Friday, April 25, 2014

The Next Wave

I am a Feminist.

It has taken a lot of thinking and riding and writing and talking and reading and researching to get here.  I'd like to share that journey with you.  Just like in real life, there's no way I could've arrived here without my bicycle.  Just like many Feminists use their art, or punk rock music, or protests to express and develop their idea of Feminism, the bike was my key.

Here's what happened.  The owner of a women-focused bike shop read a blog post mentioning my angst over Feminism and she called me out on it.  Or, rather, she e-mailed and asked if we could share our differing perspectives over a beer.  Just being invited to discuss a topic that I've been so conflicted about triggered a deliberate sorting out of my thoughts.  So, I was thankful to her before I even took a sip of my IPA.  When she told me she opened her business as an expression of her Feminism, I was humbled and inspired.

The same week, I was interviewed on the Sprocket Podcast.  The host surprised me when he asked about that same blog post, The Pink Conversation, which was one of the toughest entries I've ever written.  Suddenly I had to scramble to try and articulate my feelings on this turmoil-coated topic.

What I discovered is that my past distaste at Feminism has its root in my distaste as being pigeon-holed as a female.  Much of the Feminism I've been exposed to first-hand works by separating women from men.  I don't find this empowering - quite the reverse.  What does make me feel empowered is my bike.  When I started comparing my exposure to Feminism-empowerment and bike-empowerment, it all started to come clear.

I get especially ruffled when I am referred to as a female cyclist.  I am a cyclist.  I am certainly a woman, but I am also white and no one calls me a white cyclist.  I get pretty pissed off when any accomplishment I am proud of is reduced to my gender.  I nearly cried when I saw (f) after my hard-earned R12 status.  The men didn't have (m) after their names.  These types of events and the reactions I had to them caused me to disown my gender, and Feminism along with it.

I experience a feeling of pure power as a cyclist, and I'm not just talking about the emotional and physical part.  I'm talking about "owning" my part of the road, including standing up to motorists or other road users who don't share properly.  No one told me how to do that.  No particular book or movie or inspirational friend gave me the nerve or know-how to take what is mine.  It just came naturally, instinctually, to me. 
Feminism did not come to me so organically, or easily.  It's required an unbelievable amount of internal processing.  As a kid, I felt sheepishly proud to consider myself my dad's "son".  Of being a bloody-kneed tom-girl in a taffeta dress.  Even today, most of my best friends and riding buddies and drinking pals are guys.  I'm often the only chick present, and usually unaware of it.  I'm just one of the boys.

The main thing I've discovered about Feminism is that although the definition is "seeking equal rights for women", there's no one right way to do it.  We each get to define or redefine just how to be a Feminist, and how to best use our Feminism to spread power.  What this means is that Feminists who use gender segregation don't have it wrong.  It's their way and it works for them.  And it doesn't mean I'm a giant hypocrite if I join in with women-only events, taking what I want from them, and sharing what I want too.   

It's funny, it's been right in front of me all along.  Just like my relationship with bicycling - instead of looking to my peers for the "right way", I define my own "right way" and live it and share it.  Just like my apathy about what motorists think of my cycling, I don't have to model my Feminist behaviors around someone else's definition of what's right.

I will open my mind and join any and all groups proclaiming themselves as Feminists to try them on for size.  Most recently, I joined the Women's Bike Swarm.  These young revolutionary chicks are tough and empowered and way ahead of me in their expression of Feminism. 

My first act as a newly minted Feminist is to post this blog.  My second act is to proclaim that I'd like to stop using (and hearing) the term male-dominated, especially when it comes to describing cycling demographics and the bike industry.  That implies superiority when it's meant to describe majority. I propose male-majority instead.

Just like a newbie cyclist, I'm probably going to make a lot of mistakes while I learn about my new status as Feminist and how to express it.  I may cuff my left pant leg instead of my right.  I may wear underwear under my chammy.  I may overlap wheels.  But I'll pedal ahead anyway and be proud of my rookie mark.

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