6.21.2011

or are we just plain stupid?


I don't know why more women in North America don't ride bikes more as their means of transportation. It makes sense to me why everyone should bike, but Elly Blue of Grist asks if it's the economy [stupid].

I'm not sure if I buy her argument that the sluggish economy and the disparity between men's and women's salaries contribute to women not riding a bike, though I do agree with most of Elly's conclusive statements in her well-thought out article. Personally (call me a conspiracy theorist), I think industry and government conspired to make women think that cycling was dangerous, by providing an infrastructure for cars and not for bikes, and therefore some of us find it unsafe and refuse to get on a bike and out there on the street.

I don't see any legitimate reason why your average middle-class North American woman doesn't find herself a set of two wheels and get rolling. Everyone has an opinion, and consequently, we had an exciting debate yesterday via Twitter and Facebook.

Here's what some of our followers on Twitter chimed in to say:

@cascadecross
I believe that there are fewer women on bikes, but I don't buy the economy argument.

@poetas
I think it can play a part, but it's just a piece of a big puzzle.

@copenhagenize
I believe that there are fewer women on bikes, but I don't buy the economy argument. (I agree. Flawed argument)

@dukiebiddle
I agree too. Bad argument. No correlation between economics & female modal share in market by market analysis. And there actually is a correlation between female modal share & infrastructure quality. It's the risk aversion.

@sallyhinch
I don't buy the headline. If you read the article it's more like 'it's the infrastructure, stupid'.

@lovelybicycle
Economics as explanation for fewer women cyclists?.. RT @velovogue "I don't buy it" (me neither)

@skeskali
One of the things that doesn't get mentioned a lot is that in Denmark, most women work part-time. When you work part-time multi-trip bike transport becomes easier to do. But the number of working women who say part-time work is ideal is increasing. (source: http://bit.ly/jOo2b9) 52% full-time, 12% part-time (source: http://1.usa.gov/laNJrE)

@drooderfiets
I don't buy it completely but interesting RT @velovogue: What do you think of this point of view? http://fb.me/UX1FpVP9

@cyclelicious
More cultural than economic IMO.

@skeskali It's larger than individual choice and responsibility. It's structural. It's systemic. And that's why I loved that Grist piece.

@jessicabybike
Not economy. Carrying capacity. I buy that. I live that. A trailer for a 4yo & 2yo plus panniers helps for now

@skeskali
In N. America, bike infrastructure friendly changes don't usually begin until poor neighbourhoods gentrify. But focusing on how cheaply you can get a bike is the wrong focus, IMO. I think it's very real for a lot of women who aren't represented in the "cycle chic" aesthetic

And from Facebook:

Peter Verdone
I don't either. I'll give them the time argument, but that's not the greatest factor of all.

Really, in any urban or semi-urban area riding a bicycle is far easier, quicker, and cheaper that driving a car no matter your gender. I'm sure all ...of these poor women own cars so it debases the entire article.

I think the biggest reason for the gap is that women are encouraged to and feel fine with making excuses not to ride. But nobody is going to print that.

Infrastuctre change will be nice but I'm not one that believes that its the real problem. I've bike commuted for the past 25 years off and on on the east and west coasts. Things now are pretty fantastic compared to the old days.

The heart of... what I'm saying is that when I put my bike on the bike rack of the bus each day, mine is usually the only one that goes on out of 3 spots. I've only been 'bumped' two times in the past 4 years. Until that changes, I'm not going to blame the infrastructure for peoples lack of motivation.


Anna Lebemosdeff
I learned to ride a bike on the mean streets of SF, and don't buy this POV either. Change begins with each of us, and as SFYBP states, there are many organizations ready to help get ppl on 2 wheels, regardless of sex or financial status. It's about enjoying the ride.

Maybe we'll never really know why more North American women don't cycle until we actually see them out in droves.

15 comments:

Editor said...

Thanks for pulling all these tweets together with so many different voices. I think Elly has opened up an important dialogue.

Hope it continues until the problem is solved.

Sam said...

Advertising. Change the marketing material and approach to cycling, and women will ride more.

See the Torches of Freedom that got women to smoke.

see an old view on why women used to not drive, "traveling by car was not very pleasant for many women. As they would not arrive at their destination in their best feminine appearance" They would arrive with windblown hair and dirty. The automobile being a piece of machinery was not thought to be feminine, in fact, maintenance of machinery, was thought to be a masculine task.

Kristin Tieche said...

So what do you think of this cycle chic movement and what we are doing here on this blog, to show that cycling from point A to point B is easy, fun, empowering, healthy, etc.?

Sam said...

Here is another article on how women began driving - lotso lessons to be learned.

Kristin Tieche said...

And then there's this report on how the bicycle changed women's lives...

Sam said...

Kristin: I think the cycle chic and related movements are key - in trail blazing...but for everyone to accept it as the default mode of transportation I believe advertising is what will do it. Or a dire economic catastrophe.

Sam said...

The thing I feel that needs to be countered is the automobile...for whatever reason women today are not riding bikes en masse, unless there is a concentrated effort to make women do so by a higher power (government, media, etc). I think what we do via blogs, little jaunts around town will motivate and inspire small numbers, but not a population as a whole.

jet said...

I still think its about 'perceived safety' - not that it is unsfe to ride on the street but a lot of people think it is!!!!

Kristin Tieche said...

So how do we spin this to make cycling be perceived by women as safe? Or is it too late?

kfg said...

Sure it's the economy. The number of women cycling collapsed in the 70's when they acquired their own jobs, money and freedom to go out and buy their own cars.

When The Man(tm) took THE family car for the day Mamacharis were quite common. You seem them show up on CL now and again.

Kristin Tieche said...

But why choose a car now over a healthier, more environmentally friendly option? This discussion becomes more and more fascinating as we go deeper into it.

kfg said...

Well, the simple answer is, "Because they don't want to." It may seem like begging the question as obviously we want to know why they don't want to, but I think it's important, after 40 years of assuming that there were barriers in policy, to make the statement explicitly. There are a number of fields turning themselves inside out to get women involved and the few women who do get involved are nurtured; yet few women get involved, because they just aren't interested.

I'll muddy the waters further by cross pollinating this conversation with another; I personally have found it relatively easy to get non cycling women to start cycling for transportation and damned near impossible to get men who already cycle to put a bicycle to even the most simple of practical uses.

My, ummmmm, "success with women" does not come from a general promotion of cycling, but from a, ummmmmm, "hands on" approach. They are willing to be lead to cycling, but they must be lead, politically incorrect as that idea is; and that leading must be real leading, not ham fisted pushing. It takes time and personal commitment, not an ad campaign.

This is suggestive that the "infrastructure" that will bring more women to cycling is social, not physical. Women pee in groups. Note that the political force that brought physical plant to Denmark and the Netherlands was a Mother's Movement. Note also that that movement was coincident in time with the NA "Station Wagon Movement."

Women don't ride because women don't ride and it was, in the 70's, the women themselves who made that choice. To get more women cycling, get a woman to change her mind.

Kristin Tieche said...

kfg - I like your hands on approach. I think you are a genius.

So it's one woman at a time?

I am already getting my mom and my aunt back on two (and three, respectively) wheels. My friends and I are thinking about doing an inaugural ride with my mom, who is 70 years old, has had two knee replacement surgeries and was the person who taught me how to ride a bike in the 70s.

She Rides a Bike said...

I read Elly Blue's article yesterday and was perplexed by the economy argument. My husband and I sold a car and started bike commuting whenver possible because of the bad economy. Plus, we had recently relocated to an expensive community where wages do not support the high cost of housing. I would not felt the need to sell my car and starting biking if we were still living in low cost Louisville, where I was making a far better income. My question is, in a bad economy why are not talking about bicycles as a way to reduce or eliminiate what is often a significant expense? Auto maintenance is a financial drain regardless of gender. I had the safety worries and the helmet hair worries but my bigger worry was digging myself out of financial hole.

I do agree that many decision makers/bosses view bike commuting as a inefficient and not suitable to a professional image. I think that it is viewed as the choice of slackers or simply a form or recreation, but not used by serious professionals. I think I may have payed a professional price for prioritizing personal economics over professional image. Too bad because even if I wanted to get a second car, we still can't afford one, and given how uncertain my and my husband's employment situation is, I wouldn't purchase one. I have overcome many mental barriers in order to become a confident bike commuter but I frankly do not see myself ever overcoming the financial barriers of anxiety-free two car ownership.

Elly's series raises a lot of points that we really should be having about transporation policy. We continue to prioritize cars and at the same time cannot pay for the long term maintenance cost. All this while, citizens are having to bear the burden of reduced wages, furloughs, unemployment or underemployment. No serious person suggests that we just get rid of cars, but many supposedly "serious people", as Paul Krugman would call them, are talking as if in three years the economy will return to "charge it" land and we'll all be back to our jobs as "consumers" again. Is there any actual evidence that can happen and is that what we really want? Heavy sigh! My rant is at an end.

Kristin Tieche said...

Hey woman, thanks for your "rant" and for sharing your story. I agree with you more than I agree with Elly's arguments. Men and women in 3rd world and developing nations choose bicycles for transportation simply because cars cost too much. Many city dwellers get rid of their cars because of the costs of parking, gas, tickets, maintenance, etc. and switch to biking and public trans instead. It is odd that employers see biking as unprofessional, and I hope that through media pushes that that mentality will change in North America. Thanks so much for your comments, all of you. You should really send Elly your feedback as well.