Why do so many women have it in for male cyclists? All the jokes about unsightly Middle-Aged Men in Lycra, complaints about tight clothing revealing everything it shouldn't. It seems there's growing female irritation with blokes getting up at the crack of dawn, gathering in large packs to go through their paces, and sitting around in coffee shops having a manly chat. How dare they have so much fun?
I'm wondering if this is just one more activity that traditionally attracts men – a boys' club – which women resent and want to take over. It reminds me of covetous children. Haven't we all witnessed kids who have no interest in a toy or activity until it attracts the attention of another child, particularly a sibling? Then the battle is on, as the first child seeks what the other one has.
Women seem endlessly to covet things that give men a thrill. They love to take over activities previously reserved for males – determined that men shouldn't be allowed to enjoy anything that was traditionally their territory. Everywhere there are women making the case that men should be forced to share their toys.
Toys like bicycles. With twice as many men as women enjoying regular cycling, there's a major push to attract more women and that means making it safer. "The main reason most women don't cycle in the UK is because they think it is dangerous," claims this Guardian editor.
Fair enough. But according to gender researcher Kate Jelly, this means we must "build cycling infrastructure that is explicitly feminist." Take a look at her mad article, also published in The Guardian, which argues that the reason more British men than women use bicycles is the "UK's cycling infrastructure is especially hostile to women". The author is convinced that motorists have it in for female cyclists. "We have normalised a society in which men can move around as they please while the rest of us fear for our lives for the simple act of travelling home," she writes.
And the evidence for this extraordinary statement? Jelly digs up an absolutely ludicrous study which found that motorists are 3.8 times more likely to pass too closely to female than male cyclists.
Get that - drivers are nearly four times more likely to try to mow down female cyclists. That's shocking, isn't it? Well, hang on a moment. It turns out this so-called research study, from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, studied only ONE female and two male cyclists, measuring the distance between the cyclist and the passing motorist in nearly 3,000 separate events.
Their data in fact revealed almost all the motorists behaved well – all but 1.12% keeping the required safe 3ft distance from the cyclists. And the much-heralded greater hazard for women turned out to be based on motorists passing three inches closer to the women (68ins compared to 71ins) in the tiny number of risky passes. Naturally, the researchers assume the motorist is at fault in such incidents, rather than entertain the possibility that the problem is a wandering woman who doesn't stay on track.
Is there no limit to the lengths gender warriors will go to claim victim status for women? It seems not when it comes to arguing that women shun cycling for safety reasons, rather than acknowledging more mundane issues like helmet hair and the bottom-amplifying effects of Lycra. The lesson is clear - if women believe that the roads aren't safe for them to ride, then cycling infrastructure will have to change.
Yet an element of risk-taking is surely part of the attraction of cycling for many men, who regularly sail past me on Sydney's hazardous roads as I dutifully stick to the city's infuriating cycle paths, complete with uncoordinated traffic lights stopping us at every corner. In the past it was often the bicycle which gave little boys their first chance to escape their mothers' skirts, a taste of real freedom, even if it came with the occasional bent bike, scraped elbow, and bloody knee.
But now that more women are keen to take up cycling it is decreed that safety is paramount. That's par for the course with the fair sex. As Canadian commentator Janice Fiamengo has pointed out, we've recently seen women's obsession with safety in full flight, with women leading the push for Covid lockdowns in most countries: "If Covid was a war, as it was frequently depicted as being, it was one in which none of the typical masculine virtues required by war were in evidence. Gone was the valorization of stoicism, courage, forgetfulness of self, rational risk assessment, and the curtailment of emotionalism. In their place came generalized anxiety, self-righteous vindictiveness, and the longing for (an unattainable) safety at all costs."
Safety at all costs isn't usually what springs to mind when facing city roads on two narrow, wobbly wheels but never fear, women will find a way.
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