30 December 2015

How Important Is The Bicycle In Women's History?

In a post I wrote three years ago on my other blog, I relayed one of the most striking insights Susan B. Anthony offered:
    "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.  It has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."

Yesterday, I came across this:

     "Advertisements, magazines and posters promoted the image of the New Woman, just as other forms of mass media would later exhibit images of the flapper, the housewife, the wartime worker, and the androgynous feminist.  The bicycle was the symbol of the New Woman's freedom outside the home, as she raced off with her friends--men or women--down city streets and into the countryside."

Obviously, that didn't come from Ms. Anthony.  It did, however, come from a source that's intersting, if not as much so as, and for different reasons from, the godmother of feminism as we know it.

The second quote is the only mention of the bicycle in The Social Sex:  A History of Female Friendships, by Marilyn Yalom with Theresa Donovan Brown.  Dr. Yalom is a former Professor of French and senior scholar at the Clayman Institute of Gender Research at Stanford University. Ms. Donovan Brown is a former speechwriter and ran a financial communications firm.

I strongly suspect that Dr. Yalom supplied most of the information and Ms. Donovan Brown did most of the writing.  After all, the section on women's friendships and the salons of 17th Century France contains ideas and insights that only someone who read the sources in the original could have gleaned.  And the prose flows freely--like, well, a good speech.

Therein lies both the book's strengths and flaws.  While Donovan Brown's prose flows freely, it often lacks depth.  While Yalom's research provides the reader with glimpses into the nature of the relationships described in the book, and shines a light onto documents that might otherwise have been lost, those documents (letters, stories, essays and novels) come almost entirely from women (and, in a few cases, men) from, or with connections to, the upper classes.  That, perhaps, is not Dr. Yalom's fault, as most women who weren't part of those classes were illiterate until the 19th Century and rarely went to college before World War II.

Still, the book is an engaging and, at times, interesting read.  It won't turn you into a scholar or an expert, but it's a good starting point for anyone who wants to read more about relationships or women's history.  Finally, there is something to be said for any piece of writing that reminds readers of the importance of the bicycle in changing women's lives, however brief and fleeting that reminder might be.

20 November 2015

Michelle Dumaresq: 100% Pure Woman Champ

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  

This day was first observed in 1999, one year after Rita Hester was murdered in her Allston, Massachusetts apartment.  She was killed just two days before she would have turned 35 years old.

Her death came just a few weeks after Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die on a cold night in the Wyoming high desert.  Their deaths helped to bring about the hate-crime laws now on the books in the US as well as many state and local statutes.  Moreover, Hester's killing--while not as widely publicized as Shepard's--galvanized transgender activists all over the world.

Because I am--at least to my knowledge--the only transsexual woman with a bike blog, I am going to use this post to honor one of the greatest transgender athletes of our era.

Michelle Dumaresq was born in 1970.  In 2001, she entered and won her first competitive mountain biking event--the Bear Mountain Race in British Columbia, Canada.  After she won two more races, her racing license was suspended in response to complaints from other female riders.  The cycling associations of British Columbia and Canada, after meeting privately with race organizers, tried to pressure her into quitting.  Of course, she wouldn't, and after a meeting with UCI officials, it was decided that she could continue to compete as a female.

Other female riders felt she had an unfair advantage.  Their resentment was, not surprisingly, based on a common misunderstanding.  Dumaresq had her gender reassignment surgery in 1996, five years before her first victory, and had been taking female hormones--and a male hormone blocker--for several years before that.  By the time she started racing, she no longer had any testosterone in her body (Biological females have traces of it.) and she had lost most of the muscle mass she had as a man.

I know exactly where she's been, as I also had the surgery after six years of taking hormones and a testosterone blocker.  A few months into my regimen, I started to notice a loss of overall strength, and I noticed some more after my surgery.  Trust me, Ms. Dumaresq, as talented and dedicated as she is, had no physiological advantage over her female competitors.

I remind myself of that whenever another female rider (usually, one younger than I am) passes me during my ride to work!

But I digress.  Michelle Dumaresq had the sort of career that would do any cyclist--male or female, trans or cisgender, or gay--proud.  She won the Canadian National Championships four times and represented her country in the World Championships.  That, of course, made the haters turn up the heat.  When she won the 2006 Canadian National Championships, the boyfriend of second-place finisher Danika Schroeter jumped onto the podium and helped her put on a T-shirt that read "100% Pure Woman Champ."

Ms. Dumaresq would have looked just fine in it.

15 November 2015

I posted the following on my other blog (Midlife Cycling) yesterday:


Isabelle. Je suis Justine.  Tu vas bien?

Oui.  Comment ca-va?

Bien.  J'ai vous vous reveillez?



No problem.  (She likes to use that phrase.) 

J'ai entendu les nouvelles de Paris.

Yes, it is terrible.  But we were not there.

Je suis tres hereuse pour ca.

Would you like to talk to Jay?
Il dort?

Oui, mais se reveillera.

I didn't want her to wake him.  At least I knew he was at home, in his bed.  But she brought him to the phone. 

Desole de te reveiller.

Don't worry.  Mais, besoin de redormir. 

That's OK.  J'ai voule etre sur que vous etes OK.

He thanked me for calling.  I assured him that all I wanted was to know that he and Isabelle were not casualties of the bombings, the shootings, that rocked Paris and its environs yesterday.  I knew that, chances were, they weren't there when those terrible events went down, but I just wanted to be sure.

Then I called Michele.  No answer.  Asleep, I hoped.  I left a message.  Just before I started writing this post, I found an e-mail from her.  All right.  I can breathe a little easier.  Can they?

None of us had gone to the Bataclan together.  But we'd walked those streets, ate in restaurants and sipped espressos in the cafes near it.  When I heard that death struck at Le Carillon, I stopped cold. 

It's just a block away from the Quai des Jemmapes, on the eastern bank of the Canal St. Martin.  Back in August, after a lovely morning ride, I enjoyed a picnic lunch of fresh foods and Badoit water I bought along the way.  As the sun softened the green tint of the canal and leaves that flickered in the breeze, it was hard to imagine anything terrible, let alone the blaze of guns or an explosion.

After my canal-side reverie, I retreated to Le Carillon for a cappuccino to cap off my lunch.  By that time, most locals had finished their lunch and were back at work or passing the rest of the day along the old, narrow streets.  I went to Le Carillon because it was the nearest café, but it was a place I would have chosen otherwise: It seemed like a real old cozy neighborhood watering hole Parisians themselves would habituate, not some place trying to look the part for hipsters who wanted an "authentic" experience. 

I sat at a wooden table on the sidewalk.  So did a few other people.  It's hard to imagine that sidewalk with bodies sprawled over it--even more difficult than it was, the first time I saw the Place de la Concorde, to visualize the blood of French monarchy and nobility spilled all over it.  But certainly not as difficult as it is for those who witnessed the darkness that descended upon the City of Light.