Feature: The Voice of Amanda BattyOriginally posted on January 4, 2016 at 11:48 am
Words by Chris “Bama” Milucky
Photos by John Shafer
Originally published in Issue #187
Amanda Batty gained a degree of notoriety [in 2015], not because of her race results as a professional downhill and enduro racer but because she abruptly resigned from a position as an online columnist due to sexism, double standards and misogyny often found within our industry and its media.
As a supporter of women’s rights and equality in a male-dominated sport, she was appalled by the disrespectful feedback, lack of respect and outright verbal attacks she received for standing up for herself and women in general. Amanda considers herself outspoken and opinionated, yet she’s also funny, clever and smart. While some may say she’s a man-hating feminist, she doesn’t want to wear that label: she considers herself the voice of equality for all individuals and a spokeswoman for mutual respect amongst everyone in our sport.
Shortly after her announcement, I took a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, to unlock some of these misogynistic mysteries and see what Amanda had to say about her current situation and that of the bike industry in general when it comes to equality. Her heart was still black and blue from the breakup, and it showed during this candid and insightful interview where nothing was held back.
CHRIS MILUCKY: Are you a feminist?
AMANDA BATTY: A feminist? Sure, if you want to label it. I prefer “humanist” or even “sane,” but sure, let’s call me a feminist. But if I am, can we say that I’m probably the most liberal, wide-open feminist on earth? I don’t usually like to describe myself as a feminist because I don’t subscribe to a lot of the modern exclusions that mainstream feminism seems to be all about, and I also dislike compartmentalization.
CM: So what’s it like?
AB: It’s just like any other label. Troublemaker, bisexual, self-educated, felon, professional athlete, you name it, they’re all labels. I’ve fallen under a lot of labels, but I prefer to be seen as a human, as an individual. Being labeled as, or identifying as, a feminist is just one more way for people to sum me up in a word. But it’s not that easy. Just like “sexual violence survivor” doesn’t sum me up, I’m not branded by my history as an elementary math genius. Would I waltz around claiming to be a high school spelling bee champion? No, and “feminist” falls under that. It’s a manipulator for someone else’s perspective. That’s what being a feminist is like. It’s not really like anything, I guess. It’s just being of an opinion that everyone is equal.
CM: You don’t really hate men then?
AB: I don’t hate men even a little. In fact, I often prefer spending time with guys. Most of my friends (up until recently) are male, and I’m closest with my brothers out of all my siblings. I’m a humanist, and every individual is equal in my eyes.
CM: What’s the difference between viewing women as physically sexy versus strong and athletic? Aren’t they both judging the body?
AB: I think sexy is interpretive, even physically. If you get 10 people in a room, their description of physical sexiness is going to differ. I find athleticism sexy. I think physical, athletic prowess is powerful and confident and really sexually attractive. But do I want to be marketed a product with a guy in half shorts and sweat dripping down his 12-pack? No. A product should be able to stand on its own for me to buy it.
I think confidence is sexy. I like moustaches, strong arms and really work-hammered hands, and I despise beards, man-buns and loud, jerkish assholes. Is it all physical? No! Those physical and behavioral markers are signs of a human who appreciates hard work. I like women who are strong: emotionally, physically and mentally. I respect a girl who can kick my ass on a bike and who thinks for herself. That sexiness has nothing to do with physicality or visual stimulation. So, long-form answer? No. Athletic is definite: it’s muscular and it’s capable. Strong is also definite. Sexy can vary between body sizes, types, clothing, hair—you name it.
CM: Why did you leave your writing position within the bike industry?
AB: I left because of the larger issue of community sexism and overall censorship. If we truly aim to grow the sport (instead of allowing it to stagnate into a political mire of what can and cannot be said), [we] need to allow dissenting opinions. And it’s OK, honestly—I am unpredictable. But I don’t play by anyone’s script of what’s appropriate and I don’t respect authority. Authority is earned, not given, and if you want to earn authority, you treat everyone with respect. I don’t respect hierarchy or chain of command, either.
It came down to a decision for me: Do I maintain my integrity and speak up as honestly as I’m able to about the issues that really plague us as an industry, or do I gloss over what I’m really feeling and churn out worthless, mindless, commercially valuable content? And the decision wasn’t easy, but it was clear. I write best when I’m passionately involved, and I stopped caring and my writing suffered. The line “never push an honest person to the point where they no longer give a fuck” is one that I’ve come to identify intimately with.
At the end of this all, it doesn’t matter if my career crashes and burns inside of the bike industry. I’m not racing to pay the bills, and I have a good education, a whole slew of skills and a creative mind. I work my ass off; I’m passionate as hell. I have insight to offer the world, and there’s value in that. My experiences matter, and even if they help one person or they change one tiny thing that creates a ripple effect, then my life is worth something. My existence has value.
Despite the effort made to include female perspectives, a lot of hate is directed at women. I can fight like nobody’s business, but at the end of the day, there has to be ground gained in the fight. For every inch of ground gained in the effort towards equality, we jump 10 miles in the opposite direction. Is the fight futile? Fuck no. I’m still getting messages from women who saw me as someone they knew would stand up for them, and that counts for something.
Women don’t need a champion, but we do need fearlessness, and whether it comes from stupidity, brain damage or pure rage at the status quo, my fearlessness was something they could count on. They still can. Is it always based in logic? Hell no. I’m human, but is it there? Yeah. It always will be, but it’s time for me to fight on a larger stage, and my role might be playing the outlier. I may be the borderline of behavior for women to fall within, but if I can push that boundary line or even blur it to where a woman is judged less harshly because she’s not quite as crazy as I am, then I’ve accomplished something. She now has more room to make change happen.
CM: Do you still care if men are misogynists?
AB: Well, I honestly don’t give two shits whether or not someone is a misogynist, to be honest. But the second a person’s actions (or inaction) affects my life, I’ll throw down. If a guy (or girl) wants to live in peace and secretly hate everyone or even a select group, that’s on them. But if someone’s hatred bleeds over into a sport I’m involved in and they’re given a platform to influence young minds about hatred and discrimination, that’s when I’ll step in. Why? Because those small influences, that tone, that undercurrent, it affects how I’m treated, even in small ways. It affects how we see sexual objectification, it affects how girls are promoted into leadership positions, into the jobs they’re offered and the ones they accept. It affects all of us that are compartmentalized into one box because of our gender.
Like an open wound, once it’s cut it bleeds into what’s available for women and girls, the opportunities we earn as athletes and the legacy of women in sport overall. If we accept that, suddenly, we’re accepting less than our best. And that’s not what mountain biking is about. So my message to the sexists and the misogynists is this: go ahead and be a hater—I don’t care. But the second it affects my life, or me, I will light you up. If I’ve done something wrong as a person, then let me know. Tell me so I can fix it, but if I’ve done something you feel is “inappropriate” for my gender, just go right ahead and fuck off.
CM: Why not just live independently in apathy? Can’t you find your own happiness and hunt it ferociously as if you must kill and consume it for survival?
AB: In a sense, I’ve tried that. I tried to ignore the obvious, but I was born a fighter. Sitting back and watching the world burn is OK for some people, and that’s fine, but apathy isn’t for me. Passion is like nuclear energy: I can either bury it or release it, but either way it comes out. It can either manifest positively or negatively, but it’s my responsibility to decide which one it will be.
Personally, the whole happiness search is overrated. I don’t think happiness is something to be “gotten,” but rather it’s a state of mind that’s maintained through all sorts of storms. I’ve hunted happiness, and all I found was regret because I wasted so much goddamn time. But I found that, personally, freedom and passion makes me happy. The freedom to pursue my passion, be it bikes, traveling, art, knowledge, curiosity. And just like every other human, I want to share that with everyone I come across. Sometimes I really fuck it up, though. Despite being a writer and reader and talker, I’m a terrible communicator.
What I want is girls and women to dispel this bullshit myth of perfection, this expectation. Whether it’s clothes, behavior, body type, looks, education, life pattern, etc., I want to blow the doors wide-open. It’s OK to make choices that have negative impacts and still be a great human because that’s what we are: humans. My belief is that it’s OK to try and fail—fail a lot. You don’t get that drive to fail from apathy. It comes from passion and a desire to learn, this inherent curiosity. “What will happen?” is the question I want to know.
CM: What should we do? How can we respect women for their minds and hard work, yet still appreciate their beauty in the bike industry?
AB: For me, when I look at another person and find myself valuing them more for their appearance than for their humanity, that’s my sign that I’m too caught up. And it happens for different reasons. I’m not going to say that we aren’t physical creatures attracted to pretty things—that’s why sex sells so well. But humans aren’t objects; other people don’t exist for our satisfaction. If we stop behaving as though they do, maybe companies will stop selling that. Maybe companies will stop throwing their money at people who are willing to do “whatever it takes” to be famous and instead start supporting people who give back to the industry and have actually invested in a sustainable future for our sport.
When people stop buying because of objectification, companies will stop using it. But it takes people standing up, speaking out and saying, “Wait a minute, this isn’t right,” and it starts with recognizing our own humanity. I don’t want to be valued solely for my physicality, and if I feel that way, others feel that way, too. And that means there’s more beneath the surface to a lot of people who are just like me: human. Complex, interesting, smart, comical, and that creates a connection that stems from curiosity. Does it make them any less physically attractive? Of course not. I think we just have to remember that people are people; everyone is an individual.
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