Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Pink Conversation


The plumb bob swings left, then right.  Back, then forth. Up and over like a swing on a dare until it comes around the other side.  You go as fast and hard as you can without mishap.  You stay safely in town on a mixte in your favorite pleated plaid skirt and Speedy Bike Club t-shirt, only to take a tumble, go down, eat pavement, take a header, end-o, eat shit, and so forth.  Round and round she goes.  Where she stops, I know!

My opinions are politically incorrect, or maybe they're impolitically correct, does it matter?  Maybe a good knock on the noggin was just what I needed to clear my head. Because I'm finally coming around to recognize my favor for the male gender may be related to some complication in my mind relating to my own gender on an even playing field.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm happy to be a female.  I'm just confused by the complicatedness of feminism and my guilt for not being a proper feminist.   So it seems easier to relate to, and ride with, men. Right or wrong, it's the truth.

Long ago, so long ago, I took a Women's Literature class at Michigan State University and loved it.  I enjoy the female voice, written, spoken and in song, but the heated discussions in class baffled me.  I prepared to be baffled once more when a girlfriend, a self-described feminist, casually announced it was time we had "the pink conversation".  I was afraid I might be forced to expose my "bad" opinions, but instead was surprised we agreed about pink.  I've always known it, but didn't know others did too.  You see, there's a certain guilt in loving and wearing, and appointing your bicycle, with pink, especially as a so-called empowered woman who aims to avoid being pigeon-holed.  I get it!  I love pink but I don't want to be perceived as some stereotype of a girly girl frolicking in the daisies.  Whatever that means.

If I hear of an all ladies ride, I run for the hills - in the opposite direction.  And I do hear of female-only events, races, rides, parties, bike shops.  You name it.  My book club, the Literary Velocipedas, is all women, accidentally but successfully.  My network group, the Portland Society, is also all women, and is, just this week, opening some of their events to the other half of the population. These ladies model proper behavior for me and I try to learn and adapt.

However, the idea of a bike shop catering to women which offers frilly cruiser bikes, flowery bags, bows for helmets and free cookies makes me see red.  Not pink, red.  But why? I ask myself.  Isn't it important to me as a cyclist that there are more cyclists?  And I'm a woman, so naturally, wouldn't I want to nurture new female riders?
At a campout this summer with a group of friends and acquaintances, I made the mistake of openly expressing opinions about just such a shop.  It was as if I had outed myself as some sort of lady-hater, which, even worse, means I'm a self-hater.  My perception is that this type of business model implies that women have special needs, that we are weak and therefore need coddling, extra attention and for everyone to be super nice to us at all times, lest we break into tears or some sort of hysterical attack.  Ironically, I was shot down quickly, which resulted in me breaking down in hysterical tears. 

The suggestion made by one man at the campfire that bike mechanics receive special instructions to be nice to women ruffled the hell out of me.  The mechanics I work with, sweethearts all, are nice to nice people and nice to jerky people and occasionally jerky to real big jerks.  Sure, it's their job to be pleasant to customers, but a class in being pleasant to females specifically? 

Then there was the young girl on the tour who'd ridden her knobby-tired mountain bike with a helmet strapped to the handlebars.  Her fireside demand was for more women-specific helmets.  I had listened to this gal's earlier preach, that, in her six months of cycling experience, she had learned that helmets are unnecessary and actually dangerous.  When asked why she brought one, she replied she thought we might have to ride on the freeway.  Of course, being mowed down by a semi truck going 70 mph is probably one of the times a bike helmet would prove useless.  My helmet, a unisex size medium with white and pink stripes on it, saved my bacon on my recent little crash and burn.  Instead of death or a vegetative state, I received a mere concussion and black eye. 

Meanwhile, back at camp, I'm leaving the campfire in the dark and headed back to my tent to be alone with my wrong opinions and bad thoughts.  A good friend followed me back to my campsite and challenged, or rather invited, me to talk out my point of view with her.  What I learned that night, and what I'm continuing to learn, is that these feelings come from a place of privilege. 

No mechanic has condescended to me at a bike shop.  I've always managed to make good pay and successfully grab the right career opportunities.  If I've ever been denied anything due to my gender, I'm oblivious to it.  Just the opposite, I feel my way has been paved more smoothly because I'm a chick.  Whether or not these experiences are deserved or not, they are a result of the privileged life I've led.  A privileged life many before me have fought for.  Suffragists and the sort. 

So what do I do with these new epiphanies?  Well, the only thing I really know how to do.  I ride my bike and think.  I think and ride my bike.  I learn to be grateful for my privilege.  Grateful for friends who encourage me to speak my mind.  Although it may be unpopular, maybe because of that, I must express these thoughts, here in the safety of the bicycle kitty blog, and let the chips fall. 

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