Why a feminist needs a bicycle like a fish needs water

This week, British Cycling launched its Get Women Cycling campaign , aiming to get 1 million more women cycling by 2020. The campaign brochure, mercifully, starts with pictures of women racing on track bikes. I say ‘mercifully’ in the light of the European Commission’s dire campaign to get more women into science, of which more below. British Cycling wants bike riding to become a normal activity for women and the organisation is aware that concern about safety is the biggest barrier.

There is however something that saddens me about all this. I don’t need to be encouraged to cycle because it’s never occurred to me not to. Historically the bicycle is linked to the suffrage movement. Bikes and women go together. The bicycle gave women the freedom to move independently. It saw the rise of sensible clothing for women. Sheila Hanlon at the Women’s Library is investigating the links between suffrage campaigners and cycling. The suffragists were sportswomen – the Pankhursts were avid cyclists and supporters of the Clarion Cycling Club. One can be both feminine, whatever that means, and sporty. Being female is not, or need not be, about looking pretty. You can be a woman and celebrate your physicality. You do not have to dislike your body and fret about your weight. You can love your body and celebrate its speed and grace as you pedal. There is nothing quite like the surge of power that comes along with the hum of a bike’s wheels and the knowledge that it’s powered by you. Bikes and women should be natural partners so why is that in the twenty-first century, after several waves of feminism, only 1 in 4 once-a-week cyclists are women?

It’s not just cycling that lacks female participation. Faced with the problem of a lack of women in science, the European Commission came up with this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g032MPrSjFA a video mind numbing in its sexism, reinforcement of gender stereotypes and seemingly genuine belief that women aren’t interested in anything unless you can put lipstick on it. Science, according to them, is a ‘girl thing’ because it features heels, good looking men, make up and pretty colours. There’s only one thing to say that: bollocks. Fortunately, to save me from deconstructing this pile of steaming piffle we have this : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtZCq83v92s Don’t watch that at work. It’s safe enough but your colleagues might wonder why you’re weeping with laughter.

All of this reminds me of a key problem within western society, in fact perhaps in all societies. We laud things associated with masculinity and mock things associated with femininity. We use ‘throwing like a girl’ as an insult. We forget that overarm bowling was invented by a woman because she couldn’t bowl underarm whilst wearing a skirt. Yes, that’s right. Every fast bowler, spin bowler, the best bowlers the world has ever seen, all of them, to a man, have thrown like a girl. We should celebrate being female and celebrate women’s physicality without reducing them to physical objects or reinforcing stereotypes that women like anything pink, sparkly, shiny and cute. We need to change our attitude so that throwing like a girl becomes a compliment. We need to re-unite women with the bicycle and all it stands for.

It is to the credit of British Cycling that they have asked women why women don’t cycle. They cite:

Lack of time
Lack of confidence on a bike and cycling on the highway
Lack of female role models, eg ride leaders
Lack of knowledge of bike maintenance and associated vulnerabilities
Negative body image associated with kit, equipment and resultant ‘muscular’ physique
Costs associated with purchase of bike
Impracticalities of bike transportation.

Note,  the objections to cycling have absolutely bugger all, naff all, nothing, to do with helmet hair, lipstick, pink lego, heels, or any of the other insulting claptrap that gets thrown at women. British Cycling have listened and their plans do not include insulting videos or promises of makeup. They know they need more female leaders if they are to get more women cycling.

Primarily I think British Cycling should focus on making roads safer and on encouraging better cycling infrastructure. Women wouldn’t need to find time to cycle if they were routinely using their bikes for transport. You don’t need more confidence if you can cycle safely away from motorised traffic. Costs are kept down if cycling becomes a form of transport, which it would be if we had the infrastructure. There’s no need to worry about bike transportation if it’s safe to go anywhere by bike without first driving to somewhere safe. But there is something else that I think British Cycling could do and another idea that I’m forming. It’s in its early stages but I’m thinking about Eva, feminism, bikes, and women specific geometry. Allow me to explain.

Eva is the name of my new bike. She (she really is a she) is a Specialized Vita, hence her full name Eva Evita. Look, it’s normal to name bikes, or at least normal for me. Eva has women’s specific geometry. That is, her frame is designed for a woman. Of course, there is a whole thesis in the fact that other bikes are seen as neutral or unisex whereas Eva and her kin are seen as women-specific when the reality is that a unisex bike has men-specific geometry. In too many spheres men are seen as the template and women as the deviation from the norm. Eva, unfortunately, does not dispel this. But that’s for another time. Unisex bikes, truth to tell, are designed for men. This means that in 35 years of cycling, as a woman, I have always been riding bikes that did not quite fit. Much as loved them, there was always the slight sense that something was off. In order to get the length I needed between seat and handlebars, the seat was too high. If I got the seat low enough, the handlebars were in my lap. I learned to ride so that I could just get a toe on the floor if I tipped the bike sideways.

Eva was, therefore, an utter revelation. She fits. And because she fits she makes the absolute most of my strength. I’m not struggling or reaching but using every fraction of my muscular power to push Eva forward because she is designed for my proportions. She is designed to make the most of a woman’s physicality. And this is important. As a woman I am always aware that I am less strong than the average man and I have always made up for this by maximising the strength that I have. Eva is engineered for me. Eva goes like shit off a shovel. She scared the bejeesus out of me until I got used to her speed. My speed.

On Eva, I’m not hauling around a too-big bike. I see a gap in the traffic and I’m confident I can go for it. Eva and I move as one. Vitally, Eva’s design acknowledges anatomical differences between men and women without castigating women for it or using them to deny women something. Eva’s design does not imply that my mental characteristics are different. She’s not designed specifically for high heels, although since she has flat pedals I could wear them if I wanted to. She gives me choice.

As I wrote elsewhere, when I rode my old Dawes, people often mistook me for a man. No-one has done this yet when I’m on Eva. They might in the future but I think it is unlikely. On Eva I still move confidently and assertively in a way more usually associated with men. However, there is something decidedly female about Eva. She’s white, so it’s a gender-neutral colour. The frame is diamond shaped, not step through. The trim is dark blue and green, stylish but not overtly feminine. And yet Eva is female. She suits me. I’m not sure what it is about the appearance of the Specialized Vita but it says Female without saying ‘stereotypically feminine’. Eva enables me to celebrate being a woman in my own right whilst acknowledging my physical differences. I can cycle as a woman, not as a feminine object. Eva is empowering for she says I can be female and with this I can be anything I want to be. I can make the most of my strength.

For me, as a feminist, this is key. I don’t have to be some sort of ersatz man to gain status. Neither do I have to tick all the boxes for ‘looks stereotypically feminine’ to be acknowledged as a woman. And there is a new feminism about the place. I rejoice in this. No longer do women feel they have to apologise for being feminist. The Everyday Sexism project reminds us that we still need feminism. There are still battles to be fought for equality.

If British Cycling wishes to succeed it would do well to engage with the modern feminist movement. Cycling can bring women health, freedom, fitness, confidence in their bodies, and camaraderie with each other, all things that feminism seeks. More than this,  if British Cycling can make the roads safer for women they can make them safer for everyone. It is a fundamental truth of feminism that if society becomes better for women, it becomes better for men too. For a society to be better for women, it first has to acknowledge that might is not right. It must become fairer, giving opportunities based on ability, equality and merit, not on strength or influence.

This then is the Eva theory of feminism, cycling and equality, in its early stages. Eva acknowledges physical differences but still enables strength. She’s female without conforming to stereotype. She gives me power, independence and joy in my own physicality. If British Cycling wants more women on bikes, it could do worse than to look to Eva. As for me, well I need my bike in the same way that a fish needs water.

Brendan’s last week: Friday

There are lots of tears in the hospital. I think that, having made the set, Hollyoaks are determined to get their money’s worth out of it. Cheryl tries to stick to the story Brendan came up with despite Ste’s questioning. Unfortunately she’s so bad at lying she can’t even face Ste and probably wouldn’t fare much better with Dumb and Dumber.  Cheryl says she heard what Seamus said to Brendan although Seamus was dead when she got there.  Ste’s almost as slow on the uptake as Cheryl is bad at lying but even he knows that the dead aren’t famed for their chattiness and realises that it was Cheryl, not Brendan, who shot Seamus,.

Half way intelligent cop has disappeared. Dumb and Dumber want to interview Cheryl. And Brendan’s not actually dead, just a bit wounded. The man has more lives than a cat although since he failed to be dead when he was blown up I suppose it was silly to think a police shoot out would stop him. How different the ending to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would have been if Brendan had featured.

Sienna thinks Seamus’s winning betting slip should go to Cheryl. Whatever. Myra breaks the news of the death and shooting to Nate in her own special way. Then she informs Darren that Nate is a millionaire with a country estate and will marry Cheryl so Darren decides maybe he can keep the betting slip.

Brendan is trying to convince Ste to let him take the blame. Max tells Sienna and friends that ‘It’s murder out there’.  Yes Max, that’s Hollyoaks for you. Will decides to turn detective to help his mother so frankly the woman is doomed.

Cheryl confesses to Nate that Seamus used to hurt Brendan. Cheryl tells Nate their relationship is over. I wish Nate didn’t remind me of chutney. Every time I see him I wonder if his breath smells of cheese. This worries me.

Ste tells Brendan it ends here. Poor old Ste, covered in bruises, asking if Brendan knows what love is. It’s like a lesson in denial. And Kieron needs a proper acting job away from Hollyoaks. Dumb or possibly Dumber comes to take Brendan away from the hospital to prison.

Darren tells his dad they don’t need to move. They are the new owners of the pub. He’s won the bet. Lying about the betting slip probably isn’t a great move. And Nancy hates the fact that he appears to be gambling again but goes along with it to keep the pub. Oh I don’t care. I want Esther back.

Anna tells her family that she got Mark to safety from Patrick and meant to go back for Sienna. She claims Patrick is the one who is dangerous and manipulative. Max however thinks that Anna tried to gas the kids and suffocate Sienna. This is Max who thought ‘Kevin’ the barman who drugged her was lovely and who fell for Walker’s ‘I’m a good cop me’ act.

Anna says she’s better but also makes it clear she did try to hurt the twins. Anna gets taken away by men in white t-shirts as if we’re in Hollyoaks: The Victorian Years. Patrick does a special villainous aside just so we all know it’s him really. Mind you, I’m not too sure about Sienna either.

Ste is falling apart. He wants Cheryl to go with Nate. She says she’ll confess to the murder. Ste does not want Brendan’s sacrifice to be for nothing. He bellows this just as Nate approaches. Ste bless him is rather accident prone. Cheryl tells Nate the truth and still blames herself for not seeing what was happening. Nate points out she saved Brendan when he really needed her. I’m warming to Nate. So long as he leaves I’ll like him. Ste tells Cheryl ‘you run as fast and as far as you can and don’t look back.’ He might have added ‘before anybody else is murdered, shot, strangled, or hit by an exploding van door’.

Mercy’s missing and creepy doc is back. Hollyoaks then murder a U2 song. There really should be an embargo on cover versions of their songs. If you hate U2 you won’t care if you never hear one again and if you like them you certainly don’t want to hear that kind of dirge. Ste’s kids are back. Cheryl at least gets a glamorous and tear free exit looking like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, if such a thing is possible.

And Brendan. Well Brendan is looking at a long stretch in prison although the man is still alive and this is Hollyoaks. Who knows what will happen.

Brendan’s last week: Thursday

So Seamus is dead and Cheryl is cracking up. Anna the Creepy Carer has some explaining to do. She says she has thought of the family every single day. Dodger says he thinks of the family everyday and then forgets he’s got a twin. Sienna does not look impressed.

Ste has heard gunshots which will put the kibosh on any cover up even though Brendan’s made Cheryl wash any gunshot residue off her hands and has fired the gun himself. Cheryl feels guilty about not seeing what Seamus did to Brendan and no amount of hand washing will rid her of either blood or guilt. Brendan wouldn’t tell her about the abuse because he loved her and didn’t want her world to come crashing down. Cheryl confesses that she too had wanted to be daddy’s favourite. Except no, not like that.

Dodger thought Anna was dead then was convinced she’d come back.  Will takes after his mother at least in general creepiness and manipulation. I need a stiff gin to get through this episode. Sienna doesn’t want Anna as a mum which is cool as Ann doesn’t recognise her anyway. She really is quite unhinged and I’m not sure this is the best way to portray mental health problems. In fact I’m fairly sure it isn’t. Anna can’t face Patrick. The cops are everywhere thanks to Ste.

Meanwhile back at the club/ O.K. Corral Brendan unplugs the phone. He wants to lie to get out of this. He’ll take the wrap for Cheryl. In fact he says he’s taking the bullet for her. I’m not quite that’s what that expression means.

The police, who have found someone halfway intelligent, are trying to make contact with Brendan. Darren and Nancy are arguing over a horse race.  Turns out it was a horse called Lady Luck and she’s romped home so Darren goes off to find Seamus and give him the good news.

Patrick encounters Anna. Will gets protective. Patrick says something about medication. Anna is convinced Patrick used to beat her. Anna’s other husband/ Dodger’s other dad whose name I never knew so I can’t say I’ve forgotten it does a big The Family’s Here speech. I momentarily wonder if I’ve switched to Eastenders.

Brendan and Cheryl argue. Brendan wants to protect her for ever. He can’t let Seamus win. (Or Walker for that matter). Brendan sees it as past crimes catching up on him.  Cheryl says he can’t go to prison so Brendan tells her he killed nana. Cheryl at this stage seems too stunned to take this in. #StopCherylCryingIDon’tLikeIt

Patrick shouts at his lawyer like some kind of 1980s yuppy throwback. He knew where Anna was, mainly because it seems he had her locked up in a hospital. Darren wonders where Seamus is as he was just about to make his night. Oh his night’s been made Darren. Take the betting slip and run, run like Lady Luck.

Cheryl wonders if the police will believe about the abuse and so understand why they shot Seamus. Brendan tells Cheryl he’s going to meet the police and she’s not to follow him out.  I think it might be suicide by cop. Out at the top of the club steps Brendan confesses to assorted murders, all the glare of several helicopter floodlights on him. Cheryl realises a second too late what Brendan’s planning. Brendan shuts the door on her, pulls a gun on the police and his world goes black.

Brendan’s Last Week: Wednesday

Brendan replays Walker’s last words – there’s a parting gift that will tear the Bradys’ lives apart. He knows it’s not over, he’s pulled the pin out of a grenade.  I’m not sure if Walker meant an actual bomb, or just Seamus. The police don’t know Walker is dead, let alone that he’s left some kind of bomb, metaphysical or otherwise. I don’t know why I’m surprised. Hollyoaks Police rarely know anything, even when you tell them.

Brendan tells Ste that Seamus beat him up, then made it up to him ‘in his own special way’ and the light finally dawns on Ste. In fairness to Kieron Richardson and Emmett Scanlan who play Ste and Brendan, it’s well acted. It’s a bit hammy from Scanlan but convincing for all that. And as Brendan admits to Ste, the abuse is not a reason for him to hit people. He knows that not everyone who has been abused turns out like him.

Ste wants Brendan to tell Cheryl about the abuse, convinced that she’ll believe him. I doubt this. She didn’t believe Nate when Nate mentioned it to her. Then Ste says the fatal words ‘after today we get our happy ever after’.  Oh dear god no, don’t says things like that for pity’s sake, Ste. Now we know for sure that it’s all going to go belly up.

Creepy Will and his even creepier carer are back. Darren pokes his nose into Seamus’s business. Bad idea. Seamus confesses that him buying the pub depends on a bet. Darren points out that there are no sure fire bets, giving anyone watching this twice a nice example of retrospective irony.

Creepy Carer, confronted by Almost As Creepy Will says the agency know her as Elaine Brooks, her married name. Texas and Will fall for it. Seamus, rather drunk, has an appointment with Lady Luck. Darren hopes he doesn’t catch anything which is rather a slight on Lady Luck. Darren finds what might be Seamus’s betting slip.

Meanwhile, back at the Bradys’, Cheryl finds a gun which is why I always prefer to leave the ecosystem under my sofa entirely alone. No good ever came of tidying up under furniture. Presumably this is the gun used to kill Dumbbell. Then she turns on her laptop to find a recording of Brendan and Seamus and their therapy session with Walker. Ooops. I hate it when Cheryl cries and I can’t help but think that Walker in fact wanted to die, leaving this mess behind him.

Will and Texas have an engagement party and my creepometer breaks.

Seamus and Brendan confront each other in the club. Seamus tells his son that he has driven Cheryl away by being a ‘filthy queer’. But Cheryl now knows what really happened with Brendan and there we have our bomb. Of course Seamus was beaten by his father too. As that cheery soul Larkin was wont to point out, man hands on misery to man. Seamus is now denying he abused Brendan and I can understand Brendan’s fear that no-one will believe him. Except he seems to find some conviction from somewhere, he knows what Seamus is.

Ellie joins the party late, looking rather odd. Except it turns out she’s Anna, Dodger and Will’s mother. Meanwhile Seamus is beating up Brendan. It’s not even 7pm people. So Cheryl shoots Seamus. Yes, I know. I really wasn’t expecting that. Roll on Thursday.

Brendan’s last dance: Tuesday

It’s the morning after the night before. Will and Texas are wedding planning. Wedding planning normally irritates me but in their case it’s worse. Will, always slightly jealous of his brother Dodger, has taken a turn for the creepy. Will lied to Texas about Dodger so that she’d have sex with him, she then found out the lie and pushed him whilst standing at the top of a flight of stairs. Oddly, he didn’t immediately tumble down them. Instead Will waited until she’d gone and then threw himself over the edge both literally and figuratively.

Will ended up in a wheelchair but forgave Texas. Everyone, including Texas, thinks she pushed him, since the shove occurred on the only stairs outside a nightclub in England not to have CCTV. I’d describe Texas as Dumb but that leaves little room for describing the Hollyoaks police force. Will, getting creepier by the microsecond, tricks Texas into being his girlfriend and then his fiancé.  The only person creepier than Will is his new mysterious carer.

The police are currently represented by Dumb and Dumber. Dumb tells the Bradys that Walker is on the run. Brendan says Walker will never stop, giving me visions of the Terminator.

Texas and Walker bump into each other at the graveyard. The creepy carer sticks her nose in with Leanne and invites her to Will’s special lunch. Even atheists offer a collective prayer that this isn’t a euphemism. Nate is either being very romantic or turning into a creepy stalker. You decide.

Brendan’s in a portacabin decorated with pictures of the Bradys. I have no idea, sorry. Could be Walker’s lair. Cheryl wants to stay and work with Seamus in the pub, despite the extraordinary death toll in Hollyoaks. Run Cheryl, run.

Walker talks to Texas. She recognises him. Bad move. Mind you, she has no sense of self preservation that woman. Texas passes on a message from Walker to Ste. Brendan must meet Walker by his dead brother’s grave or Ste’s kids will get hurt. By this point I’ve got a headache and I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon. Brendan torches the lair, or whatever it was. Will talks to the Carer about Dodger. She’s like a nanny who turns out to be a ghost in real life.

Brendan is at an appropriately snowy graveyard. Walker, or maybe someone else, tries to look threatening on a scooter. And then we have a car—bike chase in a graveyard. And I keep wondering how bad Walker must smell after months on the run.

Cheryl tells Seamus that she and Nate are moving back to Ireland. I know at least one person will die this week and I’m starting to wonder if it will be Nate.

Will is tracking Texas using GPS, tells her, and she thanks him. (I know, I know, I just can’t do anything about it). Will realises that Creepy Carer AKA Ellie Harper is a fake when he phones her agency. Since, as they say, it takes one to know one, his creepdar must work well. Unlike Texas who has all the survival instincts of a panda.

Brendan and Walker go mano-a-mano, Walker having ditched the scooter. Brendan spouts philosophy worthy of Eric Cantona. This is street fighting vs. crazy cop fighting on a very high bridge. Crazy is winning until Brendan kicks him under a train. Personally I wouldn’t put it past Walker to survive since whilst Brendan should be covered in blood, he just looks a bit shaky. I’m certain there’s a bomb somewhere, preferably somewhere under Nate. Roll on Wednesday and another sweet teatime episode of Death in Hollyoaks.

Brendan’s last week in Hollyoaks: Monday

The story so far…

For those who can’t remember, got confused, or don’t watch Hollyoaks but are reading this anyway, Brendan and Walker are the anti-hero and the ultimate bad cop. Brendan, all round hard guy, sociopath, and moustachioed muscle man who’s probably quite nice really, seems to own about half the club that used to belong to Warren (don’t ask, it doesn’t matter). Walker was the undercover cop charged with getting close to him although he appears to have taken his job a bit too seriously and personally. Brendan sold Walker’s brother some drugs which left the brother in a persistent vegetative state and ultimately killed him, thus Walker wants revenge.

Walker has tried to get revenge before, which resulted in a prolonged chase around Southend (I think) with Joel’s dead stepdad in the boot, Brendan killing his nan, Mitzeee escaping from jail whilst handcuffed to a sex-starved nymphomaniac and an exploding house flinging Brendan beachwards. Then, when Walker tried to kill Ste, he shot Dumbbell the footballer instead (don’t ask, I don’t know). Walker then resurfaced and got some kind of hold over the new barman who I’ll call Kevin as it might be his name, although it probably isn’t. Kevin had to kill Mitzeee’s sister who looks so like her I could just call her Mitzeee but, oh no, hang on, she’s called Max. Possibly. Kevin drugged her instead of killing her. She escaped and seems to be about to seduce the new headmaster.

Anyway, Walker has Brendan’s dad at gun point which is odd because Brendan has previously tried to kill his dad and Walker isn’t daft. He must know Brendan would cheerfully murder his dad if he could get away with it. Perhaps Walker will get Brendan to shoot him.

Cheryl and Steve are in a car park somewhere. Nate’s being Nate. (Nate is the millionaire who drove a horse and cart around Southend, whenever I see him I think of chutney, no idea why).

Walker hits Brendan over the head, knocking him out. He wakes up to no Walker, handcuffed to his dad Seamus. Dad tells him ‘You dropped your guard when you turned around. Do you remember nothing of what I taught you?’ which is as about as direct a reference to male rape, paedophilia and incest as you can probably manage at 6:30 in the evening.

Walker’s off, locking up Cheryl and Steve with a terrifying efficiency often lacking in modern society. He puts them somewhere dark and cold where they’re running out of air. It’s possible this is my flat though I’ve not noticed them. Then he returns to play truth or dare with Seamus and Brendan.

This is therapy à la Walker. It’s direct but might be better than the therapy he’s had so far.  Ste still has a touching faith that Brendan will find them despite the fact that Ste’s face is covered in blood from the last time Brendan found him.

Aha. Walker is blaming Seamus. If Seamus hadn’t raped Brendan, Brendan would not have become a drug dealer. So Walker unties Brendan and gives him a piece of lead piping, having thoroughly wound him up. And we know Brendan basically has zero self control, so will he end up beating Seamus to death? At this point Hollyoaks’ background spooky muzak really starts to grate though not enough to stop me wondering just how dark early evening TV is allowed to be.

Faced with a pipe-wielding sociopathic son with a really odd moustache, Seamus denies it all but apologises for something and says he didn’t know how to stop.

Meanwhile Cheryl and Steve have a chance, as cold people have slower metabolisms.  Also, there’s piping in the wall. Just break the bloody piping and get some air in. Honestly, some people have no imagination. Then Nate arrives. If it were me I’d tell him to go away and send someone less irritating to the rescue. Cheryl and Ste get out. This is all going a bit too well.

Seamus loved Brendan. And knows he’s going to hell. Walker wants Brendan to choose between Seamus or Ste and Cheryl. Seamus agrees that if it will save Cheryl, Brendan can batter him to death (it’s 6.55 people, I don’t want nightmares). Brendan tackles Walker with a gun which is never a good sign. Presumably several neighbours were shot.

Everybody’s happy. Walker has a Messiah complex and several armed cops apparently fail to apprehend him as we have the final shots of cut cable ties and an unconscious/ dead police officer. And tomorrow, creepy Will gets involved. Sleep well.