Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.
Susan B. Anthony, February 2, 1896
Welcome to my unfolding series on riding a bike as a feminist act. Feminism helps me understand and thrive in a culture where women are stereotyped as shopaholics, soccer moms or sluts. This portrayal of womanhood is not something I see in myself or reflected in the strong, intelligent and loving women in my own life. Feminism also helps me tap into the power within, just like yoga and riding my bike. In this series I want to explore the personal, historical and economic links that cycling has in connection with Feminism.
Lets begin where most things do, on the personal level. I chose to get a bike and ride it to and from work over a year and half ago in Denver. At first I didn’t realize what an impact this choice would have on me. Riding a bike seemed like fun, a good way to get outside and far less expensive than driving a car.
Riding across town at night was liberating. I felt safe on bike, suddenly freed from ¨the stranger in a dark alley, waiting to get you,¨ myth that is so pervasive in our rape culture. I knew I could bike faster than this mostly imaginary demon. As I learned how to navigate traffic and learn short-cuts where no cars could go I found liberation from a car culture and uncovered new strength in my body. Knowing that I have the power to get wherever I need to go, allows me limitless opportunities in life.
Wrapped up in all of this, is the lesson that I have a right to be here and to take up space in this world. I have a right to be on the road, out at night and the ability to get where I need to go. I found the confidence to hold my own in the streets, without needing two tons of metal and plastic around me. This is a feminist realization.
This wasn’t without a little struggle. There were definitely instances of aggressive drivers honking, or often worse, negligent drivers who have no idea you are on the road. I was even called a, “fucking bitch” a few times by men in large SUVs, just for being on the same street and on a bike. I must have threatened there notion of what women can do and where they can be.
Moving to Seattle provided its own challenges. For the first time I was riding up giant hills in the rain, initially a very intimidating task. (Denver is really flat and really sunny.) Luckily, I made a new friend who also shared a love of cycling and she showed me the ropes. She inspired me to keep riding up the big hills, even when its hard and my legs burned. Thanks to my feminist friendship I was able to overcome obstacles and continue to evolve. Now I am a lot stronger I have embraced the hills and I can enjoy the beauty of the Emerald City. I, like Susan B. Anthony, rejoice every time I see a woman on a bike on top a big hill or cruising along Burke Gilman.