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01/14/2010: "Women and Wheels"
In My Year as a Woman in a City of Bikes, BikePortland's Elly Blue recounts incidents and attitudes that may exemplify why women, who "hold up half the sky," comprise only around 30% of Portland's bike commuters (and less in many other places).

She rightly bemoans how bicycling, seen by early feminists as an essential element in women's liberation, has come to be thought of as a "masculine" activity, one too demanding or dangerous for women, and how male cyclists are often condescending to women riders.

Of course, this merely reflects how men in general are condescending and patronizing towards women riders, and may certainly account for much of the frustration women feel not only in cycling but in society at large. And now, with the growth of religious fundamentalism in both Christian and Muslim cultures, we see more and more oppression of women, be it vernacular or even legal, in the news worldwide--purdah, forced female circumcision, the effective slave status of women in many countries.

When the going gets tough, the pseudo-tough become boors, and start picking on women.

All this is apart from the usual objectification of women that is pretty prevalent on male-written blogs and Flickr accounts, with "cycle chic" sites the world over concentrating on photos of slim twentysomething women in tights and minis....

I design and manufacture "cycle chic" clothing myself, though at present mostly for men, and I certainly like to look at pretty women, but the endless parade of leering photos, often shot on the sly and certainly without model releases in most cases, makes me a bit weary. So does the endless presentation (that Blue also notes) of pink bikes and accessories associated with women riders.

In Los Angeles, my eyeball estimate of practical cyclists (I don't bother with roadies or MTBers, since my interest is in the social and environmental effects of cycling as transport) gives me the impression that here too women comprise about 30% of bike commuters--even though women are a larger proportion of the bicycle advocacy community and form almost the entire staff of the LACBC, our primary advocacy organization.

Maybe it's time for cycling to re-take the heights it held in the 1880s and 1890s, when the "wheel" was a means of escape from male oppression, and not an instrument of it.

Since men tend to be purposely dull-witted about this, women have to speak up more, as their predecessors did in the 19th century: sisters, don't let any bike-shop louts patronize you; patronize (in the more neutral sense of the word) bike shops that employ women and treat them well (for example, the City Bike Workers' Coop in Portland, or Orange 20 here in Los Angeles), and--most of all--get out and ride!

There's not only safety in numbers, but, eventually, respect as well.

It has ever been only solidarity that has successfully beat down oppression.

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