Monday, June 28, 2010

Do We Care If They See Our Underwear?

[image via velo-mama]

Ah, the topic of underpant visibility whilst cycling in a skirt! It is truly one of which we lady cyclists never seem to tire. Some enthusiastically discuss methods of tying down the skirt so as to curb its treacherous revelations. Others advocate wearing leggings. But as I cycled to various meetings in different parts of Vienna today in insane mid-day heat, I suddenly simply did not care. And neither, I noticed, did any of the Viennese ladies on bicycles around me. And, more importantly still, neither did the men.

Noticing this made me think about why it is that we tend to be so concerned about whether our underpants are showing as we cycle. Is it a personal sense of modesty? Or is it because of how men look at us? For me, I have to say it is the latter. In the US, if I am not wearing leggings under a skirt while cycling, it is almost inevitable that a man will shout something at me or meaningfully look at me in a way that I find unpleasant. That is why I wear leggings, and not because I am inherently ashamed to show my underwear. Despite the theoretical progress in gender relations, I think it is unsafe to evoke a curiosity about my anatomy in strange men.

By comparison, in Vienna the men don't seem too interested in examining women cycling in skirts. Perhaps it is a deep-rooted cultural difference when it comes to gender relations, or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there is a nudist beach just down the river. Whatever the reason, it is a welcome relief. If they don't care, then honestly - I don't either. If only that sense of liberation were enough to deal with this horrible heatwave!

39 comments:

  1. Ha!

    I don't know if I don't get, or just don't notice the leers here.
    In my teen years I rode horses, and at shows, often had to do outfit changes on a tight schedule. So in my teen years, when I should have been most sensitive to unwanted gazes, I was regularly changing clothes in the semi- privacy of a horse trailer or stall, and learned just not to care too much.
    I feel like modesty is something to preserve with the people I know. Which is one reason I don't like wearing cycling shorts to commute to work. I feel really exposed walking into my office in skin hugging, leave nothing to the imagination lycra.
    I'd really rather not blatantly flash a bunch of guys in a flagrant way (as I once did when I did a Marilyn in front of the homeless shelter once). But some random guy on some random street? Who cares!
    My feeling is that if a glimpse of my upper thigh made his day, he needs to get a life :)

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  2. There's nothing wrong with that skirt that twenty pounds of depleted uranium sewn into the hem wouldn't fix! ;-)

    Seriously, when I'm riding in the heat, I'm more interested in getting to a coffee shop where I can get free, triple filtered ice water...

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  3. I love that poster! I normally wear pettipants (as in the photo above) when biking in a skirt, but since it's gotten so hot, I've also decided that I just don't care :) It's way too hot to have 3 bottom layers (skirt, liner, and pettipants)! It is unfortunately true though, that in the U.S., especially in cities where you don't see many women biking in general, it's likely that biking in a skirt will elicit catcalls and/or lewd expressions. When I was in Copenhagen, there were women in extremely short skirts, however, and no one seemed to pay any attention, probably due to the sheer numbers of women cyclists.

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  4. Modesty was drilled into from a very early age. So I have to admit, that I personally get uncomfortable when my skirt goes flying. I do love leggings for that purpose, but they are really not great for the hot days of summer.

    I did just buy some short bike shorts and have been using them under my more flow-y skirts. They may make me a little hotter on those rides home from work, but they eliminate skirt stress. Leaving me to cycle with a more carefree attitude and let those skirts fly!

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  5. I think I care! I am currently mulling the under-gear dilemma because I do love riding in skirts but the curious looks make me antsy. I do like the bloomers but I'm thinking more of a nice black cotton boy-short type arrangement.

    I did just see this vintage photo earlier tonight on eBay and thought of you--imagine riding in that skirt! And check the gorgeous skirt-guard on the bike...
    http://cgi.ebay.com/Woman-Bicycle-Vintage-Clothing-MUST-SEE-/370402425856?cmd=ViewItem&pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item563db47c00#ht_500wt_1154

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  6. It's strange, if I saw a a woman in a G-string bikini on the beach, I would look twice but think it perfectly acceptable. Now put the same woman on a bicycle, wearing a skirt and with much of her leg above the knee exposed and …….

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  7. I mostly feel like constant heckling is an unfortunate part of life as a woman, here in NYC at least. I like riding a bike rather than walking because I can get away from it more quickly.

    Random staring and catcalling does bother me enough that I do wear leggings most of the time that I'm wearing a skirt or dress. This stops for me at about 85-90 degrees but I am a summer person who loves hot hot weather. The blasé men of Vienna are sounding good to me right now :) as the 95 degree heat has forced me to abandon my leggings for bare linen and cotton dresses and the men of North Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan are out-of-control. Hot blood everywhere.

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  8. I don't know if it's applicable to Europe in general, but when we lived in Lithuania, we noticed that they had a very different view towards sexuality and nudity than we do here - for instance, you would find a naked woman on a bottle of thigh cream, applying it to her thigh. It wasn't meant to be sexy, it was just practically showing what the cream was for. Women would wear see-through mesh shirts with just a bra underneath, and it was just normal, nobody looked at them like they were being immodest, and men didn't ogle them as they walked down the street.

    I think by becoming such a prudish society, America has essentially created a society in which anything that could remotely be construed as sexual is. It creates this weird tension that you notice, and we (men) do too - I sometimes feel awkward looking at women in certain situations, because I don't want them to think I'm ogling them.

    Personally, if I saw a woman cycling in a skirt, and her underwear were showing, if she was fussing with them, I think it would just be slightly amusing and would get a slight smile from me (in a similar way to someone trying to keep their hat on in a windstorm), otherwise I agree, who cares?

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  9. When I was a kid most of my education came from reading National Geographic and Hot Rod magazines, My dad also had some European sportscar magazines from the 50s and early 60s.

    I remember thinking that the engineers at Vespa must have done a tremendous amount of reseach to calibrate the top speed and aerodynamics of their scooters to lift the skirt of any young lady who was bold enough or desperate enough to brave Italian roads on one. ALL Vespa adds showed underpants(without exception). Was that reality or was there a postwar cottage industry devoted to devices to keep ones knees covered? As a 13 year old I was intensely interested in Italian culture. What about the 13 year olds in Vienna? Are they that mature and sophisticated that they don't notice this cycling phenomenon?

    Spindizzy

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  10. Same situation for me. I'll feel perfectly happy and carefree until some guy makes some creepy comment passing by, then I'll want my spandex shorts underneath. Too bad we have to worry about crap like that all the time.

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  11. A cyclist in lycra/spandex cycling shorts actually leaves less to the imagination than the one whose skirt is flapping in the breeze. Yet a cyclist of either sex in racing shorts doesn't get the kind of attention that a cyclist in a skirt gets.

    At least, that's what my experience has shown me. When I was the "before" photo, I used to feel self-conscious about what my shorts revealed, especially in the crotch area. But other people seemed to notice it less than I did. On the other hand, I can feel like I'm really fat or old and, when I bike in a skirt and it blows up or back even a little, someone is sure to comment. If I'm lucky, all I hear is "Nice legs, honey!;" but at other times I've heard more menacing calls, and have even been followed by men in motorized vehicles.

    About attitudes in the US vs. those in Europe: Remember that the first Europeans who settled here were Puritans. We've never quite gotten over it.

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  12. This is a nice blog. Keep up the good work!

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  13. After wrestling with this question a bit, I've done some field study and concluded . . . I don't care. If I'm biking by and they happen to be looking, they're still gonna have to use their imagination to really see anything. Sure, I take common-sense precautions to keep my skirt somewhat in place, but in reality, the casual observer ain't gonna get a big show. The thrill is mostly in their head.

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  14. I'm not too worried either, and my skirts usually don't ride that high. But after all I'm still wearing underpants. People also go to the beach in bikinis, showing way more...

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  15. Cycler - I think women involved in sports, modeling, theater, and other activities that require rapid and semi-public changing do develop a different attitude about this stuff and aren't as sensitive to it - which is good, I think!

    Bliss Chick - I agree that the thrill is definitely mostly in their head. It's the *possibility* of seeing something interesting.

    Justine, Dottie and neighbourtease - Right. To me it is mainly about safety rather than embarrassment or modesty. And in the US, I feel that by not wearing clearly visible leggings I draw attention to myself in a way that can undermine my safety. Of course one could say that in reacting this way, I am only worsening the phenomenon, and that at the extreme end of it one could use the same arguments to justify why it's safer for a woman to cycle in a burka...

    anna - See Robert Sisson's comment : ) Somehow, underwear is just different, at least in American culture.

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  16. i would agree with portlandize's comment about cultural difference playing a big role in the way men react to flapping skirts and glimpses of undies. i think some EU countries have very different attitudes toward viewing people sexually in public. a friend of mine from amsterdam once told me that in holland, men save their leers for the bars and nightclubs, and simply don't bother looking at women in a sexual way during the normal course of their business day. it's like they just switch that part of their brain off during the day, or somehow control it.

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  17. You think girls have it bad? You should see when I'm bent over the handlebars, and the band of my "fruit-of-the-looms" are peeking out, the women working on the street crew hoot at me, it's shameful!
    Seriously, I would apologize for all the crude men, me included, but I would be just spitting in the ocean.

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  18. I either wear leggings, or I have some spandex shorts that will do for an undergarment. I don't understand why American men are so enamored with our underwear. Seriously, it's the same thing you see in a bathing suit! I'd love to ride around Europe one day, panties hanging out, feeling the breeze. ;-D

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  19. Oh, and I never really thought about it before, but the "Bike Girl" blog had a post on this, and suggested that a strategically located basket makes all the difference...

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  20. cycler - Ah, but one could still get a look diagonally : )

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  21. One of the other reasons I've ditched wearing spandex shorts under most of my skirts when biking is that the skirts tend to stick to the short fabric, and then the skirt rides up when I'm just walking around. I guess I just need to pick shorts made of a silkier fabric, but has anyone else had this problem?

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  22. Those diagonal glances, they'll get you every time! :)

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  23. To tell you the truth, if I see a lady on a bike, wearing a skirt or not, I'll usually do a double take, not because I'm leering, but because I have just seen a rarity in Indiana. Unless it's a 60 year old Matronly sort on a comfort bike (usually only seen on the Monon trail in Indy), it's very hard to find a woman on a bike. Especially a good looking woman on an old steel bike.

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  24. Agree with Portlandize - we're just this far from the Victorians putting skirts on the *gasp* legs(!) of our pianos... I was going to be quoted in the Globe as saying that I don't care all that much about flashing, and just make a point of wearing cute underpants (hey, at least I'm WEARING underpants!) but it seems the Editor cut it. They're a family newspaper.
    Ballet, horseback riding, growing up in California, I don't know to what I would attribute it but I'm just not that worried about someone catching a glimpse of my thigh. To see it they're probably already looking...

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  25. This seems to be a subject that is defined by each individual, the observed and observer.
    I have observed a young woman, wearing a micro-mini dress and high heels. Others wearing a bicycling "kit", and more tight jeans.
    I actually thought the woman wearing the skirt was quite brave, in her attire, not from the possible leering but in the possible embarisment. But if she wasn't worried why should I be. Wear what you want, and by the way women look just as much, just not as obviously.

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  26. Count me in for "I don't care". I haven't really had a problem with skirts flying way up, but I don't have an issue with showing thigh. I don't know if it's me or my city, but I almost never get cat calls. Never anything lewd. ::shrugs:: I think there are a relatively large number of women cycling here (Pittsburgh) and it's not a huge deal.

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  27. I don't agree with the notion that American's are regressing. The garments of the Victorian era were pretty extreme compared to today's standards. We may not be as sexually open and comfortable compared with other countries but as they say "you've come a long way baby." To me it is about personal comfort and freedom of choice, the ability to weigh the pros and cons of your outfit. America may not be the leader, but American women don't have mandated modesty like other countries.

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  28. I live in Toronto and it never ceases to amaze me how many men will attempt to catch a glimpse of my knickers while I'm riding my bike. What do they hope to see? One day when I was cycling in the rain a guy in a passing truck yelled "I wish I was that bike!" at me. I was wearing a shirtdress at the time. I'm not going to change me for the sake of a few morons.

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  29. Once I wore a straight skirt that I hadn't worn when biking before and it totally rode up. Others couldn't really see anything, but thought they could, and it was uncomfortable at the red light when a man walked into the crosswalk and purposely dropped a cigarette so he could bend over and try to look up my skirt. I just ignored him...and never wore that skirt on my bike again. :(

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  30. I was riding down the street once in a skirt that was riding up more than I expected it to. Some guy on the sidewalk called "I can see your panties". My reply- "Good for you. Happy to make your day." I wear less on the beach, so if I get too worked up about someone seeing my granny panties going past at 10MPH I am in trouble.

    Reminds me, I need to get better underwear.

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  31. Think about the women on recumbents. I saw a women once, trying out a recumbent for the first time. She was perfectly busy keeping the bike straight, not noticing, that you should not ride this type of bike with a skirt. She finally figured it out. Both.

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  32. Oh the futile struggle with a skirt on a recumbent!
    Poor lady : )

    Matthew - I don't think anyone is saying that Amercians are regressing since the Victorian era; just that some of the ideas remain deeply imbedded despite the surface liberalism.

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  33. Unfortunately we have A LOT of crude,rude people here in the US. I work heavy construction and hear it out of from some guys on a daily basis. I have fired people for it before, it is unacceptable.

    On the other side of the coin, you get treated like a pervert if you comment nicely on someone's dress or mode of transportation.

    The US is full of personal hangups and issues. And I wonder how much of it is caused by governmental attempts to legislate morality?

    I also agree with what Portlandize said above.

    Aaron

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  34. @ Velouria & 2whls3spds - Follow the Scots Presbyters. Follow them far enough and they will lead to the current fundamentalists. These are the people who, even if you are "liberal" have shaped and molded the American moral landscape. They are the root of governmental attempts to legislate morality (see Prohibition, which was brought about by a "Vocal Minority" of Church Ladies and ". . .their mean, pinched faces." - Col. R.G. Ingersoll).

    The issue predates the Victorian era; by centuries.

    Personally I'm with AJ and said so when the issue came up at Copenhaganize. Wear something intended to be seen and worth seeing. If you can wrap your head around that, problem solved.

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  35. Have you seen this? I find Frivolous Lola to be totally sweet and endearing, and a little saucy! :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NICwoe2gVKQ

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  36. I've tired cycling in a skirt and it was find . Just a bit cold since its late autum/early winter.

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  37. I find the same thing cycling in my New Zealand city, where many people seem to think riding a bike is inherently funny, and walking around by yourself on a Saturday night in a skirt invites alot of unwanted attention from passing cars. Combine the two and you're a target of ridicule and catcalls even if your knickers aren't showing!

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  38. I find the only reason I am afraid to bike in a skirt is because I live in a ghetto town with ghetto people driving around in ghetto cars who have obviously never seen someone ride a bike in a skirt, let alone a person on a bike. Since it is the main form of transport in this ghetto town, men feel inclined to ogle. If bikers were the majority, I think it would be the reverse and I wouldn't have to wear spandex shorts to "protect" myself from wandering, perverted eyes. It is what it is.

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  39. America becoming a more prudish society? You cannot be serious. When I was in grade school girls were sent home if their skirts were more than two inches above the knee. Have you seen how teens now dress? And Miley Cirus is their idol.

    Too much thinking about this. Sexuality is heavily promoted here, and men (and I've heard) some women are turned on by the panty flash. A man does not need to get a life because of this. I love a windy day!

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