Cycle of oppression

In addition to me starting Couch to 5K (aside: not going great, level 3 appears to be cursed — not so much doing it, but arranging to do it. but I’ll get through), The Man and I have pulled out our (old, crappy, ill-fitting) bikes, bought a used trainer from Craigslist, and have started cycling. This is in part because running, due to his knees, is not something The Man is able to do; in part because it’s something we can bring the Boychick along for; in large part because parking at his downtown office costs upwards of $9 a day but would be an entirely bike-able commute (all downhill to get there! OK, so all uphill to get back, but that’s what buses with bike racks are for); and also because it’s just plain fun. And if it ain’t fun, I don’t do it.

Anyway, so I’ve been looking lustfully at bikes recently, because what we have are a couple of old bikes that are inappropriate to our purposes and ill-sized for either of us. Plus, I am a consumerist American: new hobby means new chances to buy buy BUY! So I’ve spent inordinate hours in the past week or so with my butt in a chair, eyes glued to an electronic screen, or driving a gas-guzzling pollution-pumping automobile all over town, with the excuse of researching a product designed to get me outside and active and reduce my impact on the environment. (Ah, life as a middle class “environmentalist” American!)

The things I’ve discovered while exploring the new-to-me world of cycling are sort of fascinating (for a certain value of “fascinating” approximately equal to “horrifying”). First, apparently laydeez need speshul bikes with slanted top bars for our voluminous skirts. You’d think teh menz would need the slanted bars so as to avoid massive testicular trauma, but nope, we get ‘em for our skirts. Also, and this probably goes without saying, we like “pretty” colors, like “powder green” and “robin’s egg blue”, and, of course, pink in all its mindnumbingly similar infinite varieties. And — this is a bit less familiar to yours truly — flowers under our rears. Here I thought the seat (in cycler parlance, the “saddle”) was for, y’know, sitting on. But apparently the appearance of something intended for our butts to sit on is highly important. Who knew?

Speaking of butts, the seats of “men’s” and “women’s” bikes are actually one area a difference in design sort of makes sense — if we ignore that some women have penises and testicles and some men have vulvas and wider spaced sit bones. Of course, some women have vulvas and narrow sit bones, some men penises and wider ones. Some people really don’t fit in any neat categories, whether gender or genitalia. But it would be entirely too easy unsexist confusing to just have a variety of saddles classified by size and features. Nope, they must be Men’s Saddles and Women’s Saddles, in case (patriarchal deity forbid!) we ever forget even for an instant that humans come in two distinct easily classifiable non-overlapping varieties, and never the twain shall meet (except under the covers, in the dark, for makin’ teh baybeez and pleasuring teh menz).

But what took the cake, what really pulled an impressive whole-bakery heist and set off a little Twitter storm in my corner of the Twitverse, was the selection of kids’ bikes at a local store. Go, gape at the overwhelming genderization on display for your delectation. It’s a treat (for a certain value of treat equaling “total shite”).

Note how all the bikes come in a Girl’s variety and a Boy’s variety (except for the Electra Hawaii 24″, which is just Pink, but I’m pretty sure by this point everyone knows Pink is patriarchy-speak for Girl’s). Note also, please, how the Boy’s bike (the Jet! because boys are fast, nudge nudge wink wink) comes in dark colors, predominantly black, styled like a motocross/dirt bike, conveniently decked out with fenders because of course boys play in the mud. The Girl’s bike (the Mystic, because women are so mysterious, I just can’t figure ‘em out with all those inside parts and inscrutable emotions!) comes in light colors, mostly pink, styled with pink flowers, with oh-so-practical white tires and plastic pompoms sticking out of the handle bars, and conveniently decked out with a white wicker basket because of course girls go shopping (thanks Kate for pointing that one out).

As Maria says: “whenever i see that kind of gender dichotomy in kids’ products i’m just like, “but where are the REGULAR ones?” gah.” Where are the regular ones indeed. (Silly Maria, don’t know you the regular ones are the Boy’sTM? We GirlsTM should be grateful they have anything for us at all, really.)

Even better, in-store (yes, I went to the store, though in my defense I let my toddler play in there for an hour and a half and didn’t buy anything) they have two toddler tricycles. You’ll never guess the colors. Go on, guess! Oh, you guessed pink and blue? Hm, I guess the patriarchy isn’t that inscrutable after all. Because genderization can never start too young. How will little boys and little girls know whether they’re little boys or little girls if they don’t have the right color tricycle?

I’m still jazzed about riding, and still suffering massive consumerist bike-lust. I’ll definitely be getting a saddle (yes, I’ve adopted the jargon!) “specially” designed for my speshul laydee parts (say it with me people: vulva. it’s a beautiful thing), because having my labia fall asleep while riding just isn’t fun and probably isn’t healthy either. I might even get the powder green drop-bar laydee bike (with the tiny rack in front, for my purse! instead of the big rack on the back of teh Men’s, for big important manly junk!), from the same manufacturer of the lovely kids’ bikes, because it’s comparatively cheap, meets my needs, and hey, the green is pretty. Really though, I could have done without the foray into Products of the Patriarchy just because I want something comfortable in which to ride around town and with which to reduce my personal pollution impact.

But hey, what’s life without a little rage at patriarchal idiocy getting the blood pumping through your veins now and then? Or now, and then, and always, and everywhere, and inevitably, and inescapably. Oops, there it goes again. I think I need a nice relaxing bike ride…

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22 Responses to Cycle of oppression

  1. Week three kicks my arse too. I’ve been stuck on it for the last couple of MONTHS. :oP

    I’d love to have a bike but I live in a terraced house, which means I have no access to my garden (the only place I could conceivably keep a bike) except, well, through the house, which would just be a pain in the arse.

    I have an exercise bike too, but I haven’t used it yet. We’re planning to swap bedrooms with Orion (he has the largest room in the house and he doesn’t use it at all!) and once we have I’m going to set the exercise bike up in the bedroom and pretend I’m on rolling hills. ;o)

    • And then exchange the exercise cycle for a trainer and a bike; you can just park the bike in the trainer! ;)

      Seriously, I know the suck of trying to keep a bike in tiny apartments or houses. It’s a real barrier.

      • Trainer? (feel silly but I have to ask as I have no idea what you mean!)

        • What, you mean you don’t read every single link I lovingly and painstakingly hand-select for your illumination?? Fah!

          ;)

          It’s a stand with resistance that you place a regular bike into that basically turns it into a stationary exercise bike.

  2. Last year I bought a cruiser bike, thank goodness it only came in off white (for both types) with a brown saddle. This year I bought my two year old a bike. I went with red and black with a spider design. She LOVED it, but it was the wrong size. So back to the store I went, and the only bike they had were purple or pink, so I chose purple. She HATED it. So back to the store for the red one, but now she is scared of bikes. I didn’t think purple and flowery would be THAT traumatizing.

  3. I’ve never understood the women’s bike-slanty bars thing. I am the kind of person who cycles every day wearing skirts, and I have one of each kind of bike (slanty frame and straight bar frame) and either way, I still flash all of London if I’m not wearing leggings. The only reason I can think of having a step-through frame for (aka women’s frame) is more stability when getting on and off when you’ve got kids on the back, which I guess women are supposed to do more than men.

    The size/gender things are nuts too. My very tiny trans partner can only ride ‘women’s bikes’ because ‘men’s’ don’t come to fit 4’11″ people. Zie was hard-pressed to find a racing bike that wasn’t tattooed with flowers, and zie works in a bike shop, so has access to more bikes than most people ever see. Yikes.

    There are some kids bikes that are non-gender-specific. Puky bikes do have some special pink ones, but most of them come in red, blue, etc., and all have the same shape frame/carrying racks. But they’re European. Go figure.

    • I thought the step-through frames were something else entirely? Step through, typical women’s. Although I will say most of the road-bikes (as opposed to the hybrids and cruisers I’m looking at) come in more “neutral” geometric paint jobs, and are harder to distinguish from the “men’s”.

      On the other end of the size spectrum, Trek, makers of the aforementioned kids’ bikes, advertises their “WSD” (“Women: Sales for Dummies”?) line as fabulous for “all sizes: 4’11″ to 5’8″!” I’m 5’10″. My grandmother was 6′. One of my women friends at massage school is 6’2″. I guess we’re not women according to them?

      Another bike shop we went to does have good neutral kids’ bikes, where the paint job only indicates the size, and we’ll likely get one for the Boychick from there. I was just dumbfounded at the sheer idiocy of the selection from a bike store I otherwise found quite reasonable.

  4. this is an interesting topic (as usual). My baby boy got his first shoes today, and of course they are kind of neutral colours, blues and browns. So fine, not much thought there. Wasn’t going to buy him any pink shoes because 1 – not as sturdy, 2 don’t have time for silly confusion, 3 am not interested in hearing family etc question me on it. Fine, for me that is, but when I have a girl I don’t think I want to put her in pink shoes either – is it me or are all the pink things just far less sturdy and hard wearing? won’t my girls play as rough and tough as the boys? and don’t get my started on the kids I see – the little boys are sensibly dressed for running and climbing, and the little girls, sorry to say, but are dressed like mini prostitutes, in clothes which you certainly can’t run or jump in.

    not sure where I’m going with this but I like the topic. sorry for rambling!

  5. My son has been asking me lately if he can wear a dress…. and where his dresses are? And can I buy him a pink dress? That’s because his little sister gets loads of compliments whenever we are out places and she’s in a dress. Being a mother is hard. Of course I want him to be happy and experiment. But I don’t want him to be made fun of by others. Plus, in society, typically only girls wear dresses and skirts. So it’s up to me to teach him that so that he’s not blindsided later. Anyway I did pick up a dress in his size at a garage sale but I haven’t given it to him yet. My daycare provider said that all the little boys have a phase when they want to wear the princess costumes (and she lets them, of course) but she didn’t think letting him wear a dress as clothing was a wise choice for me.

    • I must say dresses are one thing we don’t have for the Boychick. I have all kinds of justifications, from the fact that I don’t wear dresses, to being impractical when we were ECing (great for them peeing by themselves, sure, but bollocks at catching missed poos!), to not getting any hand-me-downs (and we really don’t buy any of his clothing, other than a shirt here or there). But the simple fact is we don’t have any, and that probably comes down to the kyriarchy and internalized sexism.

      But would I get him some if he wanted, tomorrow, in a year, in five years? Absolutely. Sure, dresses are exclusively gendered female in this culture, but 1) so?, 2) the world is the one needs to change, not my child, and 3) maybe it’s his way of playing or experimenting with gender, and I’m not about to stop that. I don’t think it’s up to me to teach him that he’ll get teased and therefore shouldn’t do it. If anything, I want to teach him the opposite: that if he wants it, he should do it in spite of the teasing (while at the same time acknowledging that “teasing” is bullying is harassment is violence and thus is completely unacceptable, and it’s OK if he doesn’t think it’s worth “putting up with” or working to oppose on any given day).

      Not really the same, but it reminds me of this: I have a clear memory of being 12 or so and raiding my mom’s jewelry box. There was one necklace in particular I liked, and “borrowed” to wear to school. She noticed, and said to me “You know, there are some people who might think that wearing that symbol means you’re a lesbian, and might be mean to you because of it.” I, having had no idea but not wanting to show that because I was 12, said “Yea, I know”, and wore it anyway (and wore it regularly for a year or two). She didn’t say “no, you can’t.” She didn’t try to figure out whether I was trying to say something with it (which, turns out, wouldn’t have been exactly wrong either). She just gave me the information in a neutral way, then let me go about my life; and she would have defended me and my right to wear it had anything come about.

      And yes, my kid is only 2.5, and when the dress conversation comes around will likely “only” be 3 or 4 or 5, but I fully intend to extend him the same courtesy: give him neutrally-worded information along with the opportunity to wear what he likes, not make a big deal out of it or assume it means more than he tells me it means, and defend him tooth and nail against (or comfort him after) any attacks. That’s my job as I see it, not hindering him so he doesn’t get hurt in the first place.

  6. I’m glad you wrote back since I was really curious what you think about my “dress dilemma”. My son is actually only 2.75 so he’s still very young. He has always been very picky about what he wears — the outfit has to “match” (socks, shorts, shirt). And he will ask for a different shirt if she doesn’t like the one I picked out. He also makes comments about my outfits, too. Then his little sister started wearing dresses after she could walk and all of sudden he wanted to wear a dress, too. So I bought one and then talked about it with my daycare provider because she generally gives me very good child-rearing advice.

    Anyway, on paper, I absolutely agree with your comment above and I love the way your Mom handled the necklace. Hopefully I can be like your Mom who sounds very cool! But what to do now when my son is still so young? Do I hang the dress I bought in his closet alongside his other clothes? Do I wait until he brings it up again?

    My heart says “Sure, let him wear a dress if he wants to” but then my brain says “How do I go about doing that, exactly??”

    Also in terms of the teasing, I agree — in principle. I am ready to support/defend. But in our exact scenario, he is only 2.75 and doesn’t really even know the word “teasing”…. so do I dress him in the dress, praise him “you look great!” then send him off to daycare where the other (older) boys might give him a hard time?

    And a note on the praise: after I brought this up with my daycare provider, she and I have both tried to give Elliott lots of praise for the outfits he does pick out. Also, she will just give me a little thumb’s up rather than gushing over a cute dress my daughter is wearing. That way my son is not feeling ‘left out’ of the outfit praise.

    Do you have anymore thoughts? Now that I have given more info?

    • I think you’re making it a wee bit more complicated than it needs to be. It’s just a piece of clothing. Tell him you bought it for him, or put it in his closet/dresser, or wait ’til he asks again. There’s not really a wrong answer there.

      If you really don’t want him wearing it at daycare, just tell him it’s clothing for at home or running errands or going to the park. If you’ve already introduced the idea of school clothes/other clothes, that should be really easy.

      And if he really wants to wear it to daycare, well, it’s up to you which matters more to you: allowing him his self expression, or protecting him from potential hurt. (I say that neutrally; both are worthy parenting goals.) Perhaps try letting him (if the adults caring for him are in your corner; what makes teasing/bullying/abuse truly traumatizing is when those in authority ignore the problem or side with the abusers, even subtly), and (without making a big deal out of it) bring a change of clothes in case there are problems.

  7. About the bike thing, I had a Trek hybrid bicycle and LOVED it. It was gray. It cost under $500 probably 8 years ago so no doubt a replacement would cost more. I talk about it in past tense as I crashed it into a car and gave it away thinking I would replace it with the insurance money (um, no).

    I bought a seat with gel for the butt bones and didn’t have any issues. Most likely I wasn’t disturbed by or tried to relieve any numbing that occurred.

    This bicycle-gender thing is rampant and frustrated me earlier this year when considering the option of getting my son a larger bike. He would probably love a batman bicycle and maybe my daughter would enjoy it too when it was handed down to her. But really, I would like a red or blue bicycle that both children can ride without all the commercialism or gender-based design. Just from a practical perspective.

  8. Oops, didn’t see your comment about Trek being stupid. Well, I’m not a lot of help. I’m 5′ 8″+, so I guess I’m still considered to be a woman. Lucky for me that I didn’t grow more.

    • Yes, well, I ended up with a Trek anyway. ;) And it does actually fit quite well, though it is their largest size.

      The seat is definitely more comfortable (and the fit is so much better, which is probably helping also), but I gotta say wearing cloth pads is not the best way to get comfy on a new bike!

  9. I’ve had my “men’s” mountain bike since my early teens, more than 15 years. It’s old and occasionally I look longingly at other people’s new shiny bikes, with soft wide seats and more gears and suspension. But my bike and I have been through so much together, I refuse to upgrade. It may not have been designed for my gender or body shape, but I’m just used to it. I’m a bit skeptical about all the new different bikes, gendered or not. Okay, so maybe they suit some people and their needs better, but most of it is just consumerism (sorry don’t mean to spoil the fun!)- “they” are trying to convince us we need a better bike, convince us the new is better than the old. Most bikes can serve us well, with a bit of TLC. (Of course I don’t know about you’re particular old bikes, Arwyn, just speaking generally!)
    On the issue of gendered kids bikes, this has been getting my blood pumping lately too. I recently visited a bike shop looking for a bike for Wren and was disgusted that the boy’s bike were all for little soldiers, camo-style. Wren was drawn to the bright girl’s bikes, with sparkles and tassels and baskets. I would have happily got him the girl’s bike, but we later opted for a cheaper, more ‘neutral’ bike from another store, brightly colored, with jellybeans on it, and – crucially – a basket.
    Anyway, yay for cycling!

  10. First time commenter, long-time reader and admirer here! Bikes are a subject near to my heart, so I could not help but chime in.

    Please consider getting an old 70s or 80s bike — heck, even a vintage 60s cruiser! The gendered paint jobs for bikes seem much less pervasive from bikes for that period, for one, and for two you don’t have to spend spend spend to get a great bike. You live in Portland, home of a zillion used bike shops. Check one of them out before you drop several hundred bucks on a revamp of an old classic that didn’t need revamping! For most people’s cycling needs, the beauty, stability, and downright coolness of a vintage bike can’t be beat.

    • It’s sort of horribly ironic that this was waiting in moderation queue while I was in the bike shop, and I found and approved it right after I’d bought a, ahem, new bike… *shuffles abashedly*

      To be fair, we did go to a couple new/used bike stores first, and didn’t find what I was looking for. But I’m now feeling slightly guilty I didn’t look harder.

      Though only a little, because after five bike stores in five neighbourhoods on both sides of the river over two days, with toddler in tow, I was pretty much done trying to keep the kid from killing himself or ruining the merchandise (or eating more than a few 234857 calorie “energy bars”).

      Plus, it’s awful pretty and comfy. *sheepish smile*

      (And also, welcome Zoe! And thanks for delurking and commenting. :) )

      • Hey, no shame in the new bikes, either, if that’s what fits your needs. It’s definitely more of a treasure hunt to get the perfect vintage bike. And some of the new Treks are really, really cute ^_^ Enjoy the land of great bike paths! I miss how easy it is to bike in Portland…

  11. Here in the UK, we have just got a trike for our little girl in, get this, NEUTRAL COLOURS!!!!! And in fact, I mostly see trikes in various neutral colours (though there are the super pink and super blue ones around). It’s almost as if parents, when actually given a choice, don’t want to genderize their children right from birth!

  12. Pingback: We knocked on the neighbour’s door « Raising My Boychick

  13. So I stumbled across this while I was googling for something else entirely, and it dovetailed so nicely with an article my friends and I were discussing on Facebook that I not only told them about your post, I feel compelled to share our article with you: Why I Bought Boys’ Underwear For My Daughter. It just seems like something you would like.

    And now I have the major task ahead of me of reading everything else you’ve ever posted on this blog, or at least the most interesting ones.

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