Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Boys Have Cooties



Neighborhood Bike Works has Bike Church, it is a time when adults can come in and use the tools available to make repairs on their bikes. These open shops are staffed by volunteers who provide guidance to anyone who wants to learn how to make a specific repair. In 2004 NBW designated Wednesday nights for women and the transgendered to create a safe environment to where they can learn bike repair and not have to worry about dodging unintentionally offensive interruptions from other people.

I was somewhat appalled and confused by the recent appeal for volunteers from Carol Borek, Outreach Coordinator for Neighborhood Bike Works. For NBW's open shop night on Wednesday for women and the transgendered, because of the criteria. The criteria for volunteers is you must be a woman or transgendered. 

As someone who uses Bike Church I won't deny that their have been occasional questionable behavior on the part of a few attendees. But more often what I have seen is several gifted male volunteers patiently guide inexperienced men and women through a bicycle repair and help them master that particular skill. To imply that male volunteers cannot assist on Wednesday night  because of their gender, sexual orientation or the potential for transphobia and misogynistic behavior is insulting. How hard would it be to ask select volunteers to help on Wednesday night? Who would best meet the needs of Neighborhood Bike Works, the attendees and their individual concerns, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

If Neighborhood Bike Works wants to create a safe environment that is free of misogyny and transphobia. Then Carol Borek needs to intentionally uphold values of nondiscrimination when it comes to volunteers for Wednesday night. Not just the ones who fit a specific gender, sexual orientation, or agenda.

* I mean trans to include all gender identities beyond cisgender, i.e. transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, genderfluid, and so on.



5 comments:

  1. The title of your post trivializes the issue. What's the big deal about having ONE day a week at ONE location where women and trans people help each other?

    The focus is not about *excluding* men.
    It's about including and creating a safe space for people who may otherwise be excluded or alienated.

    IMO, a single woman volunteer or patron who is intimidated by a "gifted male" is enough to justify this choice.

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  2. Read the article, before you comment. I have no problem with NBW's Bike Church women & trans night. I do have a problem with a policy that excludes any volunteer on the basis of gender or sexual orientation from assisting on Wednesday night.

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    1. I am writing in support of anonymous. It is unfortunate that we live in a society where male privilege is so pervasive that the mere presence of cis-males can make a space less welcoming, but that's our culture. There are many male volunteers who have supported women and trans*-focused bike events that I have been a part of, but those who do it successfully do it only when asked, because respecting safe space is a critical part of being supportive. I don't have any connection to NBW, but if they're asking for a specific type of volunteer, there's a reason. It is empowering for non-male cyclists to learn from each other. It reinforces our confidence and reminds us that just because men are often held up as experts doesn't mean that other people can't be competent and confident.

      It's problematic when men start crying gender bias in a situation that is (as you have admitted) sometimes threatening to non-males. If you really want to support women and trans* cyclists in your community, stop questioning and criticizing them when they define the boundaries for their own safe spaces. You are condescending here, "Read the article, before you comment." How I am supposed to believe you wouldn't be condescending as a volunteer?

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    2. Bike to Word said
      “There are many male volunteers who have supported women and trans*-focused bike events that I have been a part of, but those who do it successfully do it only when asked, because respecting safe space is a critical part of being supportive.”
      The article stated
      “How hard would it be to ask select volunteers to help on Wednesday night? Who would best meet the needs of Neighborhood Bike Works, the attendees and their individual concerns, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.” How interesting, it looks like I said the same thing. And yes if you had read and comprehended the article you would have noticed this.

      Bike to Word said
      If you really want to support women and trans* cyclists in your community, stop questioning and criticizing them when they define the boundaries for their own safe spaces.
      Philly Bike Journal says
      I have no doubt the Boy Scouts made this claim as well. They were trying to create a safe space by defining the boundaries for young, impressional boys. Homosexuals would compromise that safe space. Many of the people who first spoke out against the Boy Scouts were told to stop questioning and criticizing. Good thing they didn't stop and neither will I.

      It does not matter how male dominated you think a culture. Discrimination based on any gender is unacceptable. Neighborhood Bike Works Trans&Women's is on the verge of shutting down due to a lack of volunteers .They need to start using the best volunteers available to them, not just the volunteers available based on gender and sexual orientation.

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  3. It seems you are not looking for feedback but rather agreement on your post. That's too bad since the very purpose of Wednesday nights is to be open to others' needs even if may make a headache for NBW. Let them worry about that. Based on my experience as a male facilitator at Bike Church's ecumenical nights, the wide range of patrons, facilitators, and bike issues can make for a pretty intimidating evening. I do my best to break that down and kindly guide them, but sometimes patrons get overwhelmed and their interest fizzles. That is a a failure. Why does this happen? Could be lots of things, but if we can avoid a few such failures by offering up a safe space where the gender thing isn't an issue, I support NBW.

    Your primary argument that this is discrimination against male volunteers holds up in the strictest sense. Your outrage, however, at being discriminated against is in poor taste given the sensitivity NBW is trying to project toward an underserved group of patrons.

    Consonant with NBW's primary mission as kids program open to all, I think it makes good sense to demonstrate sincere openness to to the community by offering Wednesdays as they are, as long as they can get volunteers.

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