My friend Juli Stupakevich recently posted an open letter on feminism and cycling to the Elm City Cycling email list. Her letter was so good - clear, powerful, and passionate - that I had to share it. I've re-posted it below, with Juli's permission.
We all know that however we choose to navigate the roads; it is often a very intricate power struggle that can bring the worst out of people. The smallest differences affect the way that people choose to treat each other: size, wealth, age, color, sex, what that guy's bumper sticker says, how fast someone notices the light turned green, the type of neighborhood, how loud the stereo is, how pissed someone is that the person in front of them is lost.... on and on. These affect how we choose to treat each other, either subconsciously or consciously.
So, a bit on why I am a feminist (and, damn it, why you should be too.)
Cyclists are quite often the minority on any given road. As females, we are an even smaller minority within a minority. As an acknowledgement of my fellow female riders: it is a TREMENDOUS act of courage to assert that we have the same right to the road as the tons of metal flying all around us. Hey, guys: do you get heckled and yelled at? We probably get it more. And imagine the things men scream to women while they are alone on a street. Sometimes it is expected to be taken as a compliment, and when it is not, you can guess the ways that drivers like to try to piss off cyclists who have "wronged" them.
Do you get startled by motorcycles revving their engines? Often, they wait until the last second to do it right behind me. Whether to impress me or scare me - I’ve never had the pleasure to ask. Do you get lectured on how you shouldn't be riding on the road? Imagine all the stereotypes that our society uses against women and, predictably, those are often their knee-jerk reactions. Namely: I am just a dumb girl who doesn't know what she is doing, slowing them down; I am a bitch who just wants to ride wherever I want; I am a naive idealist who needs to be taught a lesson.
I say this not to scare people away from cycling because a) the more of us there are, our presence is stronger and the level of aggression, I really believe, will be less and less and b) I am a stronger woman because of cycling and I can handle everything I mentioned above. And you can too. Cycling has taught me to be a clearer communicator, while not feeling guilty about it (no matter how many times a car horn or "bitch", etc. is the retort.) It has helped me realize how capable and strong I am mentally and physically. And it's helped be become proudly assertive because no one is going to give you space you don't claim in this world.
With that, will you invite one woman who might not ordinarily ride a bike for a bike ride this spring? Even if you are a more seasoned rider, could you take it a little easy, and help her figure out that she is capable of much more, but that there is no rush, and you can just enjoy the ride? I think this is a small sacrifice because we will likely get back much more seeing the ride through a fresh perspective.
I think we'll all be better for it.