I think the role of sexism in our culture in general, and within bike repair specifically is very tricky.  It is much less tangible--laws have been changed, policies alter, spaces become ostensibly more "open."  So with all these institutional barriers removed, why aren't there more women in the shop, and why do I as a woman still feel a little icky sometimes and that things still aren't quite right?  I believe it is because to make a traditionally male-dominated space or field more gender-inclusive requires more than just removing barriers; it also require changing the culture.  This means that to really fight sexism at its root we can't just open the doors to all, we also have to change how things run, what gets said, the everyday little stuff that is not overtly discriminatory but might still contribute to making a space male-dominated (and by the way the same would go for a female-dominated space, though this gets talked about much less and is a discussion for a different listserv).  The gender-inclusive shop can't just be the old shop plus women; it requires changing the way things get done, and letting those new to the space make it theirs too.  

Just read Josh's cake analogy, and I like it.  A few questions: Why don't you like cake?  Did you have a previous bad experience with cake?  Is cake considered tacky or trashy in the circles you grew up in?  Maybe you've never had cake before and you're afraid you'll make a cake faux-pas?  Do you prefer cupcakes, or pie?  Do you have an ethical issue with this cake?  My point is, there is a whole set of cultural and personal questions behind cake preference, or to drop the analogy, affinity for riding and fixing bikes.  Obviously, we cannot change the world tomorrow nor is is practical to address each and every person's idiosyncracies.  But, we can ask ourselves what about the specific space, or the general politics and culture of bikes more broadly, makes it more appealing to some demographics than others?  

My point is that if we really and truly want to be more inclusive, it is going to require being open to change.  Listen well to those new to your organization, particularly if they do come from a different site of privilege.  Think about different learning styles, languages and speech patterns, body language, body types, etc. and notice what types the shop space favors (because inevitably something is being favored).  If you are a person with privilege, realize that making the space more comfortable for others will probably mean making it a tiny bit more uncomfortable for you, from the outset.  But the great opportunity here is that everyone will learn.  It is not about accommodation, but something more radical, and isn't that sorta what this is about--not just bikes, but also a protest to the dictatorial nature of a consumerist-driven society?  This might look like a leap, but it's all related to me.  

I could get more specific, but this is way long and if you are still reading, thanks for listening and email me if you want to talk more.

Davis Bike Collective 

On Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 5:56 AM, <winter.snowy.rose@gmail.com> wrote:
I think that this is very much a multi-faceted issue. So I will only present some of them.

There can be an open-mindedness in adult men about tools that isn't always present in adult women. For instance, give a man a new tool and he (perhaps from tinkering with daddy as a child) will think that  he knows what to do with it. In my experience this can result in broken tools, hurt bike parts, or hurt body parts.
Give that same new tool to a woman. She may be intimidated by it, not knowing what it does or how it can hurt her. Having seen other people pick it up and seemingly having an innate knowledge about it (and maybe hurting something) makes the process of familiarization that much more challenging and time-consuming. She isn't likely to come back if she was scared or even uncomfortable.

Perhaps because of this reputation for unfamiliarity, work done can be second-guessed. Personally, there is no response that I've found to resolve this issue. You'd be arguing with an ideologue. An extension of that is having female instruction second-guessed. That cannot be tolerated. It doesn't allow for the learner to learn.

The final case of undermining that I've been exposed to (and, thankfully, not around bikes!) is men who refuse to tell me the information that I need to get a task done. A bike-related example, thankfully hypothetical:
A man needs his bike fixed. He will not say what's wrong with it, nor what he's hearing or feeling. Only that it's broken. Fix it. He's doing this to challenge me. No matter what I find, it's not the "broken" he's thinking of. No matter what I fix, it isn't good enough. In an extreme case, he may lead me down the wrong path (ie I find that his brakes are sub-par and fix those. Maybe he'll even tell me that they're the only problem. But what originally caused him to come in is a loose headset). If I miss something that breaks further, he will blame not only me doing my job, but my gender. This reinforces his negative stereotype of women in non-traditional roles. But is it my fault? No. He set me up to fail by not telling me the problem. And he would do it to any woman sharing my occupation. Again, an ideologue and the problem is neither me nor my chest. It's him setting me up to be the problem. But word will get out that xx shop has a bad mechanic just the same.

Our society has changed very dramatically in the past fifty years. It amazes me that attitudes have changed as much as they have. That's mere generations of parents passing down old societal predjudices. Of course we have more to do, hence these discussions. So I hope I have helped you with what you're looking for.

Ride safe
------Original Message------
From: Angel York
Sender: thethinktank-bounces@bikecollectives.org
To: The Think Tank
ReplyTo: The Think Tank
Subject: Re: [TheThinkTank] Digression from the non-male only projectsthread.
Sent: 29 Oct 2009 03:48

It seems to me that this discussion is sufficiently on-topic (that is, relates to community bike shops) to keep as a part of this listserv.  I, for one, appreciate this conversation. Angel On Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 10:19 PM, Mark Rehder <mark@drumbent.com> wrote: What would be interesting is to find some cycling stats based on gender - how many women ride bikes compared to men?  How many do so for commuting or casual riding, and also as a competitive sport (pro or amateur)?  Here in Ottawa I would give a very rough estimate of a 3-1 ratio on the street. But that does not seem to translate into the industry.  Of the shops around here, the ones that have women even just doing sales tend to the larger "sports" stores, and there's only one shop I'm aware of that actually had a woman wrench (McCrank's in the Glebe, where I used to work part-time).  And it's a bike-only  shop. Is it the old thing of women still not being socialized to do mechanical things?  As I was growing up I thought feminism would finally help push all this gender-related crap aside, but we all know it has not.  But how deep is the mind-set?  I need to read up on my gender studies to see if little girls really do prefer dolls and little boys prefer trucks. What has been heartening is how many younger women are showing an interest in fixing their own bikes.  We don't get too many women over 35 coming in, but lots in the 18-35 group.  We've had a few with some experience say they'd like to be come a Head Mechanic, but unfortunately none have so far followed through.  One of our current Shop Assistants did say last summer that she plans to become our first female HM, but then her new job seems to have kept her away from the shop, so we're no closer to even that modest goal. Women have told us they appreciate seeing other women in the shop, especially as staff, answering questions and selling bikes.  While we are gender lopsided in terms of mechanics, we're at least doing better in terms of committed volunteer staff.  But it is certainly not representati
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Sarah McCullough

Cultural Studies graduate student
University of California - Davis
Bike Forth volunteer