International Women's Day - Rebecca Richardson
"I am by nature defiant…..
…..If I can inspire one girl then that is enough”
Anthony Wood Photography
Happy International Women’s Day
Rebecca Richardson, 34 years old, is a Brother UK Cycling Sponsored athlete and ambassador. Current Welsh Hill Climb Champion and National Hill Climb podium finisher 2019. Rebecca is also a mother, and a business owner. The eldest of seven siblings (all girls), Rebecca gives her female perspective to celebrate International Women's Day.
I say to you, ‘Happy International Women’s Day’, and then pause for a breath. Where do I go next from this salutation. Initially all kinds of feminist rants sprung to mind, in a pre-concieved idea of what people may expect or even want to read. Should I rage against the patriarchy, stand up and shout about prize money and unequal wages, or the subtle nuances of sexism. Should I regail anecdotes of being objectified and dismissed. Or, maybe some candid account of my own personal experiences related to being a female in a male dominated sport.
No, all of this feels too complex and negative towards telling you about my relationship with cycling and linking it to “International Women’s Day”.
Tonight my seven year old son overheard a discussion between my father and I. He works in the humanitarian sector, and co-ordinates programmes to assist displaced populations all over the world. Millions of people torn from their houses, livelihoods and societies, ravaged by war and environmental factors. Growing up, and indeed even now, my parents will often host international colleagues at their home, every evening a ‘round table’ dinner with politics / debates and discussions as the standard fare. Tonight we discussed a community programme he is involved with. Following “Graddy’s” departure my son asks “what is ‘a society?’
‘A society’ I mused. Only a few months earlier he had asked ‘what is discrimation’? He certainly has a penchant for asking the hard questions, and it is as sweet as it is innocent. Rather than brush it off or deviate from the query I always try to give a concise yet simplistic answer to these complex abstract ideas. So, I tried. “A society is everyone living together and how they do things together”. Arthur, my seven year old son, raised one eyebrow in confusion.
So, I tried again. “for example in our society women and men work, whilst in other societies women stay at home and men work. Sometimes women are not allowed to work freely.” Here little Arthur pipes up “I wish we could live in a society like that so you wouldn’t have to go to work mum!” Well, I left it at that!
Oliver Harrison - Photographer
Sitting down to write this article I realised all of my ideas were only from a ‘western’ perspective, already in the privileged position as a woman to have freedom and independence. I live in a society where women can choose all of which a man can choose. Yet, ‘Happy International Women's Day’. This is an international day though! Could I honestly turn to any woman in any society or culture and say “hey. happy women's day”, I don’t think so.
I am lucky to ride my bike, the freedom it gives me. I am also lucky to be part of a brilliant community of cyclists who are obsessed with riding up hills! I fell in love with hill climb competitions in 2019, it is such a simple concept, a mini time trial, racing your bike against the clock up a road climb from A toB. I loved how every competitor no matter their age, gender, speed, was cheered up the climb by spectators with the same enthusiasm as the best athletes there. Cow bells jangling, fancy dress costumes, music (in one event), it feels like a party! This is amatuer racing, accessible to all.
I love road racing too, however I support myself financially (single income household) and my child, and so I feel that I have had to accept that it can’t be my battle to fight the unfairness of lack of proper salaries. If women's professional salaries matched mens I would be committing far more to my deep desire to race at a professional level, which my performance power data (as a starting point) tells me could be within my reach. According to power profiles my 1minute power is “world class record breaking”, and my 5min power is “world class” for female cyclists. My VO2 Max is 73l/min (completed using a lactate blood test, more accurate testing is available) which puts it at the highest end of a female VO2 Max, researching I found only Olympic Nordic Skiers to have similar! But, the risk of lack of financial security to follow this dream would be irresponsible for me to undertake.
Instead, I strive to show amatuer women in the UK that there is plenty to celebrate and opportunities to show-case talent and performance. I refuse to live with a feeling of dissatisfaction within me, my lot is far more privileged than many women in the world. Within the hill climb community I have found diversity and parity of men, women, and children, and finding a amatuer community that has a fun and positive outlook. And, the demands of hill climbing help me vent my competitive spirit!
Oliver Harrison - Photographer
Through every aspect of my cycling life I have met enthusiastic supportive men and women. Being still a more male dominated sport, unsurprisingly many of my main cycling advocates and friends are male, however this is down to the nature of percentages. I have six sisters, so growing up I was more likely to bike with my sisters. In that case we were the dominant gender!
Given the progressive state of our society I fully utilise the power of choice without guilt that women in history fought hard to give. After I separated with my husband six years ago, one of my male friends and colleague had a mother who was beset on him finding him a girlfriend, at the age of twenty-three he had yet to find love. As his boss and a fellow cyclist he naturally brought my name up several times at his home and one evening after work we went for a bike ride along with my sister, this naturally piqued his mothers interest and my friend in his nieavity thought it a hilarious story to recount how she had told him that she would have “preferred he was homosexual than with a woman like me”. This one statement naturally holds so many societal prejudices not only to me but the LGBT community. Those words stung “a woman like me”.
I was confused and couldn’t understand what she meant, and I could only conclude that it was due my circumstances of being a divorcee and mother. In addition, I found it odd there would have to be a romantic attachment just because we went on a bike ride together, there certainly was none! In ‘society’ and within communities there will always be prejudices, and I understood that this was her perspective in that moment and may not have been hard and fast in reality. We live in the age of leisure and hobbies, let us not make a taboo around men and women sharing these passions together.
These types of incidents have really formed the person I am today, and I feel stronger for persevering with choices I was making with regards to training consistently on my bike. Even still, there were some people who expressed that I should be sacrificing free time for self-development now that I was a mum. I never understood or comprehended that way of thinking.
Riding my bike was a constant through-out some tough years, whenever I got on my bike I would tell myself that the bike doesn’t judge, the bike won’t let me down. It was a symbol and tool for empowerment and the choices as a woman that I have in our society, but alone at home I seriously questioned whether I would always feel ostracised. I would bike into the hills and mountains to escape from the opinions of others that now echoed in my head.
As time has passed the attitudes towards me have vastly changed, people now see a strong person who made positive decisions. Initially I felt judged as a woman, but now I feel respected as a person regardless of gender. Although, I have had to work and prove myself twice as hard as any male counterpart I know.
Becoming a woman with a child, separating with my husband, starting my own business, and embarking on being an athlete were life-defining years. I started this process in 2015. It took a while to sieve out of the small minded folk before I found the liberal community of cyclists. I find as a community that cyclists young and old, are welcoming, sharing, enthusiastic and empathetic. In finding cycling I also widened the diversity of my friendships. In experiencing prejudices elsewhere in my life I learnt to not ‘close doors’ and I began to embrace the truly wonderful, truly imperfect nature of humans. I opened myself up to be more compassionate and less fearful of people, rather than lock myself up in my own problems, I chose to seek those who were liberated in mind and non-judgmental.
Oliver Harrison - Photographer
Learning about human traits has helped me handle all sorts of irrational situations, such as the issue of unequal prizes. Whilst the majority of the cycling community is wonderful, as with any community there will always be extremists who hold often antiquated views.
In 2019 I campaigned for Welsh Women's Hill Climb Trophy because there wasn’t one. It was a simple oversight on the part of the organisers, and they were immediately keen to rectify the situation. It was an opportunity to involve a community in this positive moment, and within hours the facebook UK Hill Climb Forum had crowd-funded £500. This showed me that most people are keen to support each other. The highlight was when an 8 year old girl asked her Dad if she could donate £10 of her pocket money towards the cause, which she duly did, thank you Emily! This gave a tremendous feeling of accountability to our future generations, and if raising money for this trophy struck a chord in a young girl then that was enough for me.
Following this, we also campaigned for equal prize money in other hill climb events. For example, the oldest race in the world, Catford Hill Climb, now has equal prize money following a campaign of emails. Most of the time the unequal prizes are more a legacy of a cycling club, a cut and paste of previous years, and it only took me to raise the point and organisers were keen to rectify straight away. Some organisers make a point to refuse to change the prizes though, and now, as a humble member of a newly founded EPiC group (Equality and Parity in Cycling), men and women from within the hill climb and time trialling community are taking an organised lead to champion events that offer equal prize money at amateur level. The 2020 hill climb season saw an unprecedented number of entries from women for hill climb events. I hope that this speaks volumes. However, a top down approach is needed from our time trial governing body to iron out any ambiguity around the definition of universal human rights.
I can do all this because I have equal rights in my society. Not all women can. Not all women can access bikes even if they wanted to. Not all women can get to know the freedom of cycling through the countryside. Not all women are allowed to live independent of a man or outside of wedlock. Not all women are given freedom of voice.
When I compete or ride my bike I truly feel alive and my desire is always to project and share how wonderfully lucky I am to harness the right I have to choose in my society. Sponsoring my endeavours are people who believe in our sport and want to support its growth in the UK. This makes me more confident to grow as an athlete because it gives me hope.
The cycling community represents one small micro society and this provides the opportunity in our niche to lead the way. Cultural shifts happen at grass-roots levels but let's not be fooled either. Organisations and governments influence through ‘rules and laws’ how people behave. If we want our sons and daughters to grow up with a worldy balanced outlook then we should strive to make changes within our grasp and reach.
Internationally I would love to see women everywhere in the world ride and access a bike if they wished to do so, this would be one small mark of a world wide society. The bicycle is a tool for change, a tool that has been used to build and shape our society, as pertinent now as it was a hundred years ago. Through our wonderful sport we can continue to highlight and influence positive change in our society and ultimately the world.