When we created the Pushy Women program, we set out to have some fun, build a network of like-minded ladies, and create a space for women to just ‘be’ on a bike. We did it because we saw that the vast majority of the cycling industry, and its associated activity assumes that the natural state of riding a bike is ‘male’ (like pretty much every other sport in Australia) and carries with it the assumption that performance, competition and improvement matter.
Women’s participation, by default, is viewed through the prism of diminished, or at the very least separated, capacity, invariably requiring the gendered signifier “women’s cycling” to differentiate it from its natural (male) state.
In Pushy Women, we are creating a a space for women, also welcome to men, that does not expect us to get fit, improve our knowledge, extend our capabilities and by extension achieve acceptance within the cycling culture. Pushy Women accepts you just as you are, on your own terms, and will continue to accept you no matter where you take (or don’t take) your riding.
In doing all of this, we couldn’t have expected just how topical an issue women in cycling would become, because we didn’t anticipate (nay, dream) that a man privileged with power in the cycling community could confuse women with some of the pink painted products he keeps in boxes at the back of the store.
The actions of Total Rush Richmond in employing naked women as objects to be photographed alongside at tail end of a boozy soiree, sharply threw into focus the dire need for the status of women in the world of cycling to be re-evaluated.
We were outraged that after being called out for this blatant objectification of women, he could top it off by proudly declaring ‘fuck the feminists!’ in the same breath as boasting about how much money he made from sales to women in his store, albeit (and especially) in an email he considered limited to his supporters.
Quite rightly, the person in question was judged swiftly by the community and shamed into an apology by the founder and chair of the company that supports his retail operation, and everyone moved on, but the status quo remains the same. For a very long time, bike shops in Australia, and by extension, the bicycle culture they support, have been a hostile environment for women. Today, it’s rare to leave a bike shop feeling like a valued customer, and more critically, a powerful agent in the commercial transaction that just took place.
It’s no secret that the retail, competitive, recreational and commuter cycling environment is dominated by men. In these spheres, it’s common practice for emphasis to be placed on equipment and performance at the expense of the experience or outcomes of riding, leaving many women feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed by their perceived lack of knowledge. Bike shops are largely staffed by male cycling enthusiasts who struggle to view the experience of bike riding through the eyes of the uninitiated, and end up assuming a paternalistic attitude to women’s interest in bike riding.
Even some people who consider themselves enlightened, and work to support increased participation in bike riding (and believe me we’ve spoken to many), look at a woman riding a bike (especially in a dress or regular clothes) and think – too slow, accident waiting to happen, fair weather cyclist, not doing it right.
And we’ve had enough.
Through Pushy Women, and in support of the many other fantastic initiatives out there supporting women’s interest in riding, we are serious about changing the dialogue. We want to show women just how easy riding a bike is (seriously, children do it, and it takes about an hour to learn if you are ready). We want to re-connect women with the spirit of riding that is accessible to us all AS PEOPLE. Because the last time we looked, bicycles don’t have a gender. They are just a machine, and it’s up to the rider to decide where, how far and how fast they go.
Moreover, we want to inspire women to use a bicycle as a way of connecting with the independence, freedom and self determination that lies within them, and to find inspiration from other women who have done the same. So in the words of some of our 2013 Pushy Women hosts….
“It’s the agency that the bike gives you that is what I like most about riding. As a girl, I think cycling really connected me to the possibility that I could – and should – determine my own direction, and have the power at my disposal to go where I wanted to and see things for myself.” Van Badham
“I think bike riding gives you a confidence specific to being able to get on a bike and just go. So many people who don’t ride think that they can’t, or they’re afraid. So there’s a fearlessness to riding. I feel like I’m part of a long line of women who have bucked authority. Obviously now there’s nothing strange about a woman riding a bike; but it was a rebellious thing for women to do in the beginning. Being a part of that tradition is very satisfying.” Clementine Ford
“Riding a bike makes me so happy, and connects with my feminism so intuitively, that I wanted to share that excitement with people. When I first started riding, I found it really daunting. My bike is a cruiser, it’s like that because I like riding slowly everywhere. I’m super unfit, I ride in dresses, so I thought it would be cruisy, easy and won’t be difficult or pushing anyone’s physical fitness.” Karen Pickering