In Trisha’s Mind the Gender Gap post (which was featured on StreetsBlog) she discussed the shallow way that the media deals with women and cycling. In response, many real women left fantastic comments. I want to highlight their stories and viewpoints here with no filter. That’s something the media could learn – if you want to know more about women, simply ask them!
Read on for the goods…
Melissa Miller – on the difficulty of finding a kid-toting bike:
As a 42 year old stay at home mom I recently spent a great deal of time researching bicycles that would fit my life style. I have an 18 month old son and wanted to spend more time with him outside of the car, something I could run errands with, and something that would be enjoyable for me. I don’t know anything about bikes and that includes changing a tire. I hated dealing w/ chains falling off my bikes and I wanted to wear whatever I had to ride because dealing with an active 18 month old I didn’t want to worry about changing my clothes just to ride my bike. I wanted freedom to grab my son and go. This lead me to the dutch style bike or something similar.
What I found to be frustrating is no one at the bicycle shops were able to assist me and understand my needs. Most of the time I was referred to a couple of blogs. This became difficult for me because I was going to spend a lot of money (for me) on something that I was beginning not to feel so confident about because the sales people were not confident in talking to me, a women with different wants and needs then what they were used to hearing. Fortunately there are a couple (I wish there were more) great blogs that have women biking with their kids and Todd at Clever Cycles was awesome. He bikes w/ his family and was the only sales person I found that was helpful in answering my questions and making suggestions based on my needs.
I think this is a wonderful blog and appreciate everything you are sharing.
And later …
as of today another woman is on a bicycle, me!!! i purchased an oma (and i live in hilly seattle). we installed my son’s bobike seat last night and we were off today for a ride. it was wonderful. i’ve not had any issues with the hills probably because i am comfortable going slow. my son and i enjoy cruising along so much that there is no need for us to do anything fast. i live in what would be described as a transitional neighborhood. all that neighborhoods really need are more people walking and on bikes. we cruise along so slow that we say hi and smile at everyone. even the old lady who pulled right out in front of us while i was riding up a very steep hill (UGH!). it’s funny what a smile can do and i am teaching this to my son. he now says ‘heyo” (that’s 18 month talk for hello).
i also have to say that just because i am a mom it doesn’t mean i don’t like to look nice on a bike. i decided to wear a dress for my first ride. a bit of a bad decision considering it was quite windy and the gusts kept pulling my dress up. oh well, it was hot and it felt good! have fun, we are! I hope to see more women out on bikes!
Suzanne – with an interesting comparison for the cycle chic movement:
I’m in my 50’s now. The #1 reason I haven’t been riding a bike in the past 30 years is because I never had one that I felt secure on. Always too big for us shorter women. It is only now that I see that shorter, step-thru, comfortable bikes are much more widely available. True, I haven’t been in a bike store in awhile, but I haven’t exactly seen much out on the street to make me think, “Oh, I want to do that!”
The whole “cycle chic” movement is starting to wear on me. I was initially drawn very much to it – all that fun! But lately I’ve been getting bored of the same old “pretty girl” images you see everywhere else. Just this time they’re on bikes. It’s always about the skirts and the heels, kind of like a fashion magazine with a new gimmick. I like fashion, just not that much.
It almost reminds me of when women started exercising in their tight fashionable leotards in the late 70’s. How could we complain about all the images of tightly spandexed, young, fit women? After all, there was the excuse that they were showing how strong women were becoming. Condescending? Hell, yes.
There is nothing wrong with images portraying sexuality. It’s just that when your gender is subjected to it over and over again, with very little to balance that with something else, you do tire of it after awhile.
Anyway, thanks to the “movement,” I am now riding a bike again. And I love it! I’ll continue as long as I feel safe enough on the streets.
roseread – on finding the right type of bike:
If not for cycle chic, and bloggers like you, I don’t think I’d be riding my bike. I’m not into bike racing, or mountain biking, and for the longest time the only cyclists I ever saw were those types, and bike messengers and fixie riding hipsters. I started looking into bicycling for environmental reasons, looking to cut down my car trips, but I needed to be able to run errands effectively. I thought a bike would be great, if only it were useful, if only I could carry stuff on it, but the bikes I saw around me (road, mountain, fixie) weren’t set up for usefulness. So I started searching the Internet and came across your blog, and others like it. It was a relief to see everyday people doing everyday things on a bike. I thought, if they can do it, then I can do it.
I think the clothes I wear convey a certain message to other cyclists and drivers. Because I don’t dress in spandex and “cycling clothes” I give off a certain vibe, one that communicates I’m not going to run this red light, or weave in and out of traffic, or cut you off, or go the wrong way down a one way street. My everyday wardrobe is nice jeans or skirts, and t-shirts and sweaters. Not uber-chic, but nice. That also helps. I’m playing into certain gender stereotypes and using them to my advantage, and if it does anything to enhance my perceived (or even actual) safety, I’m ok with it.
An unintended bonus of cycle chic is that I’ve let my subscriptions to fashion magazines lapse. No need to renew when I can get it for free online.
Elaine – on child care as a factor (yes, it matters!):
Child care, child care, child care, combined with sprawl. I’ve had several conversations with coworkers who are interested, but have to get their kids to and from various locations — detours from work, tight time restrictrions, etc. With the distances involved, it just isn’t feasible, even with a shower here at the office to help with the appearance issues. I even have one colleague who was bike commuting fairly regularly, but has had to cut back because of changes in her child care situation.
Also anecdotally, I’ve noticed a lot fewer women on my commute route in the wintertime…and there’s a point at which I give up myself. (<30F or snowing) I’m just not that macho!
Actually, it occurs to me that it was really hard to find good women’s rain gear, especially when I was a larger size. The only rainpants I could find (and rainpants are a necessity here Nov-Mar) when I was a size 16-18 were for hiking. Dealing with the cuffs was a PITA. So that’s a data point worth considering…much like Suzanne’s comment about not finding a bike that was a good fit.
Calitexican – Susan B. Anthony said it best:
we must continue the sentiment stated by susan b. anthony over 100 years ago: “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” word!
we as (american) women cyclists have a good start, but with those numbers it’s very clear we’ve still got a long way to go! what are the percentages of female cyclers in amsterdam and copenhagen? from the looks of the blogs, seems to be more representative of the general population than our statistics here. if this is true, there is something more at work here in america.
Karen – on appearances and marketing cycling:
I agree that expectations of women about our appearance are much higher than for men. I have always felt the pressure to measure up and on a couple of occasions been told my appearance was an asset on the job. Flattering yet troubling at the same time. As we become older our bodies change. Neither sex usually enjoys the changes but I truly believe women feel it hardest.
Beany (Brown Girl on a Bike) commented that she is planning to post images of attractive men on bikes as a counter to the use of sex appeal in the marketing of cars. It worked for the auto industry. Maybe it can work for bike commuting. Like it or not, human beings respond to physical attractiveness and often seek to identify with people they perceive as physically attractive. Even babies have been found to prefer young, symetrical, attractive faces over those that are older, less symetrical, and predictably attractive. Luckily, most of us mature and get beyond simply relying on appearance to guide out decision making. I never would have considered bike commuting for myself, had factors other than looking pretty not entered into the decision.
Beany – how the male-dominated blogosphere plays a role:
Long time reader and first time commenting.
I agree with everything you said and what some of previous commenters have said. I think it’s the male centric-ness of the blogosphere that leads credence to the notion that women riders are superficial and just concerned with appearances and thus our only role is to provide eye candy (which I am okay with to some degree). But there are so many women riders that I know and have read about that have so much more gumption than many of the guys who go off spouting all sorts of nonsense.
I’ve used my sex to counter men’s excuses on why they can’t ride. I mean if a silly, frivolous, wimpy girl like me can ride cross country, ride in the freezing cold and all other crazy weather, what’s your excuse? :)
As Karen mentioned above, I do intend to post pictures of hot guys on bikes to counter the hot guys on bikes role. Sex does sell so many of my posts do deliberately have double entendres for that reason. But now I have to worry about weird stalker types bothering me online if I do decide to cross that road…
anna – also a problem in Europe, but not as bad:
Even in Vienna there are more men on bikes than women, although I think this is somewhat unusual compared to the rest of Austria. But there is only a slight difference, and from my daily experience I would even say that there are more women cycling in the summer, but much more men in the winter. So maybe it’s a comfort thing. Cycling in rain and snow doesn’t seem comfortable (and sometimes also more tricky) so many people don’t bother.
Lovely Bicycle – on perceptions of athleticism and cycling:
In addition to bravery vs frivolousness, perceptions of athleticism probably also play a role. Cycling is predominantly perceived as an athletic activity in the US, and women as less athletic than men. Therefore, women are less likely to cycle.
Adrienne Johnson – develop confidence in girls to get more women on bikes:
You can put a lot of reasons into the blank here- bike shops who are more concerned with selling sports bikes (you don’t want that, it’s too heavy), an industry dominated by men (how many woman are making the major decisions at Trek or Specialized or Cannondale…) safety issues, vanity issues, childcare issues…. there is a loooong list of things that would fit here.
My gut says, that despite that, there is one rather insidious , and quite subconscious reason underlying all of this- woman lack confidence in themselves. This is, of course, a blanket statement, but it makes sense in so many situations. It has been shown that a great percentage of woman do not have confidence speaking up to doctors, car mechanics, sales people…. So right off the bat, woman are intimidated by the process of buying bicycles (frequently from younger men who do not share their desire for comfortable and utilitarian bikes). Also, not knowing how a bicycle works or how to fix it, the bike mechanic becomes intimidating. Next, we get the need to be very confident and assertive in traffic (how many woman have I met that have purchased huge SUV’s for the perceived safety of them?). Put carrying a child on that, a situation that can garner a great deal of criticism from the public (you should hear some of the junk I field daily) and you have a perfect storm of intimidating, uncomfortable situations that can make riding be more than it is worth.
The general need to teach girls their worth and strength (hello, girl’s sports programs!!!) from an early age is so important if we are to be a society with woman who recognize and honor their strength and value. Bicycling can be an aide in that, but the hurdles still have to be jumped to get there.
Christa – on women executives and the bike industry:
I’ve read that companies with women as top executives are more successful. Women are more collaborative, less risky, and can sell better to other women (who make the majority of household purchases). At the same time though, it seems that her work-life balance is threatened in the modern corporation. She is working on the males’s terms – long hours, unflexable, and unemotional.
Interesting that you should mention the male dominated bike industry. Seems so obvious now that you mention it. Hope this changes soon!
sara – a gender gap in the family (child care again!):
Two years ago my husband started bike commuting. As a stay-at-home parent for the year (three boys), it didn’t even OCCUR to me that biking was an option, so off he rode and I walked or drove everywhere. Embarrassingly, I even made weekly trips to the library in the town NORTH of me b/c I found finding parking downtown too difficult.
A year ago (June ‘08), I took a job at a school just over 2 miles from our apartment. Two of my sons (twins, ages 6) were starting there as well in Sept. For months– all summer & into the fall– I tried to figure out a way to commute there without using a car but was coming up with nothing: no city bus route there, too far for the boys to walk, too busy streets for two young fellows who had recently learned to ride two-wheelers. Given that I had twins first (& singleton later), I never even knew any bike options I had once I became a parent of multiples– only those single back baby seats and the tag-along bikes & those wouldn’t work with two. Commuting that short of a distance by car bugged the crap out of me and I kept joking that I wanted to get a rickshaw (I seriously started surfing the web for pedicabs) but we were driving to school everyday.
It wasn’t until October when I met up with a friend from Maine who is extremely environmentally conscious (think Maine winters, cloth diapers for TWINS & no clothes dryer….). When I explained our commuting dilemma, she said, “Why don’t you get a bakfiets?” I had never heard of such a thing & after that weekend, I came home, looked it up on the web and became a woman-possessed, contacting every person on the web who owned (or sold) them that I could find. Bought the bakfiets in February. Became a regular bike commuter. Bought a second cargo bike last month, an xtracycle Radish, because my husband & I found that we could bike & get our kids places.
So my long story– there WAS a gender gap even in my family in terms of bike use at first: NOT because I didn’t want to mess up my hair or not look cute & NOT because I am risk-averse. It was the kid-transport issue & total lack of information about family biking options, especially for a family with three young kids… Now I know MULTIPLE options :)
Wheeled Weenie – on the hidden benefits of cycling:
In London only around a quarter of the cyclists on the road are women and many of my female friends think I’m insane for commuting by bike. But I love it, and I’ve lost around 21lb in a year from cycling alone with no dieting. I reckon if more women realised the weight loss and purchase potential of cycling (there’s no end to the internet shopping for gear) more would take it up.
Julie – cheers!:
Hear, hear, indeed. Thanks everyone for your amazing contributions! Let’s continue the discussion. We welcome more women to share their stories and points of view in the comments here. And men should feel free to speak up, too!