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More brave than me

Some days, I look up from my high-productivity dual-monitor computer around 5:30 and think, "How the hell am I going to get the courage to get on my bike one more time and hit the streets of downtown Portland in rush hour?" So far I always have, so I think, "You know, I'm pretty brave!"

And then I go and read about the Afghan Women's Cycling Team, and withdraw my own courage credentials.

Bike riding for Afghan women is considered a moral offense "somewhere between driving and being spotted with an unrelated man." But a group of intrepid Afghan women have politely flipped the bird to all that, formed a cycling team, and decided to shoot for the 2016 Olympics.

Women on bikes in Afghanistan endure taboos and serious harassment, including death threats, so the team mostly trains in secret. They haven't won a race yet--in fact, they're still working up to the entire team finishing a race (though my God, considering the terrain they have to train in, they're going to be mighty when they do!). But they stick helmets on over their headscarves, cover up from wrist to ankle, and pedal the hell out of those mountain roads.

I'm not personally interested in bicycling as an athletic competition, though I'll certainly be rooting for Afghanistan if these women make it to the Olympics. It's the freedom aspect that lights my fire. Denying women the right to ride a bike is to deny them mobility. The bicycle, being cheap and sustainable, is pretty democratic, and from the late 19th century inception of the bike as we generally know it today, bikes have been a threat to the status quo of female dependency and docility:

It was thought that straddling a saddle combined with the motion required to propel a bicycle would lead to arousal... So-called “hygienic” saddles began to appear, saddles with little or no padding where a woman’s genitalia would ordinarily make contact with the seat. High stems and upright handlebars, as opposed to the more aggressively positioned “drop” handlebars, also were thought to reduce the risk of female sexual stimulation by reducing the angle at which a woman would be forced to ride.(--Annie Londonderry)

So from the perspective of a repressive social system, the taboo against women riding bikes is totally understandable. The kick-ass ladies of Kabul know that the only way to break it is to get on a damn bike and ride. So that's what they do.

Tomorrow evening, when I'm pedaling in the polite (and incidentally mostly-flat, nearly-sea-level, and entirely paved) streets of Portland, where my most troubling hazard is the occasional out-of-state driver who doesn't understand about sharing the road, I'm gonna be counting my blessings instead of congratulating myself on my courage.

Note: There is, of course, a documentary being made. Good blog with some great photos I didn't want to borrow or hotlink here.

Crossposted to [community profile] bicycles

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2013 10:47 pm (UTC)
Personally, I admire anyone who rides a bike in the city, as I am a klutz with bikes. Remember Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes? How his bicycle constantly tried to kill him? Yeah. I still have the scars from mine. LOL I guess if I start riding when I move back, I should get a buddy or something.
May. 27th, 2013 11:02 pm (UTC)
I had the example and help of my "strong and fearless" sister when I got started. ("Strong and fearless" is an actual category of bicyclist in the realm of transportation planning. I now straddle the "interested but cautious" and "strong and fearless" categories.) It didn't take much, really--just a single ride together and some tips. Mostly, it was just having an example to follow. Recently, I took a coworker on a Sunday test-commute and she said it was really helpful and encouraging to her, too.

Also--and this can't be said enough--a whole lot depends on which city you're riding in: how many cyclists are there? are drivers used to seeing bikes? are there at least some bike lanes? In that regard, I'm far from a universal example, living as I do in the People's Republic of Portland. I'd be the last person to make blanket statements about how everyone should ride a bike.

But if it's right for you, I can certainly attest to its many benefits and advantages.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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