Feminism and activism

After talking about it loads, notably here (slide 6) and even adjusting my PhD focus, I have tentatively started looking at campaigning efforts outside our small but beautiful cycling arena. In particular at the moment I have feminism in mind, its (theoretical) stance and its campaigning styles and strategies. This post is more than a bit unfinished as I am near-simultaneously reading and writing (and perhaps thinking a little bit at the same time too). But I felt an early chucking-it-all-out-there-as-is is in order.

Feminism could be of great interest to cycle campaigning as it faces similar problems. It can hence provide examples and learning points.

We are campaigning against a dominant system.

We are asking how we can change that system.

We question from what position we should attack the system, from within or without, or perhaps from a spot moderating both.

Cycle campaigning and especially with its more recent (and long overdue and very welcome) focus on the environment and urban design, positions itself clearly against automobility together with its inherent professional and political practices. Automobility also is a culturally grown system which has pervaded the whole of society on almost all of its levels. Hence the constant problem with viewpoints: a lot that is done and said is done and said through the goggles of automobility. It should be our focus to remove those goggles and shine some light onto society’s retina.

Many cyclists will find it hard to campaign for better cycling conditions. Some women find it hard to stand up for feminism. Naturally, it may well be easier to align with the dominant system, than taking up a critical view. Or remain in a state of unawareness from the start and just live and act, unquestioning, in the given environment. Some awaken to only wish they hadn’t. Red pill. Blue pill.

What automobility is to cycle campaigning, is patriarchy to feminism. Feminists have grappled, and still are grappling, with the themes of patriarchy and masculinity – how to grasp and shake this predicated power system? Feminist researcher agree on femininity and masculinity being predominantly culturally constructed concepts ie not qualities present at birth. The concepts become a lived experience through processes of socialisation, starting from childhood experiences and continue with observing and copying realities.

Feminist research is full of different sub groupings. Its diversity is almost too staggering to behold. There are permanent and constant debates about the angles. Which position to invade or attack. And what standpoint to take. Ultimately though feminism accepts that it has a political mission of societal betterment and justice too. And that is in contrast to many other academic professions.

Tactics employed and mobilised in feminism vary, owing to its diversity; and these tactics change throughout its sizeable history. However I would say it’s fair to direct some attention to successful feminist campaigns. I am still working on uncovering these, but recent examples could be named as the gender pay gap and the political and board-room representation of women. Long story short, these campaigns tend to be built on data and analysis to highlight inadequacies in the system. They were campaigns that would be rationally digestible by the wider public – boiling it down to a point. This is important as campaigning from outside the system has to find a way of communicating with the system without getting compromised. As we all only know too well these campaigns are far from finished. Pay gap and representation remain issues, but these are now agenda items that an individual in the public, so willing, can grasp and run with it.

What does that mean for cycle campaigning? One message perhaps could be the notion that mind change precedes physical change. Hearts and minds have to be won; an object needs to be made into a subject, so to speak. Putting meat on the bone by using data, rationality and analysis is one thing. Persistently going about your business and getting the message out there and heard is another. And putting the heart and mind into the meated-up skeleton is yet a third.

I believe cycle campaigning is getting there, slowly. Cycle campaigning campaigns for physical changes to our streets. But we should realise that the actual campaigning happens long before that. It is often invisible. We should put more effort into learning how to talk about these early interventions and efforts, exchange and share our experiences more. Making sense of and valuing this early work is so important – it would construct a more resilient campaigning platform stocked with motivated campaigners. We must learn to tell stories about our struggles and create identities beyond the one of “being a cyclist” (the perennial). What we do must ring true with the wider public. Scripting more coherent storylines can help that.


3 thoughts on “Feminism and activism

  1. This very morning at breakfast, before stumbling over your post, I read “Respect” by feminist Meredith Haaf in Süddeutsche Zeitung. It’s an essay about Mithu Sanyal’s Book “Vergewaltigung – Aspekte eines Verbrechens” (Rape – aspects of a crime) It’s about Trump, invasiveness (“Übergriffigkeit”) and feminism. http://www.sueddeutsche.de/leben/sexuelle-gewalt-trump-die-uebergriffigkeit-und-der-feminismus-1.3205962

    To me as a man and as a German cycling campaigner too, especially these parts were remarkable and could be helpful for a better elaborated campaigning strategy.

    “‘ The problem with this inside /outside politics is that nobody will identify oneself as perpetrators, if it says: rapists are not like us. ” (. . . ) Onto rapists all the things are projected, that society doesn’t want to be. ‘ And thus nobody must never feel responsible for rapists and the culture that produces it,. This is a permanent political problem, whose solution is located in a different, more sensitive language.

    “Here also it is clear that the definition of rape as anti-female aggression in the face of the reality of the figures is not applicable. There are too many men among the victims.
    Purely statistically, there are ‘only’ 10 percent, but as Sanyal credibly states, taboo and stigma affect even much more powerfully male victims of sexual violence: ‘ male victims (.) . . ) threaten the concept of man.

    This knowledge is even a glimmer of hope to Sanyal and that mental elasticity is that makes her book so worth reading: sexual violence will be ‘variably thinkable’, if one is aware that it is not limited to one gender. Then it is clear, that vulnerability is not a female characteristic, but a universal condition. …
    The recognition of own vulnerability is always the first step to respect the vulnerability of others, so Sanyal. And therefore to a better being together. In which you don’t have to think about when to say No or Yes. Because everyone is in a position to respect the will of the other as well as their own.
    (mostly Google translation)

    As I see it, British cycling campaigning has made great progress. http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/blog/2015/12/15/how-cycle-bloggers-shifted-mountains
    In Germany VC is still predominant. But not only VC, also the widespread antagonism to the ‘majority society’ of motorists is a problem. Though many motorists are quarreling with transport conditions cycling campaigners still identify all of them as arch-fiends. (According to a survey in Berlin at the end of last year nearly 50% of cardrivers demand better cycling infrastructure.) Speaking in terms of cycling campaigning, there are many high potentials. But no one is willing to make differences between cardrivers and car-industry. They are stuck in the very same corner.

    Is it possible, that for the sake of unity of cycling-campaigners (including former VC, which is a valuable achievement) hostility against motorists is celebrated?

    The Dutch are going straight – in exactly the other direction. Their great succes in terms of cycling, the underlying political scheme of their much-admired cycling-infra is based on: Establishing understanding for both the vulnerability of motorists and cyclists. Protected infra helps motorists to avoid crashs and, referred to mostly in the first line, avoids congestion.


  2. Great blog – you’re nosing into a huge subject here !

    I’ve added links from my ‘collection’ to your blog
    ‘Hate Crime’ is the extreme end of wider ‘discrimination’ – different, but relevant.

    I think my word ‘Motorism’ equates to your ‘Automobility’
    – CyclingUK use ‘Cyclism’, which is bad for ‘Cyclists’ rather than ‘Motorists’!

    It’s always struck me as odd that ‘Hate Crime’ was initially (and still is formally) only
    – disability
    – race
    – sexual orientation
    – religion
    -gender identity
    but not actual gender itself – sexism or misogyny.
    Arguably ‘female’ is a ‘gender identity’, as well as a ‘gender’, but I don’t think it’s been tested within the legal system. Recent exceptions get headlines.


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