This evening I read a story entitled “Bicycle Chic Gains Speed” on the New York Times website.
Then I got very, very angry.
Here is what I tweeted:
“Gee, NYT, sexist much? Trivializing rise in female ridership, bicycles as fad fashion accessory, ‘dangerous woman driver’ stereotypes? WTF.“
I suppose I should be grateful that the fashion pages of the vaunted New York Times are taking note of, and I quote one of their interviewees, “that whole sort of blog style.” I should be delighted that they are bringing mainstream attention to practical urban bicyclists who are choosing to ride in the fashionable clothes they already own, at a pace of their choosing, and that they are celebrating that there are more women using bicycles in Manhattan. This should be wonderful news, especially since I am that whole sort of blogger they theoretically were talking about.
Let me take my highlighter to a few of the phrases that left me so irked by the end of only the third paragraph:
Ms. Page-Green, who runs a nonprofit group that provides meals to needy children, likes to charge around town on her bike. Sometimes she’s done up in sparkly necklaces and towering heels; other times she coasts to appointments, sans helmet, in a blazer and fresh-pressed jeans. “I get sweaty a little, but it doesn’t bother me,” she said. Her bike, after all, is a stylish appendage, “a kind of rustic enhancement,” she said.
The subtext: reckless woman, charging around town sans helmet. This is an article about “style-obsessed” “women, mostly young,” “whooshing along the green-painted bike-lanes”. (I’m not cherry-picking to find those snippets to string together.). One interviewee laughs off “speeding around on the sidewalk” while “canes waved at me in the distance,” and a critic admonishes that, “Fixing your makeup or sending a text message could have catastrophic results.”
I object to the emphasis on verbs denoting speed, particularly when talking about vintage (read: heavy steel) bikes with a limited number of gears, and to the stress placed on how many of these riders are not wearing helmets (tsk).
I object to the emphasis on bicycles as no more than a stylish accessory, like this season’s must-have bag or shoe. Is Lela Rose’s custom-built bakfiets-tricycle-hybrid, which she uses for commuting safely around the city with her children and dog and likens to a popular SUV brand, really just an accessory to her? I doubt it. What about the female clients of Hudson Urban Bikes, who the owner says insist on fenders (for staying clean), baskets (for carrying their purses and groceries safely), bells (which should be a standard safety item, along with lights), and things for carrying their children and pets (in a city where otherwise taking your dog to the vet must be a colossal pain for the carless)? Are their bikes just accessories, merely because they wish to ride in their everyday (stylish) clothes? These sound like purely practical considerations to me, not things added just as whims of fashion.
I think the writer missed the point of three-quarters of what was said to her by her interviewees, and emphasized all the wrong things. The story here isn’t really about empty-headed young women who speed recklessly around town on bicycles because they’re this season’s accessory. The story here is the emergence of a new demographic of bicycle riders in North America who are choosing a style of bicycle, and a style of cycling, that is commonplace in other parts of the world – and that allows fashion and function to coexist.
I think this is an incredibly tone-deaf article. What do you think? Am I overreacting?