We generally like to focus on getting more kids on bikes, because there are just SO many great reasons to ride in addition to a wealth of benefits. But, as parents of an only child who happens to be a girl, we are also keenly aware of the gender issues we see at bike gatherings.
Challenge #1 – Where are the girls?
We recently drove two hours to a major metropolitan area for a kids bike race. Our kid was one of four girls in the 9-10 year olds race group. FOUR! By contrast, there were at least a dozen boys. I would love to say this was the exception, but it wasn’t. We were actually excited there were as many as four. More girls mean our daughter and other girls who ride will see themselves in the sport when they roll up to the start line. It also means they will be pushed to challenge themselves as riders and competitors if getting on the podium is a goal for them, versus an entitlement because they were one of three or fewer girls. Likewise, girls and women are more socially motivated to engage in new experiences and exercise.
Challenge #2 – Why is everything made for boys?
The sport is still catching on to the fact that female riders are a real market within the sport. But similar to other adventure sports (looking at you, backpacking) you can’t just downsize it and paint it pink. It’s not that it isn’t fun to find equipment and apparel in a wider range of colors, but instead of adapting the men’s style to women it would be awesome to see more companies investing in starting with the anatomical differences first and then moving toward the construction of product. To be fair, bike manufacturers are already catching on to this, as are women’s apparel companies. But, I’m telling you, the company that makes great baggies for tweener girls will get our business.
Challenge #3 – What’s with the limiting stereotypes?
On a ride this past weekend a mother shared, “I’m so glad I had boys so I could share this sport with them.” Say what?! When did girls get so precious? When challenged on her statement the same mother said, “Well, your daughter must not be a girly girl.” Hmmm. Here’s the thing, “girly girl” is a social construct. It is what our culture tells girls to be…while also telling them to value looks over skills, to appease and defer to males, and to limit their exploration of the world around them. Ironically, recognition of assets that come with femininity are downplayed as weak. So girls get this weird, convoluted message to be “girly,” but not to express the empowered feminine.
Girls who shred are more empowered, more assertive, and more confident. They know how to fall down and get back up. They know how to lead and how to sweep. They show up.
Check out this blog by Angie Schmitt for more about the challenges related to losing interest in biking as girls grow up and how they differ from boys: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2017/03/29/why-do-teenage-girls-lose-interest-in-biking/