Discussing Our Bodies in Mixed Company
|image via kaputniq|
Yesterday I came across a series of delightfully entertaining illustrations by kaputniq, modeled after a Victorian instruction manual for lady cyclists. "Women Wheelers! Don't say 'Feel my muscle,'" warns one. "Don't ask 'Do you like my bloomers?'" admonishes another. While things have changed since Victorian times, in some ways maybe not so much. When I wrote a post on female saddle discomfort some time ago, I received comments and emails from male readers indicating that they were made uncomfortable by the topic. To a lesser extent, the same happened when I brought up the subject of bras in a recent post, and likewise whenever I mention my leg muscles or (heaven forbid) butt in the context of cycling.
During the time I have spent around those who ride bikes, I have observed that male cyclists are not shy about discussing their bodies - be it in real life (conversations that take place in bike shops and at various cyclist gatherings) or on the internet (discussions in forums and blog comments). Thanks to this, I know all about their "taint" and their infertility worries, and how they have to move stuff out of the way when dismounting a bike with a tall top tube, and so on. No big deal. It's a good thing that men feel free to share such things.
However, female cyclists are unlikely to discuss their bodies in a similar manner, except in the vaguest of terms. Until very recently there was virtually no public internet dialogue about female-specific bicycle discomfort, and I rarely hear any such talk out loud. I don't think I'd be out of line in saying that it is still considered inappropriate in our society for women to be "immodest" - which is how discussing our bodies in mixed company is perceived. If a female mentions her toned legs, let alone her private parts, even in the context of cycling it can easily be interpreted as flirtatious or sexually provocative - whereas if a man does the same it is interpreted as merely clinical.
Despite the double standard, it is clear that female cyclists want to discuss these topics - and to do so using concrete terminology instead of polite abstractions. There is a growing feeling that information is unavailable to us because of our own embarrassment to share that information with each other, supplemented by a palpable male discomfort (or excitement - which is more intimidating?) when we do share it. While I am not the right candidate to spearhead a revolution in this regard, I am relieved to see that there is one underway. From the frank discussion of yeast infections on bikeskirt, to Elly Blue's article on menstruation in Grist, to an entire compilation of female writings about their bodies and cycling coming out in zine format (Our Bodies, Our bikes - order your copy here) it's as if a floodgate has opened, so to speak - mixed company be damned. Let's hope the trend continues. It should not be any less socially acceptable for female cyclists to discuss their bodies than it is for male cyclists.