The U.S. Gender Gap in Bicycle Traffic

I’ve written on traffic as a gendered space before (here).  Women, as it turns out, make up the vast majority of congestion among automobiles on the road.  And, as I wrote, there are really two ways of looking at this issue: (1) women are either causing more traffic (a popular view until it was challenged by feminist traffic scholars); or that (2) women are enduring more traffic.  The latter of the two is the one that has received empirical support.  For a variety of reasons that stem from inequitable divisions of household labor, care work, and more, women are more likely than men to be driving someone else somewhere they need to go, chaining trips together to complete multiple tasks in a single “trip,” and on top of this, they’re also more likely to leave just a bit later than men, hitting peak hours of bad traffic.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 10.43.57 AMBut, driving isn’t the only form of traffic, and it’s not the only gendered traffic space.  Many people in cities bike, and biking, as it turns out, is gendered too.  Most estimates suggest that men are about three times as likely as women to be biking in the U.S. (see also: here).  This is significant, because men don’t bike more than women everywhere in the world.  But they do in the United States.  In some European countries (like Germany, the Netherlands, and Demark), biking is undertaken much more evenly between men and women.  The U.S. Department of Transportation found that only about 24% of biking trips were made by women in 2009.  So, not only are more men biking, but they’re biking—on average—more often than the women who bike too.  There are a few explanations for this that have to do with gender and space.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 10.45.46 AMOne contributing factor may be that bike stores are “masculine” spaces (here).  Though the conclusions from Genevieve Walker’s analysis of bike stores are a bit offensive (e.g., if we want more women to bike, bike stores need: “really good information,” “good clothing options,” and “a hot guy standing behind the counter”), the notion the bike stores are “masculine” is interesting.  It reminds me of Carey Sargent’s analysis of how musical instrument stores are culturally gendered in ways that reproduce our cultural understanding of “rock musician” as masculine.  She explicitly draws the comparison to bike shops, among other kinds of stores that cater to specific consumer “lifestyle choices.”  Continue reading

“Dear Abby”–A Space for Political Protest?

Pauline_Phillips_1961Pauline Philips, the original “Dear Abby” columnist, recently died.  She wrote under the pen name Abigail Van Buren and captivated her readership.  Her column has been a mainstay in newspapers ever since it first appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle in 1956.  Today, “Dear Abby” is written by Phillips’ daughter and remains the most widely syndicated column on the face of the earth.

Dear Abby” offers a space to complain, to seek advice or counsel, and to discuss something you might not voice in the company of someone other than Abby.  “Dear Abby” offered an anonymous space for people to share their fears, dreads, ideas, dilemmas, and more, ostensibly testing them out on Abby before committing to a solution.

While “Dear Abby” is likely read by many with a similar level of interest to reading the comics, the column was and is a political platform of sorts.  “Dear Abby” often supported gender equality, challenged men for writing in with patriarchal demands of their wives or daughters, and subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) teased those whose dilemmas she thought had less to do with the dilemma and more to do with an understanding of the world rooted in systems of power and inequality.

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Feminism as a Gendered Space — “Gendering Feminism”

Feminism isn’t really a space—but it’s certainly an ideological terrain of sorts.  It’s an identity people “adopt,” a stance people “take,” and insult people “hurl,” a set of theories people “cite,” a part of a movement people “join,” and more.  British suffragist Rebecca West famously stated: “Feminism is the radical notion than women are people.”  Feminism—to me—is the revolutionary idea that gender inequality exists, but that it doesn’t exist of necessity or inevitably.

In my research on men’s participation in marches dedicated to raising awareness about issues of violence against women (here), I came to think of feminism as a gendered space—as gendered ideological terrain.  Men’s adoption or support of “feminist” views or issues often seemed to be implicitly understood as a gender transgression.  This was all the more interesting, because, at the particular events I observed, men were required to transgress other gender boundaries as well—they dressed in drag.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®” marches require participants to walk one mile wearing “women’s” shoes—which are almost also understood as high heels.  The event is gender segregated by design: men walk, women watch.  Playing on the adage that to truly understand someone else’s experience requires walking a mile in her/his shoes, this event makes literal that which was perhaps never meant to be taken literally.  The movement-sponsored shoe is a 4-inch, red, patent leather, heel.  Men (not all, but some) at all of the marches I attended referred to these shoes as “stripper heels”).  Some men wear traditional masculine attire aside from the shoes (business suits, sports team uniforms, jeans and shirts, etc.).  But many men take the event as an opportunity to dress in drag.  And when these–primarily heterosexual–men dressed in drag, they often also performed stereotypes of women and gay men that seemed directly opposed to the message organizers sought to send with the event.  Although I did see examples of women (and less often men) uncomfortable with some of the men’s behaviors, the majority of marches and audience members laughed with and at them.

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Teaching Privilege without Perpetuating Privilege

Most of the courses I teach center on contemporary issues and inequality.  It’s common practice now, I think, to talk about issues of privilege and advantage in courses on inequality.  I know when I ask undergraduate to raise their hands to see who has ever been assigned Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege Checklist,” a portion of the class always seems to have come across it in one class or another.  There are a variety of strategies for leading classroom discussions about privilege–some more successful than others.

I’ve seen a strategy put into use, however, that I think deserves more attention.  It’s not something I’ve ever done in a class; but I understand the idea behind it.*  Some teachers ask students to raise their hands to a series of questions about their social backgrounds and identity categories to get them to think about issues of privilege and inequality.  In a more extreme example, students are asked to stand against a wall and to take steps away from the wall based on their answers to a series of questions about various advantages and disadvantages associated with their identities. So, depending on how you run this activity, the end result is either a group of young, able-bodied, heterosexual, white men standing against a wall watching other non-young, non-able-bodied, non-heterosexual, non-white, non-men walk away from them or vice versa.

While this seems like it might (and I stress might here) be a really powerful experience for the young, able-bodied, heterosexual, white men, I’ve always wondered what it might be like for everyone else in class.

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Designing Homes that Made Life Better (and Worse) for Women

The history of American home architecture and interior design—as the history of many fields—is a domain that was initially dominated by men. As such, the design of homes was largely to men’s specifications, with men’s interests in mind. Women’s entry into the field initially emerged, as one might expect, through influence and suggestion before they were involved in actual home design.

Ruth Schwartz Cowan (1983) wrote a wonderful book, More Work for Mother, tracing the historical origins of Hochschild’ssecond shift.” Cowan argued that the changes in the home with the advent of industrialization had the somewhat counterintuitive effect of creating more work for the household at precisely the same time as less people were understood as responsible for the work. The household was, as Cowan famously put it, “incompletely industrialized,” leaving more work for women. So, new appliances, like refrigerators and stoves brought with them more things to clean, and standards of cleanliness began to reach new heights.

In the U.S., it was women who were at the forefront of technological innovation in the home at the turn of the 20th century. When domestic technology entered the American home, it entered–as Rybcyznski said–“through the kitchen door.” When women did begin designing homes, the homes they designed were decidedly different from those designed by men. The “masculine” interest in the architecture of the home at the time was primarily visual. Though the 20th century brought with it a new appreciation for functionality and utility, men’s designs were concerned primarily with the beauty and aesthetics of the home (see Andrew J. Downing for example). Even some of the European designers who were more concerned with comfort (like Robert Kerr) were less concerned with convenience, considering it the business of servants and women once the house was already constructed. Men’s architectural books were written to men, but some of the early American women who wrote books on architectural design wrote their books to women. Women, they argued, were the primary “users” of the home, and as such, ought to play a leading role in its construction and design.

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