“I’m Here For The Waffles”
By Lucia Deng
CW: reference to sexual violence
Last week, I pre-rode a new race course on a beloved local mountain bike trail. It was a day filled with laughs, shredding newly built singletrack, and delicious recovery tacos. When I got home, I routinely uploaded the ride file to Strava. (1) It was then that I saw this:
“I’m here for the gangbang.”
This is the introductory climb of the course. It is the first segment that every racer who uploads to Strava, including kids as young as 13 (2), will see.
I wouldn’t consider myself someone who is easily offended, or prudish. I’m not anti-porn. I saw Old School when it came out, and laughed a lot (though, I didn’t make the connection to the movie quote until someone mentioned it later). Still, I had a visceral reaction when I saw the words, “I’m here for the gangbang.” It was imagery of a woman being violently penetrated by multiple men while others stood around watching and masturbating. NO! I do not want to think about gangbangs while I’m out riding in the woods, nor do I want other people who are riding or looking at my Strava activity, to imagine me participating in a gangbang. No. No. No.
I reported the segment to Strava support. There was no option to flag it for offensive content as you would if a trail segment were unsafe, or if a user clearly cheated. I’ve since learned that you can “Hide” a segment, which prevents you from seeing it in your activities. But even when hidden, the segment still exists, with your name and PR associated with it, and will appear in the activities of others.
I then wrote a quick post on a local MTB message board and on social media. My intention was to alert people who might feel the same way I do and want to do something about it. In my ever naive optimism, I also hoped the segment namer would see the negative impact of his presumably harmless joke, and change the name. I assumed the namer is a man because out of 290 riders of the segment, only 13 were women at that time.
There was rallying of support, and calls for deleting or changing the segment. There was also a good bit of opposition:
“I don’t understand why you would choose to be hurt by [this].”
“It’s not that bad.”
“It’s only out of context because it’s the only one like it. If there were more, problem solved.”
“I am offended by how easily people get offended. No one is going to sugarcoat life for you”.
“You don’t have to use Strava. Nor do you have to ride that segment. So instead of asking others to change what offends you, why don’t you stop doing what offends you.”
“Just ride and don’t linger at the trailhead!”
“[Gangbang is] definitely not rape...”
“Nothing better than the old makeup run blowjob.”
Strava, for its part, responded quickly and changed the name of the segment to, “I’m here for the waffles”. This is funny (or very true, depending on your stance on waffles), and would be universally so even out of context. Bravo, Strava!
Then, the real trolls went to work. Even after seeing the response from many local MTBers, men and women, agreeing that the name was inappropriate, someone went into the open source map that Strava pulls from, and changed the name of the trail to “GangBang”(3). Other Strava segments appeared in that same park: “I was here for the gangbang but all I got were these stupid waffles” and “here for the Gb.” While the initial segment may have been created in homage to a Will Ferrell movie, there was no mistaking the intent of these subsequent actors: to make others uncomfortable. I’m still amazed someone would take the time to do all of that. I honestly hope they have more joy in their lives than the joy they get out of trying to razz other people.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference. This means refraining from judgment, and not asking yourself, “how would I feel” in that circumstance. Rather, it’s acknowledging how that other person feels, and accepting that as truth.
A friend of mine was raped, and has recurring nightmares about being gangraped (or gangbanged - there is no distinction for her). Try to empathize for a moment. Then consider whether the joke is worth the emotions that would be triggered in her: the hurt, anxiety, fear, anger, and probably a host of other complex emotions I can’t even begin to understand. Is it worth it?
If these segment names persist, will I stop using Strava or stop riding in this park? No, not yet anyway, though it would not be a stretch if some women do. (4) However, I now know that when I ride these trails, there may be someone just around the bend who takes pleasure in watching others squirm. And that guy has now rallied a bunch of like-minded immature buddies to do the same… The message being perpetuated is, it’s totally acceptable and harmless to make light of references to sexual violence (especially against women) or to be an online bully. And if it’s acceptable on Strava, it is surely acceptable to intimidate women in real life…
There are some trails in the NYC metro area where I never ride alone. One is just a few blocks from my apartment. I avoid parks like Highbridge and Cunningham unless I’m with others because men and teenagers often loiter around - not on bikes, and I can’t be sure they have my best interest at heart. As women and girls, we have been taught to constantly modify our behavior to avoid rape. While I recognize this is a form of social control, it’s hard to walk away from a lifetime of acculturated fear. Dismissive attitudes toward something as seemingly insignificant as Strava segment names, contributes to this culture.
What amount of “fun” or “freedom” would these bullies really give up if Strava were to ban references to rape and violence? What is ultimately more valuable to the greater cycling community? What if instead, our collective response was, we hear you and empathize with you!
There was debate on whether gangbangs are consensual or whether banning that word would also require banning of dick or boob references (to me there is a very obvious distinction between body part jokes and rape). People pointed out the phrase has a different meaning in other contexts (e.g., the movie, rap songs). This is all beside the point. No judgment needs to be made on the jokes you make or what you do in your private life, for a phrase to be inappropriate when seen out of context in a public forum by hundreds or thousands of users every time they upload a file. While adults may understand the reference and brush it off, what about kids, specifically girls - aren’t they entitled to ride these trails as much as anyone, without silly adults clouding their fun?
A search for the word, “rape” yields over 20 segments containing that word. While Strava was responsive to a user complaint and cites a “zero tolerance policy” for offensive content, shouldn’t they make it easier for us to flag a segment as inappropriate, and empower users by creating an official mechanism for self-policing? Or, taking it a step further, what responsibility does Strava have to data mine for this type of content and preemptively remove/change inappropriate segments and warn/block users who create them?
Strava is used as a tool for riders to plot out new routes and discover new trails - an introduction to an area. Only about 10% of Strava users who are cyclists are women. Do we want “I’m here for the gangbang” to be the welcome sign? Especially, when we are constantly hearing industry folks, clubs and promoters ask, “hey how do we get more women out here riding or racing?”
We should all be able to agree that jokes, or worse - direct intimidation attempts, referencing violent acts, including rape, simply have no place in our sport. We should uphold Strava’s pledge that, as a community, “we are courteous and treat others with respect.” We should promote a welcoming and inclusive sport that nurtures exploration of new places and personal growth - “to strive” as Strava puts it. Rejecting behavior that condones intimidation is a crucial component of that.
- Strava is an online social network for primarily cyclists and runners, that allows us to track our activities, and see how we compare against others and against our own personal records over time. Strava has grown to over a million users worldwide and has become ubiquitous in the cycling community. Members can engage in competitions via segment KOM/QOMs or other challenges, map out routes, and some have used it in highly creative ways, like this Strava art guy. But, as with any crowd sourced application or online public forum, individual users can introduce a sinister element to an otherwise benign tool.
- A good samaritan quickly changed it back, but only after someone reported it with a screenshot.
- A 2008 survey shows that women often avoid public spaces as a result of harassment, including paying to exercise at a gym rather than outside.
Lucia Deng is a an accomplished road, cyclocross and mountain bike racer. She is an active member of CRCA - Century Road Club Association, an A Classic SIG leader for NYCC - New York Cycle Club, and current board member of NYSBRA - New York State Bicycle Racing Association, with special focus on issues affecting NYC region and women racers. While not out riding, Lucia is a healthcare tech attorney working for a non-profit health care system in NY
Cover image by Laura Wilson