Cyclist Amanda Batty is one of the sport’s most famous professional downhill mountain bikers. But she turned heads for a different reason earlier this week—announcing in a blog post that she will no longer be writing for Pinkbike, one of the Internet’s largest cycling websites, because of what she believes is the site’s inherently sexist culture.
In the post, entitled “Why I’m Leaving Pinkbike,” Batty describes enduring months of harassment, including rape threats, from the site’s readers. She also alleges that her columns were blackballed by staff after she criticized what she viewed as editor-supported misogyny.
In an email to the Daily Dot, Pinkbike’s publisher, Julian Coffey, painted a slightly different picture—of a staff who felt the unapologetic feminism of Batty’s columns was too much, too soon for a site whose readership is 90 percent male. He described Batty as an uneven contributing writer who ignored “continuous feedback” and whose behavior as a commenter verged into the realm of unprofessional.
Coffey claims that Pinkbike “produce[s] more women’s specific content than any other online or print publication in the industry.” But the debate over Batty’s behavior, and in particular her writing, raises universal questions about whether arguments for gender equality have a natural place in such context—and whether women can discuss their own brushes with sexism without those anecdotes being perceived as being part of a divisive political agenda.
It also raises the issue of whether the perception of a woman who calls for gender equality as being antagonistic can have repercussions that extend beyond sexism to impact basic communication. This may be part of what occurred between Batty and Pinkbike.
Speaking to the Daily Dot via email, Batty described her time at Pinkbike as “pretty amazing” and stated she was “extremely grateful to the Pinkbike team for the opportunity to write for them.” She also added that Coffey in particular “went out of his way to give me a column to help change the climate at Pinkbike, and because of that, I will forever be thankful.”
So why is she leaving?
Here’s how she described a lack of support from staff regarding the harassment she received on the website:
I was continually admonished for aggressively responding to commenters who would insult everything about me and some of whom actually contacted me outside of [Pinkbike], going so far as to find my home address and threaten me with it. I was told to ignore them and stop giving the trolls what they wanted. Everyone I spoke with kept telling me how I made it worse and made myself an easy target by fighting back, and that if I stopped reading the comments, I wouldn’t suffer so much. But it didn’t stop. Some of the things I wrote about, I received emailed threats about. I got trolled on Instagram as a ‘feminist bitch’ and told I was a ‘bully’ (even by other women!) for speaking my mind. And so I wrote more about it, about the sexism and the misogyny and the hate and the bullshit, skewed abuse. I wrote about how we need change in the way we see our athletes and the way we treat each other. Again and again and again, I was told that readers didn’t want to read that nonsense. I was too outspoken.
This is a familiar tale to countless women who have ever had an opinion on the Internet. Batty told the Daily Dot she saw the same “undertone of hostility” across the site “on nearly every article/video/blog by or about a female”:
Being an opinionated woman is like hanging a sign on my front door that says ‘throw dog shit’. A lot of the time, it doesn’t even matter what I say. What matters is that I dare to have an opinion. Don’t ask me why that bothers people. Because I’ll never know.
On Pinkbike, comments are largely self-moderated using a downvote/upvote system, and users can report any comments they feel are slanderous or defamatory. Coffey told the Daily Dot that Batty never contacted staff about the harassment or report any comments. He was quick to state that had staff known, they would have responded:
Amanda has never at any point directly messaged anyone at Pinkbike about any sexist/misogynistic remarks she had received by users on Pinkbike, Facebook, blogs, or other media. No email, no private messages, no Skype. It’s an issue that wouldn’t be taken lightly and something that would immediately be acted upon. None of her comments have been edited and out of 1006 comments she has made only one was deleted.
…We have a reporting interface on all user pages, however no users including Amanda reported any comments/users.
Batty told the Daily Dot that she didn’t think the Pinkbike editorial staff “was aware of the harassment I received outside of the site.” She also stated that she felt the moderation process worked. “While specific bannings or moderation were never discussed with me, I do know that moderators probably removed the worst comments on a few of my articles.”
After last August, things changed for Batty. Mike Levy, one of the site’s technical editors, wrote a column in which he compared the handling of a bike to a partner who will, “after a few shots, do pretty much anything you ask of it.”
In the comments of the review, Batty pointed out what she viewed as the inherent sexism and inappropriateness of that comparison. But when she brought rape culture into the discussion, things escalated. In response to a commenter who told her she was taking things too seriously, Batty said:
[These jokes] not only objectify women in general, but they create an atmosphere of ownership and entitlement inside of the bike culture, which is the very thing all of us are trying to fight right now, simply to be seen as equal. It’s not just ‘taking a joke’ — it’s about allowing the perpetuation of a rape culture inside of the bike industry.
The moment she used the phrase “rape culture,” Batty stated in her blog post, “Pinkbike lost their minds… Worst of all, I was shut down by the Pinkbike editors. Immediately. Repeatedly. Beginning three days later, I stopped having my columns published.”
I emailed my contact and my editor, asking why. I was given pedestrian answers and broken excuses; the classic political heave-ho. So I emailed more, insisting on an answer. And then, despite this author’s repeated sexism and misogyny in his bike reviews, I got a call from the head honcho of PB and told that my interactions were again, too aggressive. He agreed with me that there was an issue, but dammit, I was too loud about it. I was too outspoken. I needed to calm down.
When asked to clarify whether Batty’s response to the Levy column impacted the publication of her own, Coffey was adamant that it hadn’t:
Amanda was never treated any differently because of her feedback on the August 2014 article [by Levy], and there was never a discussion or disagreement between Amanda and any Pinkbike staff on the subject… Our editors continued to work with her after August to try to help bring her message to the industry… It was Amanda that stopped communication by ignoring our editors.
Coffey agreed with Batty that the staff should have been more diligent in removing Levy’s joke. “The bottom line here is that that sentence in question should have been removed immediately and more importantly, not been published in the first place,” he wrote to the Daily Dot. Coffey added:
It was an attempt at humour gone wrong, trying to create the analogy that having a couple drinks leads to more excitement/fun. These types of references have no place in Pinkbike editorial. I don’t think anyone internally viewed it as promoting rape culture, however we certainly were not vigilant enough to remove it initially.
Coffey maintains that Batty’s behavior in comments throughout the website was antagonistic. He pointed to examples of interactions in which Batty’s comments received downvotes for perceived rudeness, such as telling another commenter to “Check your ‘facts'” and using profanity. It was that series of interactions, which had nothing to do with sexism, that led to the phone call Batty describes in her post, according to Coffey.
Amanda and I had a discussion in early January of this year regarding her commenting activity in this and other articles.
I told her that it was unacceptable to continually get into an f-bomb riddled troll fest with other users as a Pinkbike contributor. At no point did I ever say or intimate that she should ignore the comments – we discussed plausible strategies for promoting her writing.
Batty, however, told the Daily Dot that she received “verbal affirmation that my columns weren’t being published as a result of the editorial board being upset over my comments.” As she noted, two days after Levy’s post was published as a regular column, her own column update was posted as a “user generated” entry. That column, according to an internal email Coffey shared with the Daily Dot, “doesn’t quite fit in with the editorial tone we’re trying to convey here on Pinkbike,” according to the editor who made the decision not to publish it on the site’s front page.
The column was about Batty’s reaction to discovering comments about her physical appearance—specifically her “fat” legs—while she was in competition. After describing the incident and her response, Batty dissected the inherent sexism in judging female athletes for their appearance and not for their abilities, and ended with a call to action: “It’s the responsibility of all of us to rise above the sexual shitstorm that plagues women in sport, and that includes the female athletes. As women we need to focus on what our bodies can do, not what they look like.”
The aforementioned email outlined the editor’s reasoning for not publishing this column on the front page: “The accurate portrayal of female athletes is an issue, but I’d say that this portrayal has greatly improved over the years… I flipped through the latest issue of Bike mag and didn’t see any scantily clad women or inaccurate representations.” The editor then suggested that a positive piece focusing on “the achievements of notable females in the industry” would be better than “a call-to-arms style editorial.”
Batty offered to write a disclaimer distancing her views from Pinkbike’s, but she made it clear that “stating my argument and building a career around my values is important to me as both an athlete and as a writer.”
At this point, according to Coffey, the editor contacted two of the women who are staff writers for Pinkbike to seek their opinion on the matter. Pinkbike has a full-time staff of 25, five of whom are women. Coffey shared excerpts from the feedback that the two women shared with the editor regarding the piece.
One of the women who gave her opinion about the column critiqued it for perceived repetitiveness and lack of substance. But she also characterized Batty’s experience of being sexually objectified as “personal insecurities” and “victim drama”:
Publishing it is giving her an international forum to voice her personal insecurities – and I’m not super comfortable being a part of that. Additionally I’m concerned that whether she knows it or not, this isn’t good for Amanda’s career.
I will go through and edit the piece if we want to continue down this road, but taking and using constructive criticism is a learned skill and based on what I’ve read I’m afraid that it will not be well received – and I don’t want to become a part of someone else’s victim drama.
The other woman who submitted feedback focused on how she felt the piece would fit into the site as a whole:
As a female rep here I felt uncomfortable with such a strong opinion piece hitting the front page of PB as we are still working hard at developing our women’s voice. This particular piece was heavily weighted in one direction, there was no balance to her argument, no examples and no history to back anything up. Although there was certainly some validity to it, it was mostly a “listen to me, this is the way things should be” rather than “here is my opinion and these are the reasons why” piece.
I’m all for women’s voice but it should be well thought out, compelling and in a complimentary tone to the rest of the work we produce for PB. It’s great that she wants to be heard and shake things up I just believe we have to be careful about which of her crusades we stand behind as a publication, especially since we are still working on developing our female representation.
Yet if it’s Batty’s experience—of perceived sexism, sexual objectification, harassment, and misogyny on the site and in cycling culture—that’s “heavily weighted in one direction,” shouldn’t she be allowed to represent that experience without it being seen as an imbalanced or confrontational point of view?
According to Batty, Coffey “passed along sentiments from the editorial board during one call about how my comments and articles were too ‘opinionated’ and ‘aggressive.'”
At least one of Batty’s articles was rejected for lack of research, while another, which Batty posted to her own Pinkbike blog in a sanitized format, was rejected for being a profanity-laced, “one-sided rant,” according to a chat transcript between an editor and Batty—”something that we don’t feel is synonymous with what we are trying to achieve with Pinkbike,” Coffey said.
“I think the fit [between Batty and Pinkbike] ended up being a questionable one, and that we failed to communicate our concerns as well as we could have,” Coffey told the Dot. “We aren’t chasing shares on Twitter or Facebook, and her goal at the end of the day just seems to be about how much noise she can make.”
But for Batty, the noise she made was a direct response to the frustration she felt with Pinkbike’s sexist culture—a frustration that ultimately drove her away. As she wrote on her blog:
I’m intelligent enough to see the writing on the wall and I know that no matter what I do, how I change or whose asses I kiss and at whose feet I grovel, some things won’t change. I’m also old enough to know when to cut my losses.I’m leaving Pinkbike because Pinkbike won’t change. I’m walking away because Pinkbike (and the leaders and editors there) will continue to promote and revere writers who denigrate women in the hopes that no one notices the misogyny, sexism and hatred sewn into the fabric of this writer’s content.
Both Batty and Coffey spoke of a wish to strengthen female voices in the industry.
“Mountain biking is a sport that is predominantly male, yet has a large number of female participants who are continually on the periphery,” Coffey wrote. “We believe that a stronger female audience in the industry and in the sport is essential.”
He said that “the only way to establish a little more balance” on Pinkbike “is to continue to build out our women’s initiatives.” He added, “We value the female voice but we insist on promoting quality, balanced and well researched articles.”
As for Batty, she’s eager to move on:
My goal is to bring more women into the sport and to have greater equality in the industry, as well as delve into other important aspects of mountain biking. I’m currently working on a really important piece about traumatic brain injuries, and that’s exciting.
Clearly, the consensus is that cycling deserves more women, and more women in cycling deserve to have their voices be heard.
Photo by Stan Evans via AmandaBatty.com