Sagan and the Politics of Touch

Yesterday we witnessed the great Fabian Cancellara speed away from his young rival Peter Sagan and deliver a first class lesson in how to win a One Day Classic, the Tour of Flanders.

Sadly, in return, Peter Sagan taught everyone in the peloton a lesson about what not to do on the podium.

His actions have reignited, for some, the debate about podium girls and have generally raised questions about how we expect, not just sportsmen, but young men, to behave.

Those of you who are regular readers to these pages will know that Sagan, for want of a better word, does annoy me. Last week I commented how I am able to forgive his individual style of celebrating victories as he is only 23, and quite frankly, I was possibly the most obnoxious 23 year old ever. As I don’t reside in a glass house, I have made the decision to refrain from throwing stones.

I do still stand by this viewpoint, however, only when applied to his victory celebrations.

His behaviour on the podium is disappointing in a number of aspects, not least the way in which it shifts the focus from Cancellara, the worthy winner of the race.

I have been thinking recently about my stance on podium girls, as I feel a bit odd at, until now, not having a strong opinion on them.

I feel like I’m in an ideological battle with myself. I have to be honest, in cycling, I am barely even aware of the podium girls and yet in, say, F1 I find grid girls really offensive.

As an educated woman who espouses feminist ideals, why am I not bothered by one sport but really annoyed by another?

Perhaps it could be that as the cycling is shown quite late here, I usually switch off after the race and as I don’t often watch the presentations, it’s a little ‘out of mind, out of sight’? I didn’t see last night’s presentations, as an example.

As opposed to the grid girls in F1, who are a little more scantily dressed and they pervade the beginning of the coverage, unlike the podium girls in cycling who are shown at the end and, supposedly, represented as having some kind of important function, like handing out flowers and stuffed toys.

‘Out of mind, out of sight’, however, is not an acceptable excuse for not having stronger thoughts on this issue.

The point at which during this unfortunate episode, I realized how unnecessary podium girls are, is when you consider that the Women’s RVV was held yesterday and barely an image can be found for it and yet, my twitter feed is full of images of Sagan, allegedly, confirming this is not an isolated incident.

Women’s cycling, and sport in general, doesn’t get televised, highlighting what is so frustrating and wrong in sports coverage today. It feels like nothing has changed from the twentieth to the twenty-first century.

So, why am I not screaming at my computer screen right now or taking to twitter like so many others to voice my disgust?

Simply, I dislike the mob mentality more than I dislike Sagan’s actions or podium girls.

What we need to do more than anything, is take a calm and reasoned approach to discussing this.

Touch has a politics associated with it. For example, I am quite a tactile person. I always kiss people in greeting them. I will often touch someone on the arm if I am worried or concerned or even laughing and having a joke. But there are clear times when touch is unwarranted.

Touching anybody on the bum is one of those times. I can’t ever think of a time when it’s acceptable to touch anyone on the butt, unless it is your partner, and even then, perhaps in the privacy of one’s own home.

So, what to do about it?

Should Sagan be given a ban? He should certainly be made to give a much more in depth apology than the one doing the twitter rounds.

What angers me, though, in these situations is those who quickly call for the hangman’s noose. Sometimes I get the feeling that everyone on outlets like twitter, are in a constant one-upmanship to yell their disgust the loudest.

How is that helpful?

What we need to discuss here, is the importance of education.

Sagan does need to be clearly told that this is unacceptable behaviour and this message needs to be delivered to him by someone whom he respects.

The worst scenario is when young sportsmen are taken aside by the team leader and given the stock standard,

‘Yeah, you were really naughty and I don’t have a problem with it, but the feminists are jumping up and down, which is making the sponsors jump up and down’, meaningless lecture.

I think we are an educated enough society to know that degrading women and pawning over them like they are brainless objects put on this earth for the gratification of men has far greater consequences than Sagan’s stupid actions.

It is sad that women still cannot safely walk down the street in the same manner as men, and sadder still is that so many men don’t even realize this.

On the other hand, there are so many men outraged by Sagan’s actions that it is encouraging to see how far society has progressed in respecting women.

It is true that we need to see women respected in all aspects of life but I think the answer lies in calmly and rationally talking about women’s roles in society and when very silly young men, make very silly mistakes, let’s not form into a lynching mob from the Middle Ages.

Let’s use tools like education to stamp this sort of behaviour out.

Published on The Roar 12th April, 2013


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