Sunday, July 12, 2009

Randonneuring Women: Where are you?

This is my mother, Hazel. Isn't she beautiful?

Yep, inside and out!

Friday night I went to see Gloria Steinem and others (most notably my wife, Pramila Jayapal aka Dartre Dame when she posts here) at Town Hall in Seattle. Gloria was really great. She takes up little space and always graciously puts others forward. But when she does speak, she's right on. Lovely, especially so today in the age of self aggrandizement.

Holly Near was part of the panel and was good there, but when she sang she really opened up the souls of the audience. Really beautiful. I especially liked her first song, I Am Willing. An unusual song that proves that smart lyrics and a deep message can be wonderfully melodious. No need to pander to popular genre or form.

Here's Holly Near. This photo is from her website. In my photo she looked like an ant she was so small. Here she is in her glory.

The event was called Hedgebrook Presents: A Conversation with Gloria Steinem. Hedgebrook is a rural retreat of 48 acres on Whidbey Island in Washington State "where women writers come from all over the world to write, rejuvenate, and be in community with each other," according to their website. I've been there (during a rare invite-the-men-occasion), and it is a fabulous setting where women writers get an opportunity to go deeper than they are able to at home. Pramila used to be a Hedgebrook board member. Over 700 folks attended the sold out event where Gloria and Holly were revered for good reason.

Pramila, I felt, balanced the discussion by bringing it back from the primarily writing theme to the world of activism and social change, broadening the discussion. Gloria, of course, is all about social change, and I've begun to reflect on her impact on me.

First, my mother was a charter Ms. Magazine subscriber, and I used to read it as a teen. My mum worked to support our family, and as roles were changing my mum was living proof of the change taking place across the country. I must say I've got ambivalence about women and their work. First, of course women should work however they want wherever they want. Problem is women still don't get paid equally; what is it now about 80 cents to every dollar a man earns? Less still for women of color.

My ambivalence comes from the fact that it now takes two wage earners (or multiple jobs for each person) to make ends meet. It's not just choice driving women, it's economics. Women and men alike aren't earning enough, women always less still. Women should work if they want to, but many moms work because there is no other choice (I'm ignoring one of Gloria's admonitions to express rather than persuade. She posits that expression wins people over more truly, so I'll work at stifling my persuasive tendencies). Let me say it this way: I support choice, and it saddens me to see the victory many women worked toward become the double burden of remaining the primary care giver WHILE being a breadwinner too, all due to worsening economic times for all.
And how do we expect moms or dads to work without affordable quality child care?

But my mother worked, cared for us, was and is smart, and stood up for herself and her gender. She got ridiculed for being a Ms. subsciber and much more. I'm sure I don't know the half of it. I'm proud of her, and seeing Gloria Steinem reminded me of my mother's struggles, and for the role modeling she provided. Thanks, Mum!

So, my question, given all this, is: why don't more women--a woman randonneur is called a Randonneuse--participate in randonneuring brevets?

Some do, and I've met them, but not that many. I suppose I could go through the Randonnuers USA (RUSA) membership list and count, but I feel quite confident in guessing it is less than 10%. Don't you see more women than that percentage participate in other bicycling activities? One answer of course is obviously economics again. Randonneuring is resource intensive. And time is a precious resource. Time to train. Time to participate. Also, equipment isn't cheap.

So, I'm not asking rhetorically. I want to know. If you are a randonneuse or wannabe randonneuse, can you enlighten us a little? Why do you think it is that few women randonneur, OR am I wrong? And, finally, what could we men creatures do to open it up?

The picture above is of my favorite woman cyclist: Dartre Dame!

Keep it open to all,



  1. What a surprise to come to your site and see MUM! Yes to everything you wrote! Laura and I saw Gloria Steinem in Erie in a packed gymnasium many years ago and she, also, is everything you say. These two: inspirations still.

  2. I hit "post comment" too quickly! I used to listen to Holly Near and had completely forgotten about her. Thanks for the link.

    And Dartre Dame: she has become my most recent friend/relative/inspiration for writing and activism both.