A View Askew

Where are feminists when you need them?

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2007

The feminist movement has secured women many important rights over the years: the right to vote, be independent, have educations, play sports and work the same soul-crushing, back-breaking, time-sucking jobs as men (gee, thanks Rosie the Riveter).

That’s nice and all, but what have feminists done for us lately?

I think they’ve gotten soft. Or possibly they’re too busy working their 80-hour-a-week high-powered jobs, cooking their own meals, raising their own kids, changing their own oil and squashing their own spiders to notice the most serious threat to women since high-heeled shoes were invented.

Specifically — bicycle frames.

Oh sure, laugh. Go ahead, I saw you. I also saw you pick your nose a minute ago, but we’ll ignore that for the moment.

I wasn’t even aware of this problem until this summer.

That’s because, until recently, I was the owner of a hand-me-down discount store Huffy “mountain” bike (I think the designer was from Kansas, because a 2 percent incline was all this bike was capable of handling).

It had wheels. They went ’round and ’round. There was a chain that (mostly) stayed on the bike. It had 21 gears, of which only four worked regularly. The biggest problem, though, was it was literally a big problem. As is usually the case with me and hand-me-downs, the hander was significantly taller than I am, so much so that riding the thing required full toe extension and made my arms feel like they were going to pop out of their sockets.

This summer I decided to get a new bike that fit me and had gears that weren’t merely for decoration.

But in my search I ran into an oddity, bikes with U-shaped frames instead of the straight-across or straight diagonal crossbar that I assumed all bikes had. They looked like something out of a transportation history book, somewhere after the horse and buggy and before mankind decided to either drive or stay home.

At first I thought they were a new style of men’s bikes. That would make sense, as guys are the gender that would most obviously benefit from a

crossbar that is not in the vicinity of the crotch region. But the pastel colors and flower motifs made it clear they were for women.

Since they were fancy, name-brand bikes, I thought there must be some scientific, aerodynamic reason behind the design, like the U somehow

better accommodates a woman’s body shape or proportions.

Nope.

“That’s from back when women had to wear skirts,” the salesperson said.

So there you have it. Sexist engineering.

And dangerous, at that. Why would a modern-day bicycle manufacturer propagate a design meant to accommodate unsafe usage of their product? Wearing a skirt when you bike is asking for a crash. The manufacturer might as well remove all reflectors, do away with the brakes and add cup holders so you can chug a few beers while you ride.

I realize that, back in the day, society hadn’t quite caught on to the idea that women were useful for more than just housekeeping, reading directions and procreation. There was a time when women were required to wear high necklines, vacant expressions and long skirts, and I suppose a bicycle design that accommodated that requirement was considered helpful to women.

But times have changed, or so I had thought. Yet there amongst all the modern advancements of fancy derailers, gel-padded seats, plastics and high-grade aluminum was a throwback to the late 1800s.

They might as well add extra shocks in the front to accommodate women’s always-pregnant stomachs, homing devices so our husbands or fathers (because we must, of course, be in the care of one or the other at all times) always know where we are, a cargo rack in the back to carry ingredients for the fresh from scratch meals that we are constantly lovingly preparing, and helmets with earplugs so our pretty little heads don’t get filled with notions of careers or voting.

And there I was without my bustle. Silly me.

I had a girly bike once. My parents got it for me when I graduated from the family’s communal training-wheel bike that everybody learned to ride on.

It had a straight frame, but was white and light purple with a banana seat (What ever happened to those? Now there’s some retro engineering worth preserving), a white plastic woven basket with flowers on it and snap-on reflectors that sparkled as they clattered up and down the spokes, probably inducing seizures in any dog I happened to ride by.

It even had white-and-purple plastic handlebar streamers — for a while, anyway. The right streamer and a good chunk of my right shin were scalped in an unfortunate navigational miscalculation involving a chain-link fence. The left fluttered bravely on, I think until I accidentally stepped on it one day while picking up the bike.

The point is that bike was girly by choice.

True, that choice was made under the diminished capacity of me being 5 and seriously into “My Little Pony” at the time, but it was still my decision, not one forced on me by gender-biased societal expectations.

My choice this time was to buy a men’s bike with a plain old straight frame.

It’s still a little too big so when I ride it I look and feel like I’m on one of those low-rider motorcycles where the handlebars are way over your head.

But that’s OK. In keeping with the tenants of feminism I’m willing to be uncomfortable and look ridiculous, as long as it’s through my doing and not a man’s.

I am not, however, willing to kill my own spiders.

There’s got to be some reason to keep men around.

Jenny Neyman is the city editor at the Clarion. She can be reached at jennifer.neyman@peninsulaclarion.com.



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