and words we use. Expressions to reflect strength and bravery are always male: “he’s got some balls”, and expressions to reflect weakness and limitations are always female: “don’t be a girl about it”.

The language we use should match the other actions we have taken towards gender neutrality. I understand (as a non-native English speaker) that these sayings are very old and that some of us don’t even think about what they actually mean. But is that really an excuse? It is like stating that we can still use old racist sayings because “we don’t actually mean it” or “it is just what we’ve always said”.

What is so bad about it?

Imagine being a young impressionable kid having just gone to watch your bike-idols race and then hearing them say things like, “I was just being a girl” or “He can take any women home tonight”. The fact that these things are being said with so little afterthought is scary. These kids may go home and think that in order to be brave you have to be macho (and male) and that girls are somehow valued less than boys; or even a prize to take home. Adults obviously don’t take it to heart in the same way – we can reflect and analyse – whereas kids can’t necessarily do that.

If we want real change, it starts with teaching the next generation that they can be anything they want – no matter their gender. And it can start with something as easy as changing the language, words and expressions we use.

It is not impossible. As an example, in my home country Sweden, we used to have a racist name for one of our favourite chocolate pastries. When times moved on and everyday racism became unacceptable, we decided to change the name of the pastry. While there was some resistance with random outcries: “It’s always been called like that; why should we change our history; it is not like we mean it in a racist way”, Sweden stood strong and made the changes and moved on. Now, (most of) my generation can’t believe this was even debatable back in the day. Why can’t we feel the same way about sexism in (bike) language? Haven’t sick riders like Casey Brown, Anne-Caro, Rachel Atherton, Tracy Moseley and many more shown that you don’t actually need “balls” to go big?

“I’d much rather be a pussy”

Like a famous comedian recently said on his show: “I’d be a pussy over a penis any day. A penis breaks just by sitting on it wrong. A pussy can push a human being out of itself and then go back to normal”. And whether or not the saying comes from the word pussycat or vagina doesn’t really matter, because whether or not you believe you use it in a “non-sexist” way, there is no such thing. The expression will always connect femininity with weakness, and we should just stop using it altogether.

I feel sad that some men have to use these terms in order to feel strong and manly, and equally so when some women have to diminish their own gender in order to feel cool and “part of the gang” and use those words too. We don’t need more oppression in this world; rather, we need to start making people feel valued and appreciated. Again, it starts with something as easy as thinking twice about what we say.

It starts with you, and me.

I am not saying that I am perfect. I have also said these things, not thinking twice about what it actually meant. Just a few weeks ago a 9-year old picture popped up on Facebook of me wearing a t-shirt saying “Hanna Man-Up Jonsson”, a text I’d written on myself. It has taken me a long time to fade out the sexism in my own vocabulary and I still mess up, but I correct myself, just like I correct people around me when they say something sexist. If we don’t start making each other aware, how will we turn it around and stop saying these things?

It has come to the point where my friends now refer to accidental sexist sayings as “Hanna wouldn’t like that”, and I am happy they do, it means I’ve made a difference and that they reflect on it when someone says something sexist. Small steps are big too.

“I can’t believe my grandparents said that.”

We are not going to change the world overnight but in time maybe we can change the beliefs and language of future generations. For example, you know how some grandparents from time to time accidentally slips in the odd racist comment when you’re over for lunch, and you think to yourself how strange it is that racism used to be so acceptable. I hope that one day people will leave their grandparents’ house and say: “Can you believe what grandma and grandpa said? I can’t believe sexism used to be so acceptable”.

Language and the words we use are powerful tools and even the simplest of expressions can have a big influence on our culture and society. By simply changing what you’re saying you can change attitudes and it’s time we changed some of the things we’re saying in mountain biking.

“Don’t be scared”
“I was just being less confident”
“Face it head on”
“Grow some courage ”

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