The Cycling Community Can Do Better

(psst..before you read this, have you read my disclaimers?)

I’ve been biking and talking bikes with others for a few years now. I’ve met some great people (like my #bikeschool family!) who I consider to be my good friends, even if it’s just online. Thanks to this blog and twitter, I feel immersed in a friendly and welcoming community.

Well. Most of the time…

(Not Enough) Representation

According to the Women on a Roll report, women only accounted for 24% of all U.S. bike trips, whereas the rates are remarkably higher in the Netherlands and Germany (55% and 49%, respectively)? And, women lead only 13% of the top 15 largest American bike brands; 89% of bike shop owners are men and, there is only 1 woman board member on the National Bicycle Dealers Association.

So, not only are women underrepresented on the bike, but we also don’t see as many women in leadership roles as compared to men. However, this isn’t even the main reason why I often don’t feel welcome in this community. 

(Too Many) Microaggressions 

I hear about or personally experience gender microaggressions (click the word ‘microaggressions’ for an intro to this term) every single day within the  context of bikes. Like, being told in both overt and subtle ways that I should be appreciative that women were thrown a bone, rather than getting a full 7-course meal (like men do).

Like, being told directly or reading passive aggressive comments made by others about how responses to sexist and degrading jokes about women’s bodies & bikes are “overreactions.” 

And, being told something along the lines of “Sure, there might be problems in cycling regarding women, but it’s up to women to solve it. It’s their responsibility.”

Also, hearing messages that this is just how things are, that’s the way it is, boys will be boys.

Or, participating a local online forum where women who shared their experiences of sexism in cycling (after being specifically asked to share them) received responses from men about how those experiences probably weren’t actually due to sexism. And, hey, men sometimes have bad experiences too! Why aren’t we talking about men?!

Not to mention walking into a bike shop and seeing that 90% of the employees are men, and that women have about a third of the product selection that men do. 

Or, that time I was biking with Jason and a guy who was going really slow let Jason (cis man) pass easily…but then turned around, saw me (cis woman), then amped up his pedaling and even started swerving around so that I couldn’t pass him. 

The list goes on, and unfortunately gender microaggressions extend beyond the cycling context too:

Like, seeing the men I follow on twitter use derogatory names to refer to women. (Even though they will also fiercely engage in a battle about the importance of language and how we should say “person on a bike” instead of “cyclist.”)

Or, when I tweet something about gendered-violence (e.g., sexual assault) and receive victim-blaming comments in return (Even though they are quick to complain about all the victim-blaming comments people make towards cyclists who are killed). 

Or, when I say something about experiencing everyday sexism (e.g., a microaggression, see above), and then guys send me manifesto-like harassing private messages about how angry I made them feel.

And the list keeps growing: Bike people are microaggressing all over the place! 

I’m not just talking about cis-white-het-rich-men perpetrating gender microaggressions. It’s more complicated and intersectional than that. Microaggressions can be made by anyone from a privileged group against a person in the corresponding marginalized group.  

For example, we have a huge problem with racial microaggressions. White people are overrepresented in the positive media about bikes, whether its in magazines, coverage of racing, posters in bike shops, and so on. 

There are also intersecting racial and income-based/classist microaggressions, such as described in this tumblr post.

Or, when a white man posted pictures in an online forum of a bike that was possibly stolen. His evidence that it might have been stolen? A Latino guy had an expensive bike. Seriously.

And, when other women say that just because *they* didn’t experience the exact same thing as another woman then it isn’t a “real” problem, or that because *they* didn’t interpret it as a microaggression, then neither should that other woman. Even though each are in a different social location (e.g., a white woman telling this to a woman of color). 

And, we have tons of problems with fat shaming in cycling committed by thin people. If you don’t have a slim body (and pretty face), you will likely be openly mocked, harassed, and insulted. Or, plain ol’ ignored by the “cycle chic” world. 

Speaking of cycle chic, what a great example of a “check off the boxes” approach to committing microaggressions. The claim is that the “beautiful” or “stylish” people are photographed. Yeah…but guess who that usually ends up being…? (I’m not necessarily talking about people who just want to dress stylishly on a bike, I am talking about something very specific here, and I refer you to this excellent post by Elly Blue for the full details). 

(A Lot of) Denial 

Everyone perpetrates microaggressions. Yes, that includes me. Yes, this includes you. Microaggressions are not just something that “bad people” do. It’s not reserved to “racists” or “sexists” or “homophobes.” I’m sorry, don’t hate me, please don’t kill the messenger. The reality is that we live in a society where certain groups have unearned privilege at the expense of other groups. It’s a societal-level, systemic problem. We are all raised in this unfair system, and microaggressions are the cogs that keep the oppression machine running

Everyone commits them even if they don’t want to. Microaggressions are intentional or unintentional (Sue, et al., 2007). By unintentional, that means subconsciously. That means, you didn’t even think about what you were doing (e.g., you thought you were just taking photographs of “pretty people” on bikes, but as it turns out you mostly took pictures of skinny white women). It means all kinds of things, but most importantly, it means that the less you are aware of them, the more likely you are to perpetrate them. Your good intentions do not protect you from committing a microaggression. 

The cycling community is full of good people with fabulous intentions (see my disclaimers post). People who advocate for cyclists’ rights and who believe in equality. Unfortunately, these same people are also being microaggressive, denying it, and continuing their microaggressive behavior. So, I want to be clear about the point I am trying to make here:

The problem is not that we have evil cyclists with bad intentions in the community. It’s not even the individual microaggressions themselves (per se). The problem is that microaggressions are pervasive, and the problem is that when someone points out “heyyy, that thing you just did/said? Not cool” the person becomes defensive, retaliatory, vengeful, and hostile

It’s like when you’re riding your bike and a motorist blows a stop sign and almost hits you. In one scenario, you shout to them, and they look surprised and wave apologetically. Okay, just a mistake. Fine. In another, they verbally assault you and threaten your life for being in their way. Yes, the near-accident was bad, but it’s the reaction from the driver that really leaves you feeling hated and unwanted on the roads. 

“But, I get it. See, I have a pass!”

And here is where it gets interesting. Cyclists are also a marginalized group, at least in the United States. Compared to motorists, cyclists (and pedestrians), have much less support and access to resources for things like road space, safety, and infrastructure. Not to mention the seemingly constant reminder that drivers who kill cyclists (and pedestrians) are rarely held accountable for their deadly actions. 

Unfortunately, some perceive this to mean that they get a “free pass” or, worse, even more right to take advantage of their privilege when it comes to other issues (like, say, sexism). Some of the most frustrating interactions come from people who claim to “understand” what it is like to experience discrimination or harassment from cycling experiences…only to then use their so-called understanding as a justification for committing a microaggression.

I have a hard time understanding how the shared experience of being a marginalized group member (as a cyclist/person who bikes) either hinders or has no impact on supportive, empathic responses to fellow cyclists in discussions about other forms of marginalization.


We Can Do Better 

So that’s it. My thoughts and interpretations based on personal experiences and conversations with others. I do not speak for others who have been marginalized by the bike community, nor will I try. They can speak for themselves, and they have spoken (been speaking) for themselves (here’s one example that a blogger sent me). Plus, the League of American Bicyclists has the bike equity initiative. The problem isn’t that people aren’t talking about it. The problem is that not enough people are listening or getting better. 

Consider the purpose of this post as adding one more voice advocating for more equity in cycling. I hope others will join, and I hope that others will continue to share their experiences of marginalization within the bike community.  Maybe we could do a cycling-specific version of a microaggressions project? (click here for one example)  If anyone is interested in doing a project/research project, I’m game

But most importantly, I hope that more people listen, and learn, and do better in the future. 

Bye for now
~ peace ~ love ~ dogs ~ bikes ~ coffee ~

Final Note: All comments are moderated and I have a comment policy. Read it here before you comment. 

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