Tuesday, March 22, 2016

If you're not biking, you're part of the problem

I have had so. many. people. point out to me that biking is dangerous. I realize that, from friends and family, this comes from a place of love. People want me to be safe, and thank you for that! I appreciate your concern.
Others, however, exclaim over how unsafe biking is to dismiss it as viable transportation, or even to try to scare me out of doing it and to excuse themselves from biking. There are even drivers out there who will deliberately drive in a dangerous manner around cyclists to highlight how dangerous it is.
Whether you're the jerk whose purposefully making biking less safe, or just the person who won't do it out of safety concerns, I have this to say: you are part of the problem. That should go without saying for the group of people who drives dangerously on purpose around bikers, but the people who are too scared? What?
There has been a lot of scientific analyzing done on why people don't bike (especially women) and it turns out that over half the population is interested in biking but is too concerned about safety to actually do it. (Source and source.) But if you won't bike simply because there are big, bad cars all around you, you're probably also not in the minuscule minority of people who doesn't bike and doesn't own a car, which means that you own a car and are one of the scary drivers you don't want to bike around. You're just making the rest of us do it, and making biking scarier. The perceived danger of biking goes up, and even more people decide not to bike because it's too scary and dangerous. It's an awful feedback loop. By not biking, by giving in to the fear and worry, you become just one more driver on the road, one more person for the rest of us to be afraid of. Hence, you are part of the problem.
It's not that I don't understand the fear, either. Believe me, I'm not immune to worries that someone will take me out one of these days and, at best, I'll end up with massive medical bills. I worry about my husband getting hit every time he bikes away. I've woken up from nightmares in which someone missed me but hit the bike trailer with the Munchkin and...well, you can imagine where my brain goes next. I live with the knowledge that if someone killed my child while we were biking, I would never forgive myself.
But I also ask myself, if someone hit me while we were driving and it had that same tragic outcome, would I beat myself up about it as much? I actually think that the answer might be no, I wouldn't. Would other people judge me as harshly? The answer to that one is definitely no. If we got hit while biking, a majority of people would think that I had it coming for biking with my kid, whereas in a car the same thing would be considered a tragic accident. Why is this? Well, in a car it's much easier to tell myself that I've done all I can to protect her, while the bike seems so exposed. Except, once again, the car would be the dangerous factor in this, whether it was a car-on-car collision or car-on-bike. Cars are, in general, far more dangerous for both the people in them and the people out of them than bikes are. They're also easier to be monumentally stupid in. (Witness the rise of people texting while driving.) The best I can do in either situation is to make us as safe as possible, play defense, and hope that no one around me is insane, intoxicated, or distracted.
And you know what? I actually prefer biking for safety in many ways. For one thing, my bike, even with the attached trailer, has more maneuverability and better stopping power. It always goes slower, so I have more time to react to sudden moves by others. My vision is less obstructed on a bike, so it's easier to see all around me. I don't even hear my phone, and there's no music playing to block the noise of traffic or lull me into complacency. I also make frequent stops in which I can check in with my kiddo. I can't do that in a car because she still faces backwards, but on the bike it's easy enough to attend to her needs most of the time, or gauge her mood.

She likes to steal the butter when we ride home from Costco,
Did you notice a common theme to my worries? I am not ever worried about us being stupid on our bikes. Yes, there have been times when we've made stupid decisions, and it's only ever led to bruises and scrapes. Trips to the emergency room (or morgue) tend to be for those who've been hit by cars*, so I am only worried about the drivers around us. Which brings me back to my earlier point: if all the people who are too worried about drivers to bike would take even one trip by bike a week, it would make the roads massively safer for everyone. After all, the more people who bike, the more drivers will look out for us all. The fewer people who drive, the fewer accidents there will be simply because there will be fewer other drivers to hit. There is no down side to this.
I can understand it if you're in the group of people who hates biking and never wants to do it. There are plenty of things which I can't understand the appeal of, so the fact that biking would strike some people that way isn't bizarre to me. (Well, okay, a little bizarre....) But for those who think only of the safety risks posed by biking, don't! Don't let fear dictate the course of your life. You will never be able to make yourself 100% safe, and it's an expensive illusion to think that you are.
Twice in the last year there have been storms around here which have produced news stories that struck me right to the heart. In both storms, trees fell on cars and killed the male drivers, but didn't scratch their toddlers in the backseat. Now, if they were on bikes the outcome might not have been different - trees might have fallen on them and killed them still. The point is, however, that there are many factors we cannot control, and we are not actually safer in cars than we are out of them. People die in their cars every single day. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not be one of them.

*Kids and/or mountain bikers tend to be the others who end up at the emergency room, but that's mostly just for single broken bones, not for broken bodies like car-on-bike accidents are.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sexism at the playground

"Skinned knees are just part of life with boys."

"Girls make such good older siblings.  I mean, I guess not all of them have that mothering instinct?  But...you know what I mean?  Boys are just so wild."

To my daughter: "Wow, what a brave little girl you are!"  Turns to her own daughter. "Don't you get any ideas, ha ha."

"This is what little girls do!  You wear hair bows.  Stop taking it out of your hair please."

I really didn't expect to hear things like this, not in the twenty-teens.  I guess, now, I'm not even sure why I didn't expect it, beyond a vague idea that the cohort of parents I'm in is determined to do better for their kids, try to let them be who they are more than previous generations of parents have. But apparently in middle-class neighborhoods self-expression is limited to what instrument a kid wants to play.
This is hurting our boys, yes.  Expecting them all to be rough-and-tumble leads parents of shy boys to constantly feel the need to apologize.  "He's so shy!  I don't know why.  *nervous laugh*  Sorry!  I'm sure he'll warm up...."  It's such a silly attitude to have, that you need to apologize if your son isn't rowdy "the way boys are", or if he wants to wear pink or a dress.  Who cares?  Seriously, don't you have anything better to do with your day than worry that someone else's son is gay?  Because let's be honest for once and admit that that's what people are really freaking out over when little boys wear dresses and do "girl things".  They might be gay.  Or, they might just not GAF and want to play around with who they are, but if adults thought of it that way they wouldn't be freaking the fuck out about it.  Seriously, "Parents are often more likely to be worried if their son wants to wear dresses than if their daughter wants to wear" pants.  WTF, people?  Why would you worry about either of those things?
Even more than boys, though, this kind of bullshit is hurting our girls.  I'm going to say it again: it's hurting our girls in so many more devastating ways.  Why do I say that?  Because not only are we telling little girls who and what they should be, we're limiting their world in even more restrictive ways than we do for boys.  I am so livid at the number of parents I see who are deliberately holding their daughters back.  "Oh, don't climb any higher than that, honey!  No, no, that's too high--all right, I'm taking you off of that now."  You might think it's a safety issue, but I've never seen a parent speak that way to a boy.  Not once.  Not even those same parents, to their sons.
Head first.  She likes to be bold,
even in a pink dress.
The very fact that many parents use different tones of voice for different genders--syrupy sweet for girls and firmer for boys--grates on me.
It's not just my imagination or this area.  A recent study found that parents were far more likely to caution girls than boys.  (The study itself is here, but requires payment or membership to read.)  So my big question is, why would we do this to our daughters?  Why would we continuously tell them they can have the world, that they can do or be anything they want, and then just as frequently hold them back when they go for it?  WHY?  It's so maddening, and I don't have an answer.  I'm just pissed that this crap is starting so young.  Girls, right from the start, are being molded into what their parents think little girls should be like, rather than what their little girls think they should be like.  It needs to stop.
I remember understanding and internalizing this injustice when I was young.  My brothers were given pocket knives and, through their Boy Scout troops, got to go on epic adventures.  Building snow caves to sleep in, multi-day canoe trips...I was jealous.  Okay, I still am jealous.  What did my Girl Scout troop do?  Make paper dolls.  I quit when I realized that I wasn't going to be given a pocket knife and learn how to build fires.
But of course the mothers of the Girl Scout troop were horrified that that's what I expected.  I mean, that's just not what little girls want to do, right?  Am I right?  It's a bullshit attitude and, parents, you are kidding yourselves if you think your daughters don't see it and understand it.
I was very girly in many ways.  I loved dresses and dolls and ballet, but that didn't mean I wanted to be left out of the camping and the Learning How To Do Stuff.  I'm just thankful my parents were so supportive, so that I did learn to do cool "boy" things.  (Unfortunately, no matter how I begged, they could not get me into my brother's Boy Scout troop.)  But even with my progressive parents, they never thought to give me a pocket knife, even though my brothers had them.  (The Munchkin will be getting a pocket knife of her very own when we feel she's ready.)
I don't want my girl to encounter the same sexist crap that I did, especially not at home.  I don't want anyone's daughter to experience that.  When I saw how differently people treated me from my brothers, in a way that gave them special privileges for being male, that was the moment that I realized how much grownups lie to kids.  I was told I could be whatever I wanted...but I couldn't really, could I?  If I couldn't even get a grownup to teach me the same skills my brother was learning at the same age, would they really let me grow up to do the same things boys could?
Playing on ice, learning just how slippery it is.
I don't want my daughter to think that even her parents, her biggest supporters and cheerleaders in life, will try to hold her back because of her gender.  No one deserves that.  I am very lucky to be friends with people who feel the same way I do, so my girl will grow up with lots of friends who were also encouraged to explore and grow wild, no matter their gender.
So here it is, all laid out.  My Mother of a Girl Manifesto, if you will: My job as a parent is to give her wings, not to clip them.  I will point out when she's brave, while reassuring her that it's all right to have fears.  I'll be there to hold her hand when she needs it, and stand back when she doesn't.  I'll kiss those scraped knees and encourage her in activities which will earn her more of them.  I will help push her to her limits, because how can she find them if she doesn't look?