I had lunch with my gorgeous friend C earlier this week. I rode to King Street Wharf in the warmth of the sunny Sydney winter. We hadn’t seen each other for several weeks and had a great conversation. We laughed and ate a delicious lunch. Later, she told me about her friends who, after a several year absence from the workforce to raise children, had returned to work. These women work in finance, as I once did. C told me, “Their husbands didn’t like it.” I asked her, “Didn’t like what?” “Didn’t like their wives going back to work.” The shock on my face was undeniable. She explained that the husbands didn’t like their wives attention being diverted from them, the household, the children. She said that the husbands had been waited upon. The wives had taken care of everything in the home. The wives had always been there to pick up “the slack.” And now these women would be less available. The husbands might have to do more for themselves, their families. Shock still on my face, C asked me why I was so surprised. “I think it’s because I am married to someone who is one thousand and three percent behind me. I would never have married someone who wasn’t.”
It’s true. My husband Justin is my biggest supporter. When I restarted my career in Sydney after having left London, when I quit because I was being bullied and harassed, when I decided to write for a living, Justin has always been supportive in so many ways. After having seen my mother work full-time, raise me, clean the house and cook while my dad did little else but work, I couldn’t accept anything less than what Justin and I have. However, I know that our partnership is one of many variations that exist within marriage. It made me think about the societal expectations for women these days. And of course, of the young woman, Ying Tao, who was killed in London at Bank yesterday.
I read the story “Why are female cyclists more vulnerable to London’s lorries?” in London Evening Standard this morning.
I was shocked to read that every female cycling death in London since August 2011 has involved a truck. The common thread is that all of the women were hit by tipper trucks, often at junctions, as the lorry turned left. These truck drivers have significant blindspots that prevent them from seeing cyclists. Later in the article, it became even more interesting. Andrew Gilligan, London’s cycling commissioner, stated the following:
“It’s been said that women are less assertive cyclists than men – that may be true.” In theory, the article continues, women on average are less aggressive around large vehicles so may undertake on the left rather than going around the outside [and into more traffic] at junctions. This may then mean they’re invisible to the driver.”
Later several experts comment on the speed gap, where in theory if you cycle faster with traffic, you are, in fact, safer. Dr. Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes a supporter of more cycling infrastructure, said, “Women are often slower because of fitness but also because they are more “careful.” When other cyclists push ahead, if you’re naturally more polite, you find yourself towards the back and then who do the lorries turn left over? Women.”
What are we teaching girls and young women today? As a mother, in our marriages and in our schools, are we teaching them how to be assertive by example? Are we teaching them how to be serious and concentrated to master our times tables or to develop a passion? Or are we still teaching them to be pretty and nice and not too academic. To not be too serious and just be happy? Are we teaching them to speak up when there is a problem and when someone pinches their bottom in the resort pool three times? When young women play sport with young men, is their coach teaching them the same techniques in aggression and to take the point when there is the opportunity? And the young man who admires the young woman but wins the point and the match to beat her soundly, does he tell her how to improve? Does he tell her how to seek the advantage where she can to kick his arse roundly and kiss him later?
I don’t think that anyone would argue that I am not feminine. Certainly, I have been described as lovely and even charming by many. But on a bicycle, I have been known to shout from the diaphragm, “Ten years of bad sex for you, my darling” at van-driving men who cut me off on Macquarie Street and when questioned politely, don’t apologise and instead begin cursing. I ride an e-bike in the summer to keep up with the traffic and to accelerate out of a situation when it arises, just as motorcyclists have been trained. My husband explained this to me in theory and in practice when I used to pillion, before our children arrived. I ride other bicycles when I can to improve my fitness to get out of “the box”. There is a repertoire of reactions and emotions that can be employed for so many situations, as a woman, to keep ourselves safe and in control of a situation. But sadly, I fear that society, namely the people who are in positions to teach girls and young women these skills, are not teaching how to be strong and fearless while still being feminine.
This morning there was a barrier erected on Wentworth Avenue. I could see that it would push me into the traffic ahead. Consequently, I stopped at the lights in the middle of the lane. Behind me was a white SUV. I thought of Ying Tao for a moment. I turned to the man driving the SUV. I made eye contact and smiled. I moved to the left of his vehicle, next to the traffic island. When the light turned green, I looked at him and gestured for him to go first. He smiled and waved. I followed him up the incline and passed him while he was waiting at the next set of lights.
Today’s ensemble: Theory dress, Leona Edmiston Pins, BBB gloves, necklace and earrings from my parents, Cartier Santos, Geox boots, LK Bennett coat, Po Campo Loop Pannier bag, Gazelle CityZen S9, Witchery sunglasses, Yakkay helmet, Kryptonite lock.