International Women's Day shouldn't exist

Jenni Gwiazdowski from the London Bike Kitchen explains…

Yeah, you heard me. International Women's Day (IWD) shouldn’t exist. Women-only events, women-only workshops, women-only cycling clubs — they shouldn’t exist.

But they need to.

In a perfect world, this type of segregation wouldn’t be necessary. All children would grow up encouraged to dismantle things, learn how to cook, get dirty, knit a sweater. But the reality is that children grow up in situations where, based on their assigned gender and their society and surrounding culture, they will be encouraged to do certain things and steered away from others. And don’t get me started on the media and stereotypes.

The London Bike Kitchen runs a Women and Gender-variant (WAG) night twice a month. I meet so many women who say they just hand their broken bike over to their boyfriend, that they could never fix anything, they’re too cack-handed. But when I encourage them to give it a go under our guidance and they see they can actually do it themselves, the metamorphosis in their view of themselves is what makes my day. 

Let’s break down the barriers and work towards a world that values the experience of all humans

Marginal gains in the area of confidence can blossom into full-fledged career changes — I know, I’ve seen a few myself. 

Our WAG nights are meant to be a stepping stone into the world of bicycle mechanics, not a replacement for our current drop-in DIY sessions. When we first started out five years ago, I hardly saw a woman in the workshop, but now I would say at least half our customers are women and there are some days when women outnumber the men.

Earlier this year, Trek announced a female-only scholarship programme to encourage more women to climb the ladder in the vocational world of bicycle mechanics. The comments — never read the comments, right? — the comments basically sung to the tune of “when are there going to be men-only scholarships?” 

Can we just pause for a second here — scholarships are given in a few situations. Awards are given to the absolute best and brightest or to reduce the cost in cases of financial hardship. But another reason is to break down perceived psychological barriers to entry.

Men were saying: “I know a woman who’s a mechanic, this isn’t a problem anymore.” Oh but it is. Just because your experience is that of the contrary, does not negate the existence of the problem in the first place.

We need to provide clearly signposted and open doors to people who think the doors are closed to them from the start. The cartoon below struck me when I first saw it — it clearly illustrates the need for programmes that focus on equity, in addition to equality. Just look at it.

Adapted from a diagram originally produced by Craig Froehle  https://goo.gl/a4DQ2Z
Adapted from a diagram originally produced by Craig Froehle https://goo.gl/a4DQ2Z

All humans will experience the world in their own and different ways, and it will be easier for some than for others. Let’s break down the barriers and work towards a world that values the experience of all humans, rather than focusing on perceived losses of equality.

A rising tide lifts all boats. A bimonthly women and gender-variant bicycle mechanic evening does not subtract from a man’s experience. Bike workshops are notoriously macho spaces that can benefit from feminism, and the more women we get cycling and into the cycling industry the better things will get for everyone.

Jenni Gwiazdowski is the founder and director of the London Bike Kitchen, a non-profit open DIY workshop that also runs classes, based in London, UK.

'Nuff said
'Nuff said

This article is part of BikeRadar Women's celebrations around International Women's Day. We want to raise the profile of women in cycling, from the every day champions and riders to the professionals at the pinnacle of their careers and from those who make up the workforce of your local bike shop or favourite component company, to those leading those companies and businesses.

Most of all, we want to ensure that we facilitate everyone's journey into and through this sport that we all know and love, from beginners to fledgeling racers to seasoned riders and adventurers, ensuring you have access to the best reviews, buying guidance, training and nutrition advice and more.

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