Pedalling Empowerment

August 10, 2010 at 9:18 pm (Feminism, islamism, Rosie B, women)

The other night I watched a programme about the bicycle in Edwardian times. It featured a nice bloke who restores old Edwardian bicycles and riding these were some women who were trying out Edwardian cycling dress. Designing suitable clothes for cycling was part of the “rational dress” movement which replaced cumbersome clothes that weighed you down with, for example, “the divided skirt“ (culottes). Bicycles were liberating for women – what we’d call “empowering” these days – and they began to invade male spaces like pubs, where sometimes the male clientele with ideas of the women’s sphere would throw them out. This programme was fun social history, entertaining for those of us who put on lycra and waterproofs and pedal off into the country stopping off for drinks and snacks at pretty inns.

The Edwardian age also saw the rise of the Suffragettes. At some of their meetings, they would be physically attacked by males who in their hatred of female immodesty would take the opportunity to sexually assault them. The Suffragettes in fact were as high-buttoned and hatted as any respectable woman of the period. But they had stepped out of the proper female role and so were easy game for a kind of male contempt, which most women have been the target of at one time or another.

I was reminded of this by a comment by “FK” to yet another article on the great burqa debate:-

I am also a muslim woman from Pakistan who lives in the ultra muslim orthodox area of Bow and Mile End in London. I have lived in London for around ten years and this is my first experience of living in a majority muslim area as I lived in Clapham before. The problem I personally find with these radical talibanised muslims is that they don’t seem to approve of me going around on my cycle and not adhering to their code by covering myself up. I get all sorts of harrassment by the “orthodox” muslim men even though I am not dressed like a prostitute but I might as well be one in their eyes as I am not covered up from head to toe. But for some reason I just have this feeling that even if I was dressed the way they think is right, they would still find a problem with me because I am a woman. The thing that makes me so angry is their confidence, this being England and not a muslim country, thank God!

The muslim men in Mile End have the cheek to spit at me when I am cycling past them on my way back from work if I by mistake just glance at them because either they think I’m making a pass at them, or they feel so degraded because a woman has just glanced at them. But the thing is they are all the same. They are the same in Pakistan and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and even in England!!! So even though it is a bit of a touchy subject, I feel I need to say something as I left that country to escape this kind of constant sexual persecuation which is worse than racism as that really hits the roots of your identity.

I have no idea of course if that’s a genuine comment, but it sounds real enough and what I would expect. If you‘re a cyclist, some pedestrians and drivers let you know they dislike you intensely, if you are a woman cyclist, you will get lewd comments and sexist abuse thrown at you (though to be fair you will sometimes get gallantry from bus-drivers and taxi-drivers) and if you offend a touchy theocrat‘s ideas of female modesty he will react with self-righteous nastiness.

FK’s experiences in the Mile End are in small form the same kind of thing that I heard an Afghan woman describing . She was out shopping in her draped cage and in order to see the colour of some garment she was buying, she walked outside of the shop, lifted her veil and a passing Talibaner punched her on the nose.

So if anyone talks about the “empowering” nature of a burqa, could they please put one on, get on a bicycle and try pedalling through central London., and then see how empowered they feel.


  1. Cammie Novara said,

    The moment I saw the unbelievable The Top 12 Reasons To Burn A Quran On 9/11 article on Hubpages I decided that this blog’s commentators totally should be able to express their opinions on this!

  2. resistor said,

    (Boring and predictable response deleted under the new ‘shock and awe’ comments policy)

  3. Kuching Hitam said,

    If you‘re a cyclist, some pedestrians … let you know they dislike you intensely

    Yes, something to do with being knocked down by cyclists while walking on what is called the footpath, or knocked down by cyclists while crossing on the Green Man, because they don’t believe that the road rules and traffic lights apply to them — and they certainly never would never be so uncool as to have a bloody bell to let we pedestrian sheep know that they are coming. Cyclists are just as big in the wanker stakes as motorists: all equally execrable.

  4. runia said,

    If they have bells they are more annoying as not only are they on the pavement but they then have the nerve to ring their bell at you as if you’re the one who shouldn’t be there.
    It’d be nice if they got some fucking lights too.

  5. Kuching Hitam said,

    It’d be nice if they got some fucking lights too

    So you could see as they fast-pedal downhill in the dark? That’s not very ‘stealth’ is it? Lights on cyclists and traffic lights on those mounds of stinking toxic waste deposited every two metres by those child-eating dogs (always called ‘Max’ or ‘Rocky’) which are the current accessory de rigeur for lumpen thugs.

  6. Rosie said,

    I knew it would happen. Do a post about cyclists and cyclobashers come swarming. Cyclophobia is the only minority hatred that people feel free to express. They don’t rustle up excuses for islamophobia, or anti-Semitism or other forms of racism, saying that the victims brought it on themselves,

    resisitor – read my piece again. It’s about men who bash women who don’t wear burqas or something like them. If anything, it’s a man-bashing piece.

  7. WOOT said,

    “the current accessory de rigeur for lumpen thugs”

    It’s good to have you back Kuching!

  8. Kuching Hitam said,

    Oh aye: islamophobia, antisemitism … and ‘cyclophobia’. That’s risible. Your analogising isn’t working.

    You know, if I was walking down the middle of the road or jay-walking I would have no cause for complaint, but all three close encounters I have had this week (and it’s only Wednesday) occurred on the side-walk. If pedestrians cannot use the road and the pedestrian walkway is not safe, what are we supposed to do? Fly? Teleport?

  9. Jenny said,

    I’d like to post this as a counterpoint:

    But in this case, I think this is more of an issue about cyclist’s rights than the burqa.

  10. shug said,

    The oppression that the sufferragets endured,is no way comparable to the extreem of head stoning by muslim fundamentalists.Yet to compare both,the punishment of a male dominant society and their riggid fundamentalist belief either religion or sex,is offensive.And has no place in a modern society,sadly at this time, not a socialist one.

  11. runia said,

    Pavements for the pedestrians.
    Send the cyclists back to the road where they came from.

  12. shug said,

    Runia,with or without,their helmets.

  13. Will said,

    “Similarly, with regard to comments policy, we try to be as liberal as we can. allowing even highly critical views the maximum possible airing…”

  14. Kojack said,

    This blog is engaged in a shocking display of Willophobia.

  15. shug said,

    Hey Will,does that leave,get a free puncture repair.

  16. maxdunbar said,


    Due to the degeneration of our comments threads into mindless abuse, the quoted policy has been superseded by the new ‘scorched earth’ comment policy.

  17. resistor said,

    (boring, predictable response, deleted)

  18. Will said,

    (string of pointless and abusive comments, deleted under the new ‘Agent Orange’ comments policy)

  19. Will said,

    PS. Please delete John Game. he is very fuckking annoying. Like rabies but with added snot.

  20. resistor said,

    No wonder Volty left.

  21. charliethechulo said,

    I am reliably informed that Volty’s coming back…

    • Will said,

      please let this be so. Please please fuckking please.

  22. Will said,

    you seem to be missing some comments

    They weren’t any loss.

  23. Will said,

    “comments policy” — I have issues with that.

  24. Will said,

    please get Voltaire back. I really can’t wait.

  25. Will said,

    here — this point in the ether — please leave moos here

  26. Reclaim the Streets! « Shiraz Socialist said,

    […] I wrote a post which among other things dealt with men who think they are entitled to intimidate random strangers […]

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