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Your bike is never going to be a car, but you can pretend.
July 8, 2014 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Ride like a girl. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a woman? Go get your bike. All set? Great. Go ride to work. Ride everywhere. [...] No matter where you are, you know that the cars around you could really mess you up if something went wrong. Welcome to being vulnerable to the people around you. Welcome to being the exception, not the rule. Welcome to not being in charge.
posted by Memo (116 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why Bikes Make Smart People Say Dumb Things - "An NPR journalist’s fumbled tweet exposes a hole in the debate about urban cycling"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:41 AM on July 8, 2014 [19 favorites]


As both a bicycle commuter and a lady, I have to say that I never, ever thought of the analogy before. And it kinda blew my mind a bit.
posted by knownassociate at 10:42 AM on July 8, 2014 [41 favorites]


I like that.
posted by sweetkid at 10:44 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Interesting analogy. Explaining "here is how it is for me as a cyclist" can be remarkably similar to explaining "here is how it is for me as a woman."
posted by asperity at 10:46 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is this where I tell the stories of how my white male privileged ass terrified two thoughtless cabbies on separate occasions? If I'm a woman on a bike, I'm more of a Strong Female Character on a bike, and without trying very hard.

The analogy suggested here breaks down fast.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:49 AM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]



Is this where I tell the stories of how my white male privileged ass terrified two thoughtless cabbies on separate occasions? If I'm a woman on a bike, I'm more of a Strong Female Character on a bike, and without trying very hard.


I don't understand this comment at all. Strong Female Character?
posted by sweetkid at 10:52 AM on July 8, 2014 [18 favorites]


I think about this all the time. I am about as privileged as a straight, white, well-educated male can be and consider my bike commute into work a glance at what life is like as someone using a system that is is not built for them and, occasionally, is actively working against them.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:52 AM on July 8, 2014 [25 favorites]


Bicycling is definitely not coded as ultramasculine, and the article is correct about the vulnerability. I don't think it's an analogy that can be pushed too much further (such as: if a man on a bike is like a woman, what is a woman on a bike?) but maybe that initial point is sufficient.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:53 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I read a post with a similar theme lately--a guy who had started biking to work asked why people were harassing him. Yelling at him, honking at him, trying to surprise or scare him as they passed. "Welcome to the club" was the general response from women in the thread.
posted by chaiminda at 10:54 AM on July 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


Nice article. It presents an analogy without much detailed explanation; it allows the reader to fill in the blanks from his or her experiences.
posted by kozad at 10:56 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I like this a lot! Also trans women are cultural unicyclists, confirmed.
posted by emmtee at 10:57 AM on July 8, 2014 [18 favorites]


This resonates with me. (I've also commented before that the "cyclists are scofflaws so we won't give them bike lanes" sounds like a tone argument.)
posted by misskaz at 10:59 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


huh. I wonder if there's a correlation with high gender equality being bike-friendly. Something something empathy perhaps?
posted by rebent at 11:01 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


The analogy suggested here breaks down fast.

Analogies that don't break down are called "the exact same thing."

The point of an analogy is to explain something unfamiliar to someone using a model of something that is familiar. They're never perfect analogs, and a hostile audience will always try to find the breakdowns, rather than using them as they're intended, as a teaching tool.

For men who are actually trying to understand and relate, the analogy can be a useful one.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:03 AM on July 8, 2014 [104 favorites]


Other people can hurt you and not be held accountable for their actions.

Having woken by the voice of an EMT in the emergency room I now have a biking mantra along the lines of "focus on the now, focus on traffic totally". When biking in urban traffic I don't care one whit about accountability, I just don't want to be bumped. It hurts really really bad, for a long long time. (I was really lucky, it still hurt) and I really want to avoid worse.

I try to be a super alert bike ninja, no matter who comes at me, I'll not be there. Well I have blinkers and reflectors and a bright orange windbreaker, but pragmatically bikes are invisible.

So, kinda lame article, the second link is better. I'd really hate to bash into an old lady on my bike but if for some rhetorical cosmic choice it was between that and smashing her to smithereens in a car, bike is a less worse option.
posted by sammyo at 11:04 AM on July 8, 2014


this is brilliant, Memo, thank you.

I spent much of my young adulthood as a rough-and-tumble female geek, inner-city resident and bicycle racer (25 years ago in my racing region, they often didn't separate out women's fields, so I devoted much of my early career to learning how to throw headbutts and elbows at the dudes) and I fully admit that this really tends to blind me to my own internal misogyny - I mean sure I've been harrassed and catcalled and dismissed and bullied and trolled online, and I still collect more than (I think) my fair share of abuse for being outspokenly female on places like reddit and MTBR. The guys I raced with learned early on that despite being small and female I was not an easy mark to steal a wheel from in criteriums (but there again, I constantly had to be reinforcing the lesson and could never let my guard down, sigh). And I believe the end result is that it all has made me a bit cynical, judgmental and lacking in empathy for my fellow female survivors.

I always think "well I managed to survive all this and I'm not special, so surely anyone can handle it" when the reality is that neither cycling nor online forums, nor sadly public transit are welcoming environments to be female in.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:04 AM on July 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


Dip Flash, if a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle, then a woman on a bike is... um, a ... man... with a fish! Yep. /carries the two, divides by aquarium... Yep, it works out.
posted by Ambient Echo at 11:06 AM on July 8, 2014 [26 favorites]


I also had thoughts like this during my bike commute while dealing with some micro-aggression-heavy times at work; sometimes biking just felt like too much damn work to claim my space on the road when I was metaphorically doing the same thing all day.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:06 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think about this all the time. I am about as privileged as a straight, white, well-educated male can be and consider my bike commute into work a glance at what life is like as someone using a system that is is not built for them and, occasionally, is actively working against them.

Which I think is why being a woman (which I am) who commutes to work all year (which I do) is so appealing. It really is nice to be intentionally using a system not built for me, which actively tries to work against me--or even tries to harm me. It's so tiring to be constantly othered and diminished and reminded that I'm a little lady who thinks she can be a lawyer but when I do it on purpose--ride my bike in traffic--it's almost relaxing because at least I chose this vulnerability. At least I chose to have this stacked against me.

I mean, it's just a metaphor. Of course it breaks down, but it resonates, too.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:06 AM on July 8, 2014 [35 favorites]


I'm glad it will probably help someone understand something, but the thought that they can't understand without it makes me a bit sad and eye-rolly, frankly. A little like the "trip to holland" email looks to me as a disabled person.
posted by geeklizzard at 11:06 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think i may be too experienced at cycling in traffic for this to work. Cycling doesn't have me feeling vulnerable or second class or living in fear. It does involve being more alert and ahead of things than others, but that feels good rather than oppressive. There are unrelated ways I'm treated second-class, but they're obvious and unremarkable.
posted by anonymisc at 11:08 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm glad it will probably help someone understand something, but the thought that they can't understand without it makes me a bit sad and eye-rolly, frankly.

You can't empathize with people who don't have empathy? There must be a word for that...
posted by Etrigan at 11:08 AM on July 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


It's so tiring to be constantly othered and diminished and reminded that I'm a little lady who thinks she can be a lawyer but when I do it on purpose--ride my bike in traffic--it's almost relaxing because at least I chose this vulnerability. At least I chose to have this stacked against me.

Right on. I am very lucky that I can get off my bike whenever I want and strap my backpack of privilege back on.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:10 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Crush-onastick makes a good point - I might well feel very differently if the element of choice was removed.
posted by anonymisc at 11:10 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


anonymisc, I get what you're saying, but no - from someone who's both female and a very highly experienced cyclist in traffic (former bike messenger, current bike racer, etc.) the central lesson about vulnerability is actually spot-on.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:11 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Opening citation from the sad and hilarious article Hasids vs. Hipsters:
The figure of the woman assumes its most seductive aspect as a cyclist. . . . In the clothing of cyclists the sporting expression still wrestles with the inherited pattern of elegance, and the fruit of this struggle is the grim sadistic touch which made this ideal image of elegance so incomparably provocative to the male world.
—Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project
posted by mbrock at 11:11 AM on July 8, 2014


I think i may be too experienced at cycling in traffic for this to work. Cycling doesn't have me feeling vulnerable or second class or living in fear. It does involve being more alert and ahead of things than others, but that feels good rather than oppressive. There are unrelated ways I'm treated second-class, but they're obvious and unremarkable.

It would be interesting to know where you're cycling, too. Because just like no two women have the exact same experiences, I'd imagine no two cyclists, and especially no two cyclists in different cities, have the exact same experiences either.

(I'd hazard a guess that places where truck drivers routinely smoke cyclists off the road, are also places where it extra-special sucks to be a woman. But probably that's oversimplifying).
posted by like_a_friend at 11:14 AM on July 8, 2014


The analogy suggested here breaks down fast.

Day to day, relatively few men will find themselves in a position where they can be hurt or killed - either accidentally, through negligence, or entirely on purpose - and have their injury or death be their fault, and have the authorities automatically assume their aggressor is faultless and blameless.

Cycling is one such place. You're unlikely to get so much as a traffic ticket for killing a cyclist in most cities in North America, even if you run them over on purpose, provided you stick around to tell the cops you didn't mean to do that. Look up "no criminality suspected" sometime, if you want to dig into it.

You were a cyclist so, obviously, you were asking for it.

Sure, the analogy isn't perfect. But it'll do.
posted by mhoye at 11:18 AM on July 8, 2014 [26 favorites]


Given the amount of contentious arguing in bike threads, using that as an analogy doesn't really seem to simplify the issue.
posted by smackfu at 11:20 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was a NYC bike messenger for five years or so. It was a long time ago, but so far as I can recall, most people simply did not care whether you lived or died. They would hit you out of sheer carelessness because they could not be bothered to see you.

I know nothing of most women, but it seems to me that when I am a problem to women on the street, it is not that I cannot be bothered to see them, but that I look at them with too much uninvited interest. I see them beginning to look uncomfortable, and drop my gaze. If I am in any way representative of the problem facing most women, it is a problem of too much of the wrong kind of attention from the large, dangerous objects, not too little.

For this reason, I think that this is a poor analogy.
posted by ckridge at 11:20 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


#imperfectanalogy is going to be the next thing, isn't it.
posted by Etrigan at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Like-a-friend: Various countries, both left side and right side. Currently suburban outlying-city California. Compared to many places I've lived, the drivers here are really nice to cyclists, like we're an exotic species, but use of signals is even worse than elsewhere, and that's even though there isn't any "elsewhere" where signals are reliable :-)
posted by anonymisc at 11:23 AM on July 8, 2014


Welcome to not being in charge.
I must be an outlier, because I've not felt like I wasn't in charge since I was in junior high. I'm an old woman. Being not young is more of a challenge than being female.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:24 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is a neat essay. It actually ties back in nicely with with urban design/active transportation theory, since if you talk to urban cycling advocates they'll tell you that when a city has lots of women cycling it means they're doing something right with infrastructure. In other words, MAMIL's will do as they do, but women on bikes are a good indicator of a healthy urban space.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:26 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Like-a-friend: Various countries, both left side and right side. Currently suburban outlying-city California. Compared to many places I've lived, the drivers are really nice to cyclists, but use of signals is even worse than elsewhere, and there isn't any "elsewhere" where signals are reliable :-)

This is, like the link in the post, such an alarmingly accurate analogy to my experiences as a woman that I'm unsure what even to say. Where I'm living right now is overall a much kinder place than many places I have previously lived, and yet, in a couple specific ways it is so much less kind, and yet again, I don't really hold out hope of finding better, elsewhere.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:27 AM on July 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


Thinking harder, I've definitely have those days where you have to save yourself from death three times in 30 minutes like there's crazy in the air, and you're an adrenaline wreck by the time you get home. That seems very much like a bad day dodging insane street harassers.
posted by anonymisc at 11:34 AM on July 8, 2014


Hah, I got knocked off my bike this morning. When I mentioned it to people at work, a bunch of them asked if I'd been cycling dangerously (I wasn't), and implied it must have been my fault, before asking if I was okay (I was). So yeah, I enjoy this analogy.
posted by Ned G at 11:35 AM on July 8, 2014 [34 favorites]


I think this is an ok analogy, but

1. I can soooooo see it being used by the worst neckbeard dudebros flipping it to go "see, men understand the experience we get othered too! Blablapoopfart"

2. Good analogies work a lot deeper than this. Teach a man to fish type stuff doesn't break down as soon as you push on the sides a little bit.

Someone could have easily built nearly as strong of an argument for like, "wanna know what it was like to be a black person in the 1940s? Ride a bike. Someone could run you over with their car, kill you, and only pay a small traffic fine or even just walk".

I don't know, it's cute, and I'm happy if it makes some people go "woah, mind blown" and maybe get it even just a little. But the dorm room philosopher weaknesses of it like that kinda just kill it for me.

I mean yea, I've felt completely marginalized as a cyclist before. But the thing is, barring some stuff like "rich guy runs me over and kills me and doesn't even go to jail" I'm still a 6'2 man. And when I yell at people being stupid, they at least listen. Even if they end up telling me to fuck myself and moving on.

There's a difference between being othered and surrendering you're privilege. This is like saying "wanna know what it's like to be a minority race? What that "can I touch your hair" shit is like? Go to japan, where everyone will point and stare and wanna take pictures of you and generally treat you weird". There's no surrendering of real racial privilege, just an exchange of some other ones.

Basically, I'm worried a bunch of people are going to take this the wrong way and think they get it way more than they do. It's dangerous in the way most false knowledge/confidence is, like that time period when you've had a motorcycle for a couple months where you're most likely to crash.
posted by emptythought at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Our own Matthew Baldwin made this point some years ago. My wife didn't get it, but I was a bike commuter in all the other groups he cited and could explain it. When you're normative and privileged pretty much everywhere else, finding a context in which you're non-normative and marginalized is really striking.

Naturally, it would be stupid to suggest that cis straight white male bike commuters thus learn what it's like to experience the other profound, toxic, damaging bigotries that pervade our culture and that you can't escape by stepping off your bike. But while all the -isms are different from each other in degree and kind, it's also the case that the mechanics of other-ing have some things in common. If you're not getting direct experience with being non-normative elsewhere, getting that experience somewhere offers an important object lesson.

And a lot of people decline that offer.
posted by Zed at 11:41 AM on July 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


oh my gooodddddd i just tweeted this from our bike gang's account and someone responded "but men get hit on bikes too."

way to miss the point, dude.
posted by misskaz at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2014 [39 favorites]


I've commuted for years, though much less now, endurance-trained and bike-tripped a few times. I've logged hours in city and country, on closed roads and heavy traffic. I've worn lycra for days at a time.

I've never felt powerless or out of control, but cyclists have to be intensely aware of their vulnerability at all times. You have to drive defensively on a bike. A common piece of advice to new cyclists is "remember that you're invisible," meaning that few drivers will consider that you are on the road when deciding to turn or swerve or stop.

The other thing not mentioned in the article is that biking does bring out the worst kind of behaviours in some drivers. Everyone I know who cycles longer distances, who wear lycra regularly, have stories of yahoos catcalling them from cars, of having dogs sicked on them, of having items thrown at them from vehicles. Longer rides seem to invite this kind of abuse, particularly on rural roads when no other drivers can see.

So maybe there isn't a perfect matchup of analogies, but I will say this: experience as a cyclist has made me a better, more patient driver, not just around cyclists, but around other cars too.

The best cure for road rage, IMO, is your first century.
posted by bonehead at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2014


My (limited) experiences bicycling in a city definitely exposed me to people who feel entitled to flagrantly impose themselves all over you - the guys in the SUV veering dangerously in your direction and honking at you for kicks - the guy who's blatantly jogging in the bike lane for some reason, and gets angry when you politely ask him not to - the bewildering aggression of people who feel put upon by your very existence - maybe even locking up your bike in increasingly convoluted ways and still feeling like it won't help all that much - the analogy might not be perfect but it definitely resonates in more than a few ways.
posted by naju at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


As a motorcycle rider and previous city bicycle rider I like to chew on the similarities and differences in cultural assumptions about them. With motorcycles the assumption is that you're being irresponsible toward yourself for the most part; with bicycles you're seen as being irresponsible towards others.

"The devil you know" argument from the man of twists and turns' link at the top of the thread covers both, I think. When I was first riding the motorcycle and interacting with people hostile toward it it was a good time to reflect on how the risks of automobile driving are completely internalized and thus ignored.
posted by MillMan at 11:52 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


And could it be said that anti-bike sentiment is not unlike misogyny in that both are rooted in mommy issues and fear of rejection?
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2014


Kind of hilarious to see guys saying, "Actually that's not a very good analogy for what it feels like to be a woman."
posted by straight at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2014 [88 favorites]


And could it be said that anti-bike sentiment is not unlike misogyny in that both are rooted in mommy issues and fear of rejection?

Also, the high joint probability of owning a peeing Calvin decal.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:56 AM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Bikesplaining
posted by neroli at 11:56 AM on July 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


FWIW, I agree with Scott Simon.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:59 AM on July 8, 2014


Kind of hilarious to see guys saying, "Actually that's not a very good analogy for what it feels like to be a woman."

You might want to consider that this is better than the alternative of "Really? That's what it feels like? Well then the status quo is ok and women are just being whiney"
posted by anonymisc at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I used to be a cyclist, but now that I am a father without life insurance (for the moment) I don't like the risk of riding in traffic. But as a pedestrian I really must say that shit flows downhill. Cars are at best threatening to cyclists, and cyclists typically are at best typically rude towards pedestrians.

As a former cyclist I can guess why: all that fight-or-flight going on, plus boosted hormone levels of whatever thanks to increased cardio activity.

I remember once shepherding a Japanese trade delegation on a Vancouver sidewalk. We were at Great Northern Way campus, walking towards the Skytrain station. I guess we were walking in the bike lane, which essentially shares spaces with the sidewalk. None of us were from Vancouver and were therefore unaware of the bike lane or the etiquette. And some cyclists - middle-aged commuters in spandex - swore and cursed at us. Same thing happens here in Victoria on the Lochside Trail, where cyclists will swear and curse at my children.

I'm not blaming cyclists - it's a mixture of hormones, fight-or-flight response, and the fact that they have to share space with pedestrians. The solution is more dedicated bike lanes.

At least if a cyclist hits you you are unlikely to die. You may be severely hurt, but you won't die. If a car hits you crossing in the crosswalk, well...
posted by KokuRyu at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Kind of hilarious to see guys saying, "Actually that's not a very good analogy for what it feels like to be a woman.""
posted by straight at 11:54 AM on July 8

Enough with the lazy ad hominems, already. If you think it's a good metaphor, please explain why. Help us understand. Explain, with words. Connect ideas.

Don't blithely write off half of humanity's thoughts as meritless, simply because of who thought them. There is such a thing as empathy, and humans do have some capacity to understand others' situations. Some might say that is exactly what this analogy hopes to further!

I'm on the fence about the usefulness of the analogy, myself (not that you seem to care what I think). I would like to discuss how useful it is. That could be interesting and insightful. I welcome you to join us in that endeavour.
posted by the thing about it at 12:08 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Biking amongst automobiles is akin to swimming amongst sharks which is akin to being a woman in a status quo environment.

Great article. Thank you!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 12:08 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The article resonated with me, as a lady and a cyclist, but I have some concerns (sort of related to emptythought's) about how effective it's likely to be as a mind-changer. In particular, I'd note that women tend to be less likely to bike than men since it's a risky behavior. I've read a number of scholarly and non- pieces to this effect--here's one article where some cyclists even say that they are drawn to biking because of the risk.

Obviously not everyone uses a bike because of the danger factor (and I'm all in favor of making environments safer for cyclists), and not all men feel invincible while cycling, but it's a major disconnect in the analogy for me. Cyclists still ultimately choose to engage in a (relatively) dangerous behavior; I don't get to consciously choose to walk down the street as a woman because I enjoy the adrenaline rush and then magically turn into a man if I feel like staying safer.
posted by ferret branca at 12:09 PM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


And, d'oh, I meant to conclude with the thought that if cyclists are naturally more risk-taking (obviously there are exceptions but I really have read a lot to this effect), they may underestimate the threats of both cycling and being a women day-to-day.
posted by ferret branca at 12:11 PM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Given that part of the analogy is that "[t]hese environments aren’t just not built for you, they’re constructed in a way that actively excludes you", I think it's noteworthy that even the article itself assumes at a fundamental level that you're a driver.
posted by baf at 12:14 PM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


I find this (yes, imperfect) analogy most satisfying in the way it spotlights the intense vulnerability and defensiveness that becomes your default normal state.

I am a 5'5" busty woman, and when I walk through crowded public spaces, I cross an arm in front of my boobs to safely pass men without them 1) accidentally-on-purpose pressing in to me, thinking its cute or flirty to stop me in my path, or 2) actively groping me. It's been a few years since the latter last happened, but it used to happen all the time, before I started the arm thing. So here I go through life, weirdly crossing my arm over my body, through every bus, train station, bar, and crowded street. Every time.

I do not cycle, but I see a lot of value in pointing out ways for people to understand what it means to live in a world full of micro- and macro-aggression.
posted by juliplease at 12:15 PM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


It does involve being more alert and ahead of things than others, but that feels good rather than oppressive.

And there are women who revel in their femininity, who are effective users of those tools, who enjoy noticing the subtle signs of her effect on those around her.

Some of us (cyclists and women) just want to get home safely without having to be on constant high alert.

I'm finding the analogy to be really resonant for me, in the way I protect myself, in the benefits I avoid in my risk management, in the surprises that turn out to be nothing but leave me shaky.

Since folks are arguing with the premise, here's a specific example. There's some construction on my bike route to work right now where my options are either to ride on the sidewalk illegally, wait indefinitely for a bus to trigger the appropriate light that won't trigger for me, or ride illegally against a light. I actually spoke to a local police officer about it, asking what the proper legal thing to do is, since police cars have honked at me for attempting #1 and 3. She said she'd talk to the local transportation folks but apparently no one had thought of this before. All the signs say "road open to bikes and buses," but there's no way for that to happen without getting in trouble, being dangerous to myself or others, or going significantly out of my way. The infrastructure says it takes my needs into account without considering what that inclusion entails.

See how that links to any of the many articles about women in tech/science, where the lip service is being paid but many women do not see their treatment as fair or neutral when their needs are different.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:26 PM on July 8, 2014 [20 favorites]


Interesting article, and I found the analogy pretty illuminating (though somewhat had to silence a voice in my head screaming "butbutbut some of those cyclists really are the worst!").

I would also like to take this opportunity to declare "ferret branca" to be my new absolute favourite username by a long, long shot.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:26 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Enough with the lazy ad hominems, already. If you think it's a good metaphor, please explain why. Help us understand. Explain, with words. Connect ideas.

The entire premise here is that there might be something that you, a man, don't understand about what it's like to be a woman and that this analogy might help explain it to you.

I guess you're assuming you already understand, apart from the analogy, everything the analogy might be trying to explain and can therefore judge whether it successfully conveys those things?
posted by straight at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2014 [11 favorites]


It's a limited purpose analogy. You have to ignore the irrelevant parts, like cycling being optional and women generally not being known for running down pedestrians.

Maybe I'm just used to not really understanding people, but there are tons of things I can accept and sympathize with that I can't genuinely empathize with. I know a lot of things are important to people, but I can't empathize directly because I don't care about the same things. It doesn't mean I don't trust or believe people when they tell me. I just don't share their feelings personally. Sometimes, it helps me, at a visceral level, to think of an analogy to something I do value and imagine how I'd feel in a similar situation. It's not necessary to being sympathetic, but to be empathetic, you have to share the feeling, not just acknowledge it.

So I figure there are probably men out there who believe women's accounts but don't fully empathize just because they don't have a clear enough analogy. And for a lot of those guys, this one might work.

I've always been female, and I've also ridden my bike in city traffic, and I definitely see the similarities. I'm better and more experienced at the former, but a more experienced male cyclist could probably get some insight if he considered it in good faith.

I'm pretty intrepid about going places and doing things that are generally considered risky for women. I don't stress out about them all that much, and I usually don't let the risks keep me from doing what I want to do. And although I am mostly at a general disadvantage, in real life scenarios, I am in a lot of ways more capable than most men. I am generally more agile, more aware of my surroundings, a better problem solver, and I'm going to go out on a short sturdy limb here and say I'm always smarter than a street harasser. In fact, the only consistent vulnerabilities I have are cultural expectations and brute force. They're big ones, but I can mitigate them with a bunch of smaller advantages.

But nearly all of my advantages are learned, just like cycling skills are. I'm confident because I have been scraped up a few times, and I've had to develop a thick skin and a fair number of advanced skills to navigate the world, just like one of those daredevil bike messengers.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


sweetkid: I don't understand this comment at all. Strong Female Character?

I suspect that clvrmnky was referring to Hark, a vagrant's Strong Female Characters, saying they feel more like they are causing fear in drivers with their aggressive behavior.
posted by fader at 12:34 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


geeklizzard: I'm glad it will probably help someone understand something, but the thought that they can't understand without it makes me a bit sad and eye-rolly, frankly. A little like the "trip to holland" email looks to me as a disabled person.

That's a lovely strawman you've developed.

Back here, in the real world, we're attempting to help people who aren't actively attempting to be evil and hate others to see the bigger picture, and broaden their world-view.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:37 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I can soooooo see it being used by the worst neckbeard dudebros flipping it to go "see, men understand the experience we get othered too! Blablapoopfart"



Judging by some of the comments I see on other sites (including just this morning) those dudes hate cycling just as much.


Someone could have easily built nearly as strong of an argument for like, "wanna know what it was like to be a black person in the 1940s? Ride a bike. Someone could run you over with their car, kill you, and only pay a small traffic fine or even just walk".



Yeah, I think a better way to formulate this is, "Hey, want to get a sense of what people are talking about when they use the term 'microagression'? Try cycling around a major city sometime. You can't change your skin or your gender, but this might give you a taste."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:37 PM on July 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


I must be an outlier, because I've not felt like I wasn't in charge since I was in junior high. I'm an old woman. Being not young is more of a challenge than being female.

I almost never feel like I'm in charge. I don't bike and I'm not a woman.


Hark, a vagrant's Strong Female Characters, saying they feel more like they are causing fear in drivers with their aggressive behavior.

Velocipedestrienne
posted by Foosnark at 12:38 PM on July 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


Interesting to see that we have a population of women here who also do ride bikes in city traffic saying "yep, this sound about right" and also a population of men who are snarking, disagreeing, rules lawyering, and otherwise finding ways to dismiss the analogy as invalid.

#yesallwomen
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:44 PM on July 8, 2014 [28 favorites]


What's wrong with wearing Lycra?
posted by entropicamericana at 12:47 PM on July 8, 2014


I guess you're assuming you already understand, apart from the analogy, everything the analogy might be trying to explain and can therefore judge whether it successfully conveys those things?
posted by straight at 12:28 PM on July 8 [+] [!]


Not at all, straight. Not at all.

The analogy has some insight, in both directions. I said as much in my comment above.

This is an analogy I have considered for a long time, actually. It is a thought I kept to myself, for fear of being seen to presume understanding of things that I have little direct experience of. Biking is my major form of transport, and I am a white, straight male. I've always wondered if cycling was one of my main insights into the personal experience of being marginalized. Reading this, it seems that female cyclists also see the parallel. Perhaps there is some hope for empathy yet!

I'm still not going to use this in discussion to draw attention to how shitty it is to be a cyclist sometimes. But it's nice to see I'm not the only one who thought this thought, or who sees a parallel there. I've read a lot of both feminist and cycling literature, and while the parallels were clear I was afraid to point them out myself.

My rebuke earlier was just against the use of ad hominen forms of argument. I almost always find that attacking the person instead of the argument is unhelpful, and I tried to suggest that we focus on the argument.
posted by the thing about it at 12:52 PM on July 8, 2014


Cyclists still ultimately choose to engage in a (relatively) dangerous behavior; I don't get to consciously choose to walk down the street as a woman because I enjoy the adrenaline rush and then magically turn into a man if I feel like staying safer.

The flip-side of this analogy I think might be better stated as this: How many women (or men) chose to drive a big SUV or pick-up, vehicles traditionally sold as "masculine", to feel more dominant on the road and in control? To feel massive and invulnerable?
posted by bonehead at 12:58 PM on July 8, 2014


I read this article a couple of days ago. The analogy has occurred to me (a male cyclist) before. But now I'm kind of wondering who the article was written for, who is likely to get it. I made a "gets it" table:
+---------+-------+-------+
|         |  men  | women |
+---------+-------+-------+
|   rides |   Y   |   Y   |
+---------+-------+-------+
| doesn't |   N   |   Y   |
+---------+-------+-------+
The people who need to get it are the men who don't ride, but the message is least accessible to them.
posted by adamrice at 1:03 PM on July 8, 2014 [9 favorites]




There are plenty of men who do ride that don't really think about either cycling or feminism much, and for whom the analogy could be a pretty good bridge. I try to remind myself that just because I geek out about cycling doesn't mean other people do. Especially in a city with even the tiniest bit of infrastructure, there are lots of people on bikes purely for transportation and who don't think about it beyond that.
posted by misskaz at 1:06 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


TTAI, if we're really going to get to the nitty-gritty, Straight's comment was not an ad hominem attack, at least in the common sense of an ad hom fallacy. Several dudes very quickly dismissed the analogy; the fact that they are dudes is extremely germane to why their quick and perfunctory dismissal was found unsatisfactory. The ad hominem fallacy, as we all know, is the making of an *irrelevant* attack against the target to discredit their argument.

If yer gonna debate club, debate club right.
posted by ominous_paws at 1:11 PM on July 8, 2014 [19 favorites]


This, exactly. Biking the other day, someone threw a bottle straight out their car window at my bike. Fortunately it was plastic so there was no physical harm. This was in the very fanciest neighborhood in Minneapolis, a supposedly bike friendly city.

It's possible to be marginalized in many different ways, and lack of motorized transportation is definitely one of those ways. And it's easier to experience than changing genders or being homeless for a day.

(Although I have seen people intentionally wearing blindfolds to experience life as a blind person, so maybe that's an option too.)
posted by miyabo at 1:19 PM on July 8, 2014


The people who need to get it are the men who don't ride, but the message is least accessible to them.

I'm confused. Do you mean that men who ride already know enough about sexism, or are you speculating about the likely identities of the people who disagree with the article?

I can say for myself that you'll have to shut down the subway to get me on a bike, but I think I still "get it".
posted by WCWedin at 1:37 PM on July 8, 2014


On the other hand, there's one thing I don't get: Has anyone ever actually said they "don’t like hanging out with other bikers", etc? I understand what she's getting at, but that whole paragraph has no relation to any conversation I've ever had with a biker.
posted by WCWedin at 1:46 PM on July 8, 2014


WCWedin I frequently have to defend myself as "not that kind of cyclist" anytime one of my colleagues uses my status as a known daily bike commuter, trail rider, or Lycra warrior, as a cudgel to beat me over the head with some analogy about how this one time they saw a cyclist run a light or some scofflaws were riding double file up a canyon road so OF COURSE we all do that. So yeah, I frequently disassociate myself with the "bad ones", which shares a form of cultural othering with the "cool geek girl" paradigm (I have identified as such in my lifetime, not proud of it but there it is...)
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:02 PM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]



Wow. I'm a woman, and I used to bike commute a short distance. This analogy doesn't ring true for me at all, based on my personal experiences. I just don't feel that vulnerable being a woman in my day to day life. Not even close. It clearly does resonate with a lot of other women that posted. That is an eye opener.
posted by pizzazz at 2:05 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, please. As a male in the United States I am indisputably more likely to be violently victimized than my female associates:

http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv12.pdf

So I'm more than a little tired of self-styled internet gender warriors smugly proclaiming that as a man, I just don't know what it's like "being vulnerable to the people around you". You cannot deny my experience any more than I should deny yours.
posted by markshroyer at 2:05 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


mark, the difference is that you are most likely not as acutely aware of the possibility of violence as women often are.

"At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them." -- Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear
posted by Etrigan at 2:45 PM on July 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


I've never felt powerless or out of control, but cyclists have to be intensely aware of their vulnerability at all times. You have to drive defensively on a bike.

This. This is the point the article is making.

It isn't that I'm out of control. It's that I have to be prepared for someone else to be.
posted by maryr at 2:45 PM on July 8, 2014 [16 favorites]


As a male in the United States I am indisputably more likely to be violently victimized than my female associates:

I assume you are in a gang? You should prolly quit
posted by shakespeherian at 2:49 PM on July 8, 2014 [33 favorites]


Oh, please. As a male in the United States I am indisputably more likely to be violently victimized than my female associates:

http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv12.pdf


To try to avoid snarking: this article isn't about violent victimization in a vacuum without context - it's about a series of aggressions and microagressions that occur every day to someone simply by virtue of their gender - each one of which may not be enough to ping your "violent victimization" counter but, added up, constitute a whole which is significant but hard to convince others of. That's what the analogy is trying to communicate. The link is a non sequitur in this respect. Simply throwing up rates of violent crimes communicates nothing about how gendered those violent crimes are, or the situation and geographical environment in which they arose, or literally anything germane to this discussion. There's so much more we'd have to dig into those numbers to make sense of them that this is pretty much the definition of conveniently cherry picking a statistic without considering anything about it. It's hard to believe it's being done in good faith.
posted by naju at 2:50 PM on July 8, 2014 [20 favorites]


You cannot deny my experience any more than I should deny yours.

No one did. No one suggested any such thing.
posted by beerbudget at 2:53 PM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


'Ad hominem' is hardly the right term for laughing at a bunch of dudes who don't seem to realize they're making an implicit claim to knowledge that it's hard to see how they could have. (It's still funny even if it turned out they somehow did have that knowledge.)
posted by straight at 2:56 PM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Etrigan, do not presume to tell me what I do and do not fear.

Anyway that's a ridiculous non-sequitur. The author's statement, to which I object, implies that as a man I do not know vulnerability—the untruth of which is borne out by both hard evidence (the statistics linked above) and personal anecdote, which I will not bore you with.

You can do plenty of hand-waving with unfounded assertions about "awareness", but I will not let you get away with dismissing the hard truth of my vulnerability so easily.
posted by markshroyer at 2:59 PM on July 8, 2014


markshyoer, that's a good point, it's definitely unfair to say that men don't know what it's like to experience violence. I think the point being made is more about feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness in a system working against you, that you might feel doing an absolutely ordinary thing like walking to work - which is more a story about socialization, rather than statistics.

People who drive cars statistically get into more violent accidents, I'm sure, but they don't necessarily feel vulnerable to other cars the way one might feel vulnerable when riding a bike on roads dominated by cars. There's an awareness that while nothing will probably happen, if something were to happen there'd be very little you could do to stop it, and that creates a lot of anxiety.

Similarly, if you're a woman, you know that most men are just normal people who don't have any bad intentions towards you. But most men are also easily bigger and stronger than you. If something were to happen, you wouldn't necessarily be able to say or do anything to really stop it.

I'm sure men feel that anxiety too, especially in dodgy situations, but I'd imagine they're less likely to feel it walking down the street on an ordinary afternoon. You see catcalling and street leering in situations where you don't see muggings, etc.

A lot of guys, when discussing cat calling (etc) will say stuff like: "I don't get it, I'd love it if women cat-called me or hit on me in a public place." What they're missing is the sense of physical and societal vulnerability that many women feel in situations like that. I think this is what the analogy is trying to convey.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:00 PM on July 8, 2014 [21 favorites]


Etrigan, do not presume to tell me what I do and do not fear.

I did no such thing by any reasonable reading of my comment. You appear to be spoiling for a fight. I won't give it to you.
posted by Etrigan at 3:05 PM on July 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


[guys, can we chill a bit with the back and forths and try to stay on topic?]
posted by mathowie at 3:07 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


We all like to ride bicycles.
posted by breadbox at 3:19 PM on July 8, 2014


Markshroyer, in regards to the report you linked: A) Women are much less likely to report violent victimizing than men are, particularly for sexual assault/rape. (Similarly, a bicyclist is probably less likely to report a bottle being thrown at them or a minor accident with no injury because they don't want to be blamed.) When, reading the report you linked, you see that only an estimated 28% of rapes and sexual assaults were reported for 2012; the estimated rates of victimization per gender are probably incorrect. B) Since 48.4% of the violent crime in that report occurred in the 12-17 age bracket, that could account for a large percentage of males (unfortunately it does not break it down by age/gender). C) That report and its percentages do not include homicide; most homicides on men tend to be gang or drug related per here, and most homicides on women tend to be domestic or sex-related. If you did include homicide, of which men are the majority of the victims, the rates would also be different, but murder and most violent crimes on men tend to be very specific, related to race, age, and situation (i.e. gangs or drugs). It's not that way for women, for whom danger is everywhere - much like riding a bike on a street.

So unless you're an under 17 black man involved in drugs, being vulnerable to the people around you is much less likely to happen to men then women. A woman is as likely to be hurt in her own home as she is on the street; a man isn't going to get blamed for his violent crimes on the clothes he was wearing or be told he was "asking for it"; and most men in most simple situations like walking out to a parking lot do not feel the sense of vulnerability that women do.

Trying to set up an argument against "self-styled internet gender warriors" who are "smugly proclaiming" with stats from one report which circumnavigates many of the situational circumstances of violent crime and one violent crime negates the many and varied experiences of just the women in this thread, which is a very small representative example. You yourself are asking people not to negate your own experiences - but nobody has declared anything in denial of men's feelings of vulnerability, merely trying to make a metaphor of women's daily experience.

This experience also goes beyond violent crime - it's an experience within a system set up for men. You could also apply it to under-17 year old black males in gangs, or immigrants- wouldn't that be interesting? The point is trying to relate and understand one kind of perception with an interesting and more universal experience.
posted by barchan at 3:30 PM on July 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


Or, put another way: as a driver, the biggest threat to me is other drivers. However, when a bicyclist runs a red light, I'm more likely to yell at them than I would if another driver did it. That's because I perceive them as more vulnerable than me due to being on a bicycle. From this article, I realized I should be more tolerant: they may be running the red light because they may be working in a system set up for cars, i.e. they're trying to get ahead of a bunch of cars turning right who may not see them. So what I learned from this article today is that a) I should be more vigilant of bicyclists because of what they need to be more vigilant of may include more than what I need to; b) they are not weaker just because they're on a bike; c) bicyclists feel vulnerable enough, why should I add to it by yelling out the car window?
posted by barchan at 3:41 PM on July 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


for an exquisite example of the parallels of vulnerability, aggressive harrassment, indifference and victim blaming, go peruse the links in charlie don't surf's comment in the recent thread about "rolling coal", a harrassment tactic that is frequently targeted at cyclists.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:43 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Where I live, you're allowed to legally ride on the footpath (sidewalk) even if there are bike lanes on the road. I choose to do this for increased safety, but I can't go as fast, as there are obstacles in my way. And even though its legal, and I'm unfailingly courteous and careful, I get harassed by pedestrians - and still get yelled at from cars with men in them, which I don't even - what? I'm nearly 50 and very overweight, so I don't think it's a catcall, but who the fuck can tell.

I like this analogy - it doesn't matter what I do, it's going to be wrong. And I like the recent spate of discussion about feminism and internalised patriarchy, because I fucking realised that despite being an avowed feminist and daughter of one, there are a whole bunch of assumptions that have just buggered up huge areas of life. Not good enough. Responsible for everything in the household. Expected to cop it and shut up. Feeling guilty when I act as my brothers would - eg, I've done enough and now I'm going to sit back and relax while someone else (who?) takes care of things. My daughter is doing it now - not happy, and we talk about it, but she sees it as the price she has to pay for love. Fuck that shit.

Now I want a post for how I get to reclaim my life, how I can live as privileged as a bloke can.
posted by b33j at 4:04 PM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think I am one of those who takes the wrong message from this, riding the bike in NYC:

-The key to survival is confidence.
-Vigorously assert your right of way.
-Vigorously respect others' right of way.
-Right of way is determined by an unwritten bottom-up contract rather than top-down enforcement.
-You will never get anywhere if you stop for every red light society puts in your path.
-The biggest annoyance is other women going the wrong way.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:10 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


#notallanalogies
posted by aaronetc at 5:12 PM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Re: my comment about Strong Female Characters: http://www.metafilter.com/139953/Were-losing-all-our-Strong-Female-Characters-to-Trinity-Syndrome
posted by clvrmnky at 6:02 PM on July 8, 2014


This is fascinating, and I wonder about the connection to distrust in law enforcement and transgression of the law.

As a pedestrian I rarely feel the need to break the law, nor am I concerned that I'll be offered a no-win situation.

As a cyclist I feel as though I have to navigate potential transgression all the time, and moreover that law enforcement won't be sympathetic.

-Blowing a red vs. not triggering traffic signals.
-Assignment of blame in accidents.
-Absurd safety rules that allow for unjust and selective enforcement.
-Constant reminders from those around you to 'be safe', even when going out to get a litre of milk perrier?.

I get that it might not map 1 <> 1, but it's certainly an interesting thought experiment.
posted by angusiguess at 6:03 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I guess we were walking in the bike lane, which essentially shares spaces with the sidewalk. None of us were from Vancouver and were therefore unaware of the bike lane or the etiquette. And some cyclists - middle-aged commuters in spandex - swore and cursed at us.

Live and Learn.
posted by ovvl at 6:41 PM on July 8, 2014


Re: my comment about Strong Female Characters: http://www.metafilter.com/139953/Were-losing-all-our-Strong-Female-Characters-to-Trinity-Syndrome

I still don't get it.
posted by sweetkid at 6:52 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love this. It's perfect for highlighting that as a woman, I have to be alert to and constantly adjusting what I'm doing based on minimizing possible damage from my unpredictable surroundings. That exhausting alertness is hard to explain to my male friends. That this analogy takes that heightened awareness and worry and puts it in broad daylight and in crowded public places is even better. That's absolutely true to my experience - I can't dodge feeling vulnerable by avoiding deserted places or not going out at night.

On a side note, moving from NYC to a city where I drive everywhere took my lady DEFCON down tremendously, purely because as a driver I commute without worrying about or experiencing a single grope, lewd comment, or free-range penis. Going from the stress of daily, constant street harassment to none was stunning. Do men feel this safe all the time? My car is like a privilege-mobile!
posted by BigJen at 6:57 PM on July 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


Do men feel this safe all the time?

Some do. How vulnerable you feel obviously involves your feelings/attitude, not just your actual vulnerability and how vulnerable you appear to others. Tall, white, not a moron* and living in a fairly decent area can definitely mean almost never having your face rubbed in danger and being free to feel safe anywhere if you're that way inclined.
Or you can be addicted to Fox News making you fearful of everything... "it's complicated" I guess? :-)

You've been hardened by years of danger that many haven't experienced. Your needled is zeroed to a different normal. I assume many men feel as unsafe as you on a bad day in situations that register as safe to your needle.

*by "moron" I mean the kind of person who is in constant danger because of inability to de-escalate matters of pride with men of similar shortfalling. I've seen situations where two guys were heading towards a fight, despite both of them frantically signalling to each other that they didn't want a fight, but neither being able to just let it go for fear of losing face. (As if idiotically starting a fight no-one wants to have isn't losing more face than acting like an adult.) I suspect this sort of thing has a lot to do with the violence stats in the derail above - many men are at extreme risk of violence because they actively incite it even when trying to avoid it. Did I just victim blame? Maybe. Active escalation is traditionally perpetration, but when the active escalation is done because of incompetence...? Whatever. This isn't the thread for that tangent.
posted by anonymisc at 7:31 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


The best cure for road rage, IMO, is your first century.

Only 'cos you're too tired to be angry...
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:01 PM on July 8, 2014


As a daily commuting cyclist and weekend touring cyclist in New York City, and as a male who sympathizes with + happily defends women:

Riding a bicycle is nothing like the experience of a person in a vulnerable class in this society.

Being a person in a vulnerable class provides no insight into the challenges of riding a bicycle amongst dangerous traffic on unsafe infrastructure.

These are two VERY DIFFERENT THINGS and the metaphor disconnects with BOTH types of people in society. The only similarity is... you have to deal with jerks and creeps. And we should not have so much of those kinds of people in society, whether you sympathize more with bikes or women.

The problem is when people ruin things for everyone else. Jerks make women feel unsafe and hunted. Jerks make cyclists feel unsafe and hunted. Our society agreed a long time ago that both women and cyclists should proceed in open society without physical threats or harassment. But we also agree on that for so many other classes of people, too.

We're doing such a poor job of this overall that it really should give us pause.

But for those of us who are truly thickheaded: Cycling is not an unwise "choice" that you can dismiss when you see someone who is already riding a bicycle. And women may not suffer particular dangers (any more than the rest of us) from mixed automobile traffic, but they suffer a lot of psychological abuse, and this is as much of a problem for all of us as the problem of people being directly killed/maimed by moving objects due to reckless/illegal driving of motor vehicles.

We need to understand each problem for exactly what it is if we want society to get better. An ill-fit metaphor only allows jerks to carve out more excuses for themselves for their various flavors of jerk behavior.
posted by brianvan at 9:49 PM on July 8, 2014


As I like to joke, I've been defending my right to exist in public space for my own purposes for 38 years. And jesus h christ, the concerned people in my life who want to tell me how my desire to move about in public on my own terms IS SO DANGEROUS.

So yeah maybe I don't agree with all of her examples, but I see why she made the analogy. It speaks to me.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:19 PM on July 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


Similarly, if you're a woman, you know that most men are just normal people who don't have any bad intentions towards you. But most men are also easily bigger and stronger than you. If something were to happen, you wouldn't necessarily be able to say or do anything to really stop it.

I'm sure men feel that anxiety too, especially in dodgy situations, but I'd imagine they're less likely to feel it walking down the street on an ordinary afternoon.


By focusing only on relative physical strength, you're leaving out the fact that there's a taboo against men being violent toward women, whereas men are openly encouraged to be violent toward other men. (Obviously a "taboo" doesn't totally stop something from happening; murder is also taboo.) Men are more often the victims of violence; all the most dangerous jobs are male-dominated; men die younger. The idea that men get to glide through life with relative invincibility just doesn't hold up to the objective facts. Subjectively, we feel more sympathy for women's vulnerability than men's vulnerability, because of the way we've traditionally been socialized to have more concern for protecting women from harm.
posted by John Cohen at 12:09 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Le sigh.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:41 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do men feel this safe all the time?

Assuming you mean white, straight, dis, not-disabled, etc, then yes, absolutely. The only times I feel at risk is when I do something dumb (walk into a very unfriendly bar, say, or take a wrong turn in a dark alley) and even then it's super mild and chances are about 99.99 percent that I'll be able to talk my way out of it and at most have a good story later.

Everyone should feel this safe all of the time and not need to make complicated risk calculations for normal everyday things like "walking home from the grocery store" or "going on a date" or "going out to the parking lot to get something out of my car." It's freeing and easy, and the good aspect of the analogy in this FPP is that it captures a moment of vulnerability that many men have experienced and generalizes it.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:53 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm a white dude who lives in a white neighborhood in a pretty low-crime city in the midwest.

When I am alone, and sometimes when I'm with a group of friends, I am afraid. I was walking through my parking lot last night and a car parked. I immediately thought to myself "That car stopped there so the person driving it could get out and attack me." I saw movement in the apartment in front of which the car had parked, and though "They are getting a gun, to help out."

When I drive around town, if a car that looks even remotely like a police car gets behind me, I start to panic. I expect to be pulled over, arrested, tased, etc.

I don't know how to interpret this. Are my fears reasonable? No. Are my fears legitimate? I'm not sure you can judge a feeling. Does the fact that I too have fears allow me to have a voice in the conversation of "People who are afraid"? I'm guessing no - because my fears aren't reasonable enough. Is there a test for who gets to have a voice based on how reasonable their fears are? That sounds like something people in power would construct to silence the oppressed.
posted by rebent at 6:22 AM on July 9, 2014


The fact that men are afraid sometimes is not really the point.
posted by agregoli at 6:33 AM on July 9, 2014 [9 favorites]


rebent, your fears are 100% legitimate, but the reason they're not really the point, as agregoli says, is that you don't have them because you're a dude. Women can have all the fears you describe and plenty more that exist just because they're women.
posted by valrus at 7:46 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


And in today's Washington Post, columnist Courtland Milloy encourages drivers to kill cyclists - oh, but with a wink and a nod: "It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:13 AM on July 9, 2014


You mean the Courtland Milloy who had his license suspended in 1998 for speeding? That Courtland Milloy?
posted by entropicamericana at 3:46 PM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not just hipsters on bikes — cycling is most popular for poor people

Operating in a structure that isn't intended for them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:35 PM on July 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


Since people with experience walking the streets being perceived as dudes are tossing that into the ring, I will say that, having experienced both, I am significantly more nervous walking alone at night now (usually being perceived as a woman) than I ever was walking alone at night being perceived as a man. It's not just that my loss in physical strength has been astounding, it's that people look at me differently or yell things at me when they pretty much never did before. As a faux-guy I never did the keys-in-your-hand-between-your-fingers thing - in fact I'm not sure I was even aware that tactic existed. Now I do that pretty much all the time. I constantly look over my shoulder to make sure I'm aware of anyone behind me and their distance from me. I lock my door immediately when I get into my car. I feel smaller and more vulnerable - and I'm a pretty tall and broad woman. I can only imagine how much those feelings are magnified for people who are smaller than I am.

This metaphor absolutely makes sense to me, although I'm aware that I have a fairly unique perspective.
posted by Corinth at 10:28 PM on July 9, 2014 [8 favorites]


And in today's Washington Post, columnist Courtland Milloy encourages drivers to kill cyclists

That is vomitous.
posted by psoas at 7:13 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just as a safety caution, do not hold multiple keys between your fingers for defense - one key to jab with is better. If someone grabs your hand with the multiple key thing, and squeezes, the pressure is excrutiating. One more tip women have to learn and share that men may not know about.
posted by agregoli at 8:43 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


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