Anyone can, obviously, but this is about a specific example of a larger societal problem, here in the context of cycling.
In general, sometimes, when you are trying to help a situation improve, you wind up making it worse. Sometimes, when women illustrate that they are as good/smart/capable as men (sad as it is that this is sometimes necessary), the illustration misses the mark a bit.
Cycling is still very much a male dominated activity. The market reflects this with far more product pitched at men than women, however, this is changing. I would suggest that the reason this is changing is because more women are taking up the sport rather than more product being offered to them. There are also more women’s teams, more women’s races, more focus on marketing to women for both cycling products and events, more women specific cycling websites, and so on. This is all good. The more people cycling the better – I’m not at all concerned what gender you happen to be. The bike certainly doesn’t care. I’d be prepared to say that it’s probably more important to get more regular people of any gender on bikes as opposed to “cyclists” in their “lycra”, “clip-clopping all through our cafe’s and yelling “Clear!” at 6:30 in the morning”, than it is to get more of a specific gender involved. Cyclists need not to be seen as the “other”, which brightly coloured uniforms of lycra and helmet and funny shoes encourage. In any case, it’s good that one segment of the population (women) that was under-represented for whatever reason (profits, obviously) is now being catered to and actively encouraged by the industry, for whatever reason (profits, obviously).
Now to the point of this post, and to explain the title, which I’m sure many of you still have a frown upon your brow over. It’s a bit of a touchy subject, and a million times worse when coming from a male perspective, but I’ll try to explain as best I can why I think that sometimes, in arguing that women are equal to men, can actually be demonstrating the opposite. Just so I can work the title into the body of this post… one could say that women can be their own worst enemy when trying to even the playing field between men and women (here, in the world of cycling).
I’ve got one example here. That’s not exactly a litany of evidence in support of what I’m saying, but the video and the comments surrounding it represent what I’ve seen many times before in many different contexts. “Really? This advertisement, this article, this short film, made by and for women, is supposed to be in support of women taking up cycling? Are you sure it isn’t actually being more patronizing, sexist, and offensive than doing or saying nothing?”
There are many comments following the clip below on Vimeo that are along similar lines, but one that stuck out to me goes like this, from commenter Gesa Go:
when i build up my first bike years ago, i was so suprised, that i was able to do it. and how much fun it is. and it’s the right way, to show things like this. women are able to do this and it’s still necessary to show this, because there is still no equality for men and women. (sic)
There are other comments out there on the twatters and the fakebooks along the lines of how absolutely beautiful and wonderful this is, isn’t it amazing, look what she is able to do, and so on.
Putting together a single speed, provided you have a few of the correct tools and a small amount of knowledge, which is easily attainable, is not a complicated task. That a woman can do it is no remarkable thing. That it’s a wonderful and beautiful thing because a woman is doing it actually seems belittling of women to me. If a child put together a single speed, that would be pretty impressive, since they have less intelligence and mechanical aptitude than an adult. A woman, unless someone wants to correct me, has as much intelligence and potential to perform any task as well as a man. That the commenter was surprised she could do it, that it’s our moral responsibility to show that it can be done (by a women), and that this is because there is “no equality for men and women”, is going so far the other way from promoting equality that it’s bordering on ridiculous.
Yes, it’s good to encourage more women to take up cycling. It’s good to encourage women to tinker with and understand their bikes. It’s good for everyone. It’s not good to display a women performing a task that many individuals do day in and day out with very little notice.
I’m quite certain that the creator and star of the video don’t see it that way, and that one doesn’t have to see it that way, and that there is a rather more positive way to view the clip. The clip itself is nicely done, and quite cute, but the idea behind it is what I find a bit troubling.
You may note that this is made by a man. I don’t think this changes anything, as the star is his wife, who obviously gave the green light to the project, and much of the support for it is from women.
Am I alone on this? Anyone out there think I’m getting excited over nothing? Is it really amazing that a girl can build a bike?
As a final note, I’ll put forward that if you take this as saying that a woman can build a bike if she chooses, rather than a women is able to build a bike, then that’s something I can get behind, and would be appropriate for encouraging more women into cycling. As it stands, particularly taking into account the general response to the video, I hear the later, which is too bad.