Here’s a pretty common scenario – we are invited to an urbanist meet up or a group ride and I look around to find I’m one of just a handful of women in a sea of men. Each time I think to myself, where are all the ladies? I can’t be the only one who has an interest and passion for urban design and mobility, can I? And of course I’m not. If Facebook and Twitter have proved anything, there are tons of us sharing stories and opinions on social media, supporting each other from all over the globe. So then why do so few come out to events and activities that directly link to their passions?
It’s a dilemma I’ve been pondering since we were visited New Zealand last autumn. While travelling throughout the country, we had the opportunity to meet some pretty spectacular women, all passionate about multi-mobility, be it improved cycling, walking or public transit infrastructure. From the Frocks on Bikes, a national female-oriented advocacy group focused on promoting normalized cycling with a “show not tell” approach, to politicians like Celia Wade-Brown, Mayor of Wellington, and Julie Anne Genter, a member of the New Zealand House of Representatives with the role of transport spokeswoman for the Green Party. Both are working to move their cities and country away from car-dominated transportation. They were all inspiring women to meet, and I returned home emboldened by this passionate group of women and how they are impacting change in New Zealand.
After three months of being back in Canada, I’m finding it hard to find the same female-driven passion, at least in my circle of friends and acquaintances. It’s not to say their not out there, but we don’t seem to gather in the same way. One reason I came up with, drawing from experience, is that many of the women I know, the ones passionate about making change, also have much bigger responsibilities on their plates that require more time and dedication. Be it high pressure jobs, the hectic schedules that come along with having children, or a combination thereof, I know I even have a hard time juggling my time, and frankly, social meet ups are usually the first thing to go.
With that in mind, though, I sometimes think that I, and women in general, need to make more of an effort. But here’s the dilemma – as a woman, I really dislike being pandered to, or thought of as a special interest group. As much as I think a female-centred urbanist group is an excellent idea, allowing like-minded women to come together and share our ideas, stories and passions, there’s something about the fact that we need to gather separately from our male counterparts that really rubs me the wrong way.
Maybe it’s because I know that the only way to ensure that, regardless of gender, everyone’s needs are being met is to collaborate. Women offer unique and different ways of looking at problems facing urban designers, because we think about them differently. Even between Chris and I, two people that have been together for nearly two decades and discussing all sorts of issues and challenges, it is very common that I offer a new way of looking at things because of my experiences as a woman and a mother. What works for him, a thirty-something male, doesn’t always work for me, a thirty-something female who travels by foot and bike with our two children more regularly.
It’s daunting, I know. I’ve sat at a table with several men, myself the only woman, and felt out of place. Being amongst women encourages us to be more open with my opinions, and frequently it turns out we are all experiencing similar challenges. And while I dislike the idea of separate meet-ups in theory, there is a definite benefit to be gained, not the least of which would be discovering a powerful support network. Perhaps that’s why organizations like the Frocks on Bikes have been so successful – they are a collaborative effort by women who wanted to change the narrative, but recognized the best way to do it was to come together with their female counterparts to provide the support that can only come from those who understand the challenges we face. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’m willing to explore it if there are those out there interested in joining me. In the meantime, I will do my best to join that local group of mainly men, hoping that my mere presence encourages other ladies to join the conversation!
I left a comment directly on the Modacity post, but I thought Pricetags would be interested as well that in Vancouver participation in advocacy is getting past parity.
Here is an exerpt:
“The staff of HUB are 77% women, the board is also over 60% women. BEST also has a board representation just shy of 60% women. Pedal offers a women on wheels workshop through its Our Community Bikes space, to make bike mechanics less intimidating, admittedly bike shops are maybe the last bastion of male dominated cycling environments.
When you look at the city of Vancouver’s active transportation policy council, representation is also %50 women.”
There is certainly more work to be done, but I think that things have shifted in Vancouver already.
Perhaps representation of women in advocacy somewhat reflects bikeability of an area? In Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows our HUB committee only has one regular female member (myself). The (majority of) male advocates tend to be more of the strong and fearless variety. BAC members in past years have also been overwhelmingly males. As meetings/gatherings tend to take place in the evenings, it’s not surprising to me that women, especially moms, are unfortunately often under-represented. As are young people by the way. Which is also too bad, because many of them these days don’t want to or can’t afford to drive. With transit in our area often being sporadic or non-existent, cycling would give them a lot more freedom. Don’t they get it? I guess if you don’t grow up using your bike as a mode of transportation, it may be hard getting used to the idea.
When I started getting involved 7 years ago, I’d often sit there listening to the guys talking how they could “shave 30 seconds off their time by doing whatever…”, or they were lifting their bikes over barriers to get off a separated path, so they could get back into their element, biking with the cars, where they belonged. I remember the first assessment ride I went on with some BAC and HUB members. I told them I was going to be on the sidewalk along Lougheed Highway, but I had to abandon that idea pretty quick. I’m not sure what they were assessing, because we went so damn fast that I had no chance to see a thing. One of them was boasting afterwards that he was going 60 km/h downhill. I just about killed myself pedaling on my older, heavier no-name hybrid with large panniers and less than aerodynamic raingear, trying to keep up with them. We ended up at a restaurant, eating nachos and drinking beer and talking about keeping our momentum. Afterwards I was too relaxed, so I volunteered to take a different route home.
The conversations have changed over time, and so have our rides. Some of the guys even bring their wives along sometimes. But the wives don’t come to the meetings…
Not sure what the answer is. Better infrastructure for sure, that actually leads to somewhere. As you start seeing more women biking, on upright bikes, in normal clothes, more women will start to think, “oh, I can do that!” Once more women start getting out on their bikes, perhaps more will also show up at meetings/gatherings, talking about separated bike paths, livability, and all the good stuff that come with it.
Also, overwhelmingly white. There’s work to do on many fronts.
“Women offer unique and different ways of looking at problems facing urban designers, because we think about them differently.”
Or sometimes simply express the same needs much more overtly or in a different way. The needs of safe cycling infrastructure for children, acceptable designs (ie. lane approaches on hill ascents that aren’t too steep on bridges, etc.).
There are times where some male cyclists who are fathers, just don’t overtly and simply say “children”, instead of ie. cycling levels for everyone. And say “children” multiple times, instead of couching it in general terms.
And I am with my partner who is a long-time cycling advocate, father of 2 adult children and getting his grandsons on bikes..
On a separate matter: on women working in paid jobs on design of cycling infrastructure and programs funded by municipalities. There are probably some differences between this group of women how they must work (especially if their performance, project outcomes and deliverables are evaluated / benchmarked/reported to city council) vs. those in cycling advocacy groups.
Probably more women would join if (volunteer) cycling advocacy efforts were steered with clear vision, realistic outcomes, action strategy, business controls and timelines…. that is shared work effort.
I am a woman involved in national and local advocacy and I have to say I was very disappointed with this article, which seems to lay the blame for this problem on women, not a lack of inclusivity on the part of urbanism communities. I think it’s a worthwhile discussion to have but I think this is a feel-good perspective that ignores things like patriarchal structures, privilege, etc. and does little to really advance the issue.
Can you expand? It seems like you have some ideas.
Fat tires. Urbanism works best with small footy-prints, reduced consumption.
HUB on the North Shore (bikehub.ca) has at least 50% women volunteers. At one point we had almost entirely female meetings. It made me wonder the opposite, why are not more men volunteering? Census data shows that about three quarters of bike commuters on the North Shore are men, and yet more women volunteer. Which is great since it’s good to have a mix and different perspectives.
A greater challenge for volunteer driven organizations like HUB is to have better representation of different backgrounds, ages and income levels. Any ideas?
Just a theory here but it could be because for many men they don’t see a problem with the status quo or can’t imagine that it could be any different whereas women might be more interested in changing the situation and if they’re politically aware have already seen other societal change and so it can be a possibility to work for.
“When I started getting involved 7 years ago, I’d often sit there listening to the guys talking how they could “shave 30 seconds off their time by doing whatever…”, or they were lifting their bikes over barriers to get off a separated path, so they could get back into their element, biking with the cars, where they belonged. I remember the first assessment ride I went on with some BAC and HUB members. I told them I was going to be on the sidewalk along Lougheed Highway, but I had to abandon that idea pretty quick. I’m not sure what they were assessing, because we went so damn fast that I had no chance to see a thing. One of them was boasting afterwards that he was going 60 km/h downhill.”
Jackie, I had to laugh at this pathetic situation of some advocates at that time losing perspective for the purpose of this assessment ride.
Augustin- Jackie has given some great examples of what it means…
Earlier in the thread, Frocks on Bikes was mentioned. I had not heard of this group before. So I googled and looked through the website.
We have to distinguish between the purpose of “Frocks on Bikes”, a cycling advocacy group that appears (from the website), to encourage public events, rides to get more women cycling and to “normalize” cycling. (I seriously don’t consider cycling in high heels nor dresses as normalizing cycling experience. It’s just not practical for me as a cyclist around town.)
Cycling around collectively in streetwear for broadening cycling’s appeal for active transportation is different effort/advocacy than….sitting in group meetings with other cycling advocates on technical details for proposed cycling infrastructure or resolving existing problems in a local area or organizing a workshop/course on cycling skills. Or arguing about organizational bylaws, etc. It’s hrs. and hrs. of discussion, on minutiae or long term issues/problems….and at times, finally….reaching to concrete action and timelines to get stuff done. This can be a killer for volunteer cycling advocacy unless there are some people who rein in the perpetual talkers-no-action folks and ask for concrete action commitments.
Sorry, to be like this. It’s just reality of volunteer organizations and boards…no matter if it’s cycling or other issues.