Cycling: Advice for Ladies

Helen Blackman

On edit 15/05/13: Sustrans have removed the original blogpost. They have put this up instead I can’t take credit for the removal, they were barracked on Twitter for the original post. Actually I wouldn’t take credit either. I would hope that they have understood why it caused offence.

Sustrans have some valuable advice for us girls, sorry ladies, er, no, what was the word now, so difficult to remember. Anyway, ladies, drawing on the wisdom of Sustrans, here is my advice to you before getting on a bike

What to wear:

Whatever the fuck you like. It’s a bike ride, not the Oscars. Or at least, that’s what you might think the advice would be. But no. Apparently this cycling malarkey is quite complicated for us women.

Just in case you were born in a bubble and have lived there ever since, Sustrans have the following news for…

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Feminism: the conversational turd

Have you ever dropped into conversation the fact that you’re a feminist? I have, and some people continue to react like you’ve dropped your trousers, squatted, and taken a crap in front of them. You get a raised eyebrow accompanied by embarrassment, as if you’ve said something indecent.

The crazy thing is, if you broached the conversation in a different way, and didn’t mention the dirty F-word, most rational adult people would probably agree with you. They would think it’s pretty reasonable that women want to be paid the same as men, that trafficking women to use as sex slaves might be a Bad Thing, and maybe a bit unpleasant for the girls involved. Genital mutilation? That’s maybe not a lot fun either, and since they’re your bits, maybe you should have a say in what happens to them.

Stop complaining!
Some colleagues of mine made the point recently that as a working woman in the UK, I don’t have a lot to complain about. I do know what they mean. The UK ranked 18 out of 135 countries in the 2012 Gender Gap Index. I had a free education, and unlike Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, no-one tried to shoot me when I went to school in the mornings. I live in a developed society where there aren’t rape-mobiles masquerading as legitimate forms of transport. I live in a country governed by laws that mean I could prosecute and seek redress if I were raped or sexually assaulted. I know all of that, and I’m genuinely thankful. But that doesn’t mean that feminism doesn’t have a place here.

Take gender inequality, and the following ire-inspiring research I discovered. A researcher at Yale University submitted 2 identical CVs for roles in science; the same qualifications, the same experience. One was male and the other female, and on average, the female was offered a lower starting salary – by $4000. Based on gender and NO other factors. Wouldn’t it be nice if people were paid based on their actual qualifications and experience, rather than their possession (or otherwise) of a penis?

Yes, I know that’s in America. But in the UK, that’s not a problem, right? Wrong. You don’t need to go all the way to the States to experience gender inequality – just toddle on down to your nearest Boots, where the science toys are stored under ‘boys’ and all the fluffy pink shit is left for the girls. You want a chemistry set? Sorry love, you look more a tea set kind of girl. Not for you.

Boots display of toys 'for boys' and 'for girls'

Then there’s sex. A fellow blogger spoke very eloquently how society views men who have lots of sexual experiences as players, while women are sluts. And there was the charming piece online (that I can’t now find) about how ‘nice girls are rarer than unicorns’. The gist was that we’re all to stay at home guarding our virginity, while the male writer has the freedom of unlimited sexual experiences. He’s joking, right? I’d love to think so, but sadly I think not.

Love sex, hate sexism

That brings me to the intimidating and sinister side of sex, and how women are treated in the UK. Passing over the incident where I was grabbed by the crotch in a club a few months back, last week I read that barrister Barbara Hewson proposed the age of consent be lowered to 13. I totally disagreed with her, as did many others. But here’s the creepy bit – people were tweeting this woman and threatening to rape her.

Let’s be clear, her suggestion was controversial and unpopular. But if a man had made it, would he have been subjected to that?

She’s not alone here – Rebecca Meredith, one of the Cambridge University students who objected to sexist comments made during a debate, received her own set of rape threats. Specifically, whether or not it would be preferable to rape her using a knife, or keep her as a sex slave. Because she and her fellow debater disagreed with some men. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s OK. And it’s just one reason why we still need feminism.

Page 3 – Denial & a big helping of arrogance

Hearing that the No More Page 3 campaign reached 100 000 signatures gave me a child-of-the- 80s flashback today. Who else remembers the Lager Lovelies? These were the women who appeared on the sides of Tennent’s lager cans, generally dressed in their bikinis. I had a look online, and it seems a lot of people look back on the ‘Lovelies’ with fondness – there are archives, online enthusiasts who collect the cans, all sorts.

Even so, Tennents decided to get shot of these images – decades ago.  My guess is they decided the public found them seedy and outdated – not really the feel-good associations you want for your brand. Or maybe they felt their product was good enough to stand alone without them. It was – Tennents didn’t go down the tubes because there wasn’t a sexy girl on the can.
The Sun though, that bastion of arrogance, has decided it knows better. This is the newspaper coy enough to asterisk the word ‘tit’ (t*t), but with no issues showing women’s actual, well, tits.  And they arrogantly refuse to recognise legitimate objections to them doing so – if you  protest, you are ‘elitist’. So says Rupert Murdoch. That would be the billionaire with all the Tory buddies, and his own evil empire and lair (OK, I made the last bit up. But it wouldn’t surprise me. All this guy needs is the Springfield power plant and his own Smithers to do his bidding. Or is that you, Dominic Mohan?)


Seriously, accusations of elitism from this priveliged, wealthy white man are hilarious. They’re also wide of the mark. Girls supporting the campaign have articulated how worthless they felt  growing up and being faced with Page 3. Parents have voiced concerns about its unsuitability in a family paper. Teachers have talked about how it contributes to sexual pressure on girls. 

Even the ex-editor of Loaded (formerly a cheerful purveyor of boobs to the masses)  has talked about how since becoming  a father, his views towards portraying women as sex objects has changed. Some people think Page 3 is creepy and embarrassing, the paper equivalent of a handsy old uncle. Others have simply pointed out that boobs are not news.
Contrary to what Dominic Mohan and Rupert Murdoch would like to believe, these are genuine concerns from a range of people. Ordinary people – not elitists. My own view is that it’s all about context; there’s a time and place for boobs, and it’s not a family newspaper. 
Here’s a thought. Why don’t Rupert, Dominic and his pals take a break from scoping out female flesh to exhibit and actually listen? Over 100000 of us have signed so far, and we are not going away.

Feminism, music, India, gin

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