women's night - women fixing bikes - justinelittleVolunteers and participants at the AMS Bike Co-op's Women's Night
Cycling is inherently feminist.
Susan B Anthony, after whom the 19th Amendment is nicknamed, once said, “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.”
In a time when women were prohibited from wearing pants, donning “bloomers” to straddle a bicycle saddle was seen as a bold statement of protest, liberation, and freedom. As the bicycle’s popularity soared in the 1890’s, it became a symbol of mobility, and as women began moving out of the cloistered domestic realm, the bicycle became not only a symbol but a tool of activism.
The bicycle continues to be linked to feminist issues in contemporary society. Cycling through dark city streets is an easy way for women traveling alone to avoid many unwanted late night encounters, without having to invest in something as expensive and environmentally offensive as an automobile. The physical act of cycling encourages young women to feel comfortable with their bodies and has multiple health benefits. Through choosing to cycle instead of relying on oil for the majority of their transportation, women are able to resist global capitalist systems that are linked with major inequalities in contemporary society.
While many of us are lucky to be a part of communities that contain many female cyclists, men continue to dominate the majority of the industry (for example: frames are still primarily manufactured for men’s proportions). Bike shops can be especially intimidating places for women. Learning the proper vocabulary to refer to the parts of your bike, and gaining a basic understanding of bike mechanics, can go a long way towards easing the apprehension many women feel when entering a bike shop. Know that you deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect regardless of whether you use the word “derailleur” or “shifty thingy.” If a bike mechanic has made you feel particularly unwelcome, don’t be afraid to take your business elsewhere. If you feel comfortable, providing input directly to the owner of the bike shop can assist shop owners in creating environments where everyone feels welcome. The phone is a good way to provide feedback while minimizing any intimidation you may feel. Remember, they have an invested interest (your business) in creating a space that’s inviting for women and beginner cyclists.
Important resources which may be available in your area are women’s nights at your local community bike shop, women’s only group rides, or women’s bike polo leagues. Inquire at bike shops in your area, or do a quick google search to see what’s available.
Is nothing happening yet? You can always start your own group… Start small but be consistent. Holding a small event once a month is ideal. As word spreads, you might be amazed at the interest and the support you receive for your efforts. I started a Women’s Night at the bike co-op I am involved with, and have been rewarded by watching women enter a bike shop for the first time to learn to fix their own bikes (and have fun learning how).
Justine Little - AMS Bike Co-op
Justine is a recent graduate from the University of Victoria, where she studied Anthropology and Women’s Studies. She likes to use her bicycle to commute to work at the University of British Columbia, where she is employed as the Programs Coordinator for the AMS Bike Co-op. The AMS Bike Co-op’s largest program is the Bike Kitchen, a non-profit bike shop that aims to empower cyclists with the knowledge and tools to fix their own bicycles.