Women only

November 12, 2014 at 10:15 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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There’s a lot of energy being put into women-only cycling projects at the moment. Don’t like how bike shops fail to cater for women properly? Start a women-only shop! Tired of how the cycling press continues to pretend women don’t exist, never mind ride bikes? Start a women’s cycling magazine! Sick of  cycling anthologies that claim to showcase ‘brilliant writing’, and include one female writer in five issues? Start a women-only anthology!

temple newsam in the trees

The author, doing a bit of women’s cycling

I love the energy and optimism and ‘fuck you’ attitude behind projects like these. But I’ve finally figured out why they make me uncomfortable.

It’s not ‘what about teh menz’. People tweeted at Standard Issue magazine, which is run and written exclusively by women, saying that it was ‘unfair’ not to let men write for it. Men are struggling writers, too! To which my response is, MEN ALREADY HAVE ALL THE STUFF.

It’s not #NotAllMen. Yes, I know, lots of men are lovely and welcoming and inclusive and everything, and lots of men are bemused, feeling they haven’t benefited personally from patriarchy (though that’s a WHOLE other issue, of course). But it’s not about you, this time.

It’s not because plenty of women are happy in male-dominated environments. I feel like this, mostly; chances are, a lot of women who go to bike shops and ride with clubs and read the cycling press already do. But I know plenty of women who aren’t comfortable with this. What about their needs?

And it’s DEFINITELY not because this is some kind of ‘reverse sexism’. This is a thing that doesn’t even exist (but if you feel aggrieved by women’s need for all-female spaces, read this).

It’s because it feels like we’re letting everyone off the hook.

If we make our own bike shops, our own magazines, our own media, the mainstream continues to be run by people who think of men – their experiences, their priorities, their needs, even their bodies – as the default, and women as some kind of exotic mutant version, with less spending power, less influence, and less importance. They aren’t forced to look at themselves, to change their practice, to make their efforts inclusive; instead, we make it really easy for them to say, ‘You don’t belong over here, with the boys. Run along, back to your little club. They’ll sort you out.’

I want to be optimistic. I want to hope that women-only spaces will help women to make the most of cycling, to feel that they are part of the cycling community, and that their issues and interests and skills are represented throughout it. I really want to hope that the presence of women-only spaces will gradually change the mainstream, by becoming a big enough part of it that our needs and our contributions can’t be ignored or sidelined any more. But in the meantime, we have to keep digging away at the mainstream too. Asking questions, being bolshy, being irritating, holding them to account. We can’t let them get away with it.

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