Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Women aren't fraidy-cats

This article just showed up in Momentum Magazine, and it's not anything we haven't seen before: women as an "indicator species" for how bike-friendly a city is. To make cycling more popular, focus on getting more women on bikes, these articles say: look at the Netherlands where more than 50% of the bike ridership is female (and we all know the Netherlands is a sort of cyling utopia.)

Not arguing with the data, me. But, articles like this both interest me and make me a little itchy, in about equal measure. As a woman, and, I think, not an unusually courageous woman, it seems weird to me when people claim that women are scared away from cycling by the danger of it. Or, at least, that they're more scared off it than men are. I've had conversations with plenty of male friends who are too spooked by traffic to ride their bikes in the street, and my informal and totally unscientific observations have shown far more men than women riding on the sidewalks. (Although, whether that's because a higher proportion of male riders are on the sidewalk, or because a higher proportion of riders are men, is up for debate. I did say it was an unscientific observation.)

But it seems a bit pat to say that making cycling safer will encourage women, because women are eek! so easily scared. That's what bugs me.

Maybe it's not the danger, maybe it's that society as a whole isn't really constructed to make women think of cycling as a possibility. From the assumption that you can't ride in a dress (because some women really love to wear dresses) to the idea that a helmet will mess up your hair (and the last cyclist I heard using that as an excuse to not wear a helmet was a man) there are societal assumptions that make it so some people just don't think of cycling when they're considering how to get around. Not just women - lots of people. Then, there's the hurdle that people think of cyclists as middle-aged men in Spandex (a ridiculous stereotype, but one that's often reinforced.) So maybe a more representative proportion of Dutch cyclists are women because cycling is seen as a thing regular folks - not just male athletes - do, as much as it is because there's a separate and safer lane for them to be in.

I like that idea far more than the idea that women are "naturally more timid," for sure.

1 comment:

  1. Indicator species is weird. Instead of doing pollution control on factories, by that logic, we should encourage mosses that live in urban environments to spread to assure that all is hunky dory.

    It doesn't mention that women are media-told to stay off bike paths because they'll be raped, as if that were a key risk zone in life and unique to women to boot. A few times I've had a few drunk men during booze-fest, I mean bluesfest, jump out of the dark in front of my bike as a joke, and/or holler sexist things about girls shouldn't ride bikes. I presume that seeing someone who present male they would still act like asses and harass and call someone gay.

    But that's not about cycling. If I were walking, I would still be targeted by yahoos.