Feminism is experiencing a resurgence these days. I’m a feminist and I think it’s great. So for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on being a woman and also riding my bike.
First, I love. love love love. That I live in a place, in a culture, in a family, in a time, where I can ride my bike, by myself, from Vancouver to L.A. Not only is it culturally permissible to travel on my bike, but my family and friends, as well as most of the strangers I met on the road, were so incredibly supportive of me riding my bike.
I was nervous when I started out. I took pepper spray with me–only to have it taken away at the Canadian border on day one. But as it turns out, I never missed it. I never felt threatened (by another person at least) on my trip. Yeah, maybe I just got lucky. But I think there’s more to it than that. There is a lot of good out there. The goodness often gets buried under a shit pile of media negativity. So I’ll say it again: There is a lot of good out there.
Now that’s not to say that I didn’t experience sexism in more subtle ways while on the road. For one, I got some annoying comments like: It’s so great to see a girl doing something as bold as this. Especially an attractive girl like you. Like, that was completely unnecessary. But I’m not too worried about it. *Just walk away*
I experienced occasional harassment from drivers. However, based on my experience and the experiences of other cyclists on the coast, male and female, I don’t think this was a gender-based harassment as much as a harassment of cyclists in general–which is just as unfortunate.
The most frustrating part of being a woman touring cyclist arose not when I traveled alone, but when I traveled as a perceived couple. In Big Sur, California, I met Sam from Portland and we rode together for five days to L.A. Once I started riding with Sam, people interacted with me in a completely different way. (I want to take a moment to say that Sam was a great travel companion. I don’t want the fact that he is associated with this negative experience to reflect poorly on him.)
When a stranger met Sam and me he/she would usually start a conversation with Sam first. The stranger would ask Sam where he started riding and where he was going. I expected the stranger to then ask me about my own trip. The stranger never did. The stranger assumed that my story was the same as Sam’s story.
I know what you all are thinking: you all think that we are a couple. Then you assume that this trip was Sam’s idea. You assume that he makes the plans. You assume that I’m just along for the ride. Am I right?
This became super aggravating to me. I combated it. When a stranger started asking Sam questions I would interrupt with my own answers: And I’m Anne. I’m from Kansas City and I started in Vancouver. In one of the few cases where the stranger approached me first, he said jokingly, Why are you carrying all of the weight? *cackle cackle* I responded curtly: Because. We. Are. NOT. Together.
As frustrating as this was to me, I cannot claim that I’m not guilty of the same kind of thoughtless assumptions about gender. Example: When I used to wait tables I caught myself tending to leave the check for the guy. I didn’t even think, I just did it. When someone pointed it out I was appalled at myself.
The point is, when we really get down to the subtleties of sexism it shouldn’t be a dialog about this is how men treat women and it needs to change. It needs to be a dialog about how people treat people. It’s about all of us. It’s about breaking down the way we were taught to think about things. It’s a daily battle to continuously stop and question the assumptions that we make about others. But that’s what it’s gonna take.
In the meantime, I’ll keep interrupting.