As part of this year’s National Bike Summit, there was an afternoon Women’s Cycling Forum. The promotional description was quasi-promising:
Women still cycle at much lower rates than men in the United States — making up just 24 percent of bike trips in 2009. But that trend is shifting. We’re eager to learn from our peers, share our experiences and explore ideas to engage more women.
Women cycling is a topic I have previously covered, and (shockingly) have some personal interest in. So I took a look at the Twitter stream from the event. Some of what I saw made me want to hork. Mightily.
Yeah. Please note, TLC was quoting a speaker, not espousing this themselves. They later said that the speaker said this with a laugh.
But in the midst of serious conversations about women being more hesitant to ride in traffic, a need for better cargo bikes, issues of women as caregivers to children… this kind of condescending crap? Let me tell you, the women doing 85% of household chores and errands are probably NOT doing it in heels already. And the women who stood up and discussed the need for cargo bikes and ways of carrying children? Yeah. Utility and safety, not “cuteness,” are going to be more meaningful. The profusion of minivans in the average elementary school car line should speak to that — no one ever drove a minivan for its “cuteness.” They ain’t.
It’s true that marketing to women is different and needs to be done differently. Bike shops populated by young men in spandex are not the most appealing for much of the women-not-yet-on-bikes audience. Having appropriately sized bicycles and bike clothing for the ladies is also necessary, and any bicycle — utility or racing — should be built with an eye for design and style, because it CAN be, and why build ugly if you don’t have to?
While I’ve never been a fan of women-specific instructional stuff (see also, what home improvement stores do, right down to pink tools), I get that they do it because it works, ladies like it, and I am a bit of a freak because of my upbringing (single mom in IT in a very male industry, so a somewhat unique role model figure). I’ve even taught a few courses for women (and girls) myself. I also understand that women, especially with children in tow, are more risk-averse to routing. But to turn it into shoes and fashion is a complete slap in the face of what women do daily for their families, and what their true barriers to riding are. It reeks of another round of white men in spandex who just don’t get it.
Alliance for Biking & Walking and Association of Bicycling & Walking Professionals? You can do better than this kind of bullshit message. Buck up and do so, please. Even as a joke, this is the very attitude that turns women away from cycling. To have someone spouting off like this on a panel is an insult to the thoughtful women who were also on the panels, and to the audience who came looking for a real discussion of issues.