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Comment of the Week: The challenge of speaking up as a woman who bikes

Posted by on January 30th, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Wonk Night - Romp in the Comp Plan-3

Biking community leader Lisa Marie White, right,
leading an advocacy discussion at a BikePortland
Wonk Night in October.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Of all the conversations we’ve had on the site this week — there have been 1,100 comments on 27 posts — the biggest was about the line between journalism and community.

Many people who we respect disagreed with Jonathan’s decision to delete archived references in past stories to a man who, he’d decided, seemed to be using his perceived status to hurt other people.

The One of the most upvoted comments in the thread came from another reader and fellow community member who we respect a lot: Lisa Marie White, a prominent local biking advocate (most recently at Bike Walk Vote) and active community member. Here’s her take on Hart Noecker and, more importantly, on what Portland’s biking communities should learn from this conversation:

First: to those taking issue with Jonathan deleting information from the site, I believe he did the right thing. As someone who knows the situation and the accused (though we are no longer friends), not allowing him to promote himself via this site is important. Additionally, those posts have a tendency to falsely imply he was a leader (which he likely encouraged), though from what I know he was not.

Second: I’d like to echo Esther in thanking you for addressing this publicly. It is not simply an “incident” – at its root is a generally discounted female and minority voice in our bike community. To those who repeatedly tell me “but we’re the most progressive city and most progressive bike culture”, I’d agree… and what does that say about the state of female and minority voices in bicycling? If we have difficulty being heard here, where CAN we be?

The realities of being ignored and discounted (and having to have male board members forward e-mails to me, since despite being a chair, people assumed they must really be running our group) has made me, on more than one occasion, want out of the active transportation advocacy world.

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Dismissing varied voices sets the stage for accusations like Byrd’s going ignored and doubted and shut down until the tally of accusers is high enough to force acknowledgment. It also allows Hart and others to dominate conversations at the expense of others. Aggressive speech from him was rarely a problem – aggressive responses from women have been met with discomfort and shunning.

I wasn’t going to comment, but silence and silencing has been our biggest problem and it has allowed egregious behavior to go unchecked.

Speaking up, however, is equally unappealing as a woman. Throughout this ordeal, when other women have spoken up, I’ve heard the real-time responses of “she’s too sensitive” or “she’s a bit intense/needs to calm down” or “why is she taking this personally”. Outside of this particular issue, I’ve also seen women promote great ideas and seen them swiftly discounted for their lack of “experience” or “knowledge”… only to see a guy say the same thing and have his ideas lauded. We’ll hold prominent women up as tokens of our inclusiveness, yet fail to integrate them into conversation and decision making in meaningful ways.

This is a systemic problem of which we have only scratched the surface, and I believe it is one of the reasons bicycling has stagnated in this city – many still feel no place exists for them in this world. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who has spoken up and to the men in the community who have shown themselves to be caring, compassionate, and open to examining their own faults. You give me a whole lot of hope 🙂

“Once you know better, you do better.”

I truly hope we do.

We don’t choose White’s comment because she happened to agree with our course of action on this, but because in this comment she puts her brain, her experience and her heart on the line to explain how things look from her perspective and point the direction we should go from here. If you ask us, that’ll always be the formula for great bike advocacy. Thanks for being one of the many who’ve spoken up, Lisa Marie.

Yes, we pay for good comments. As always we’ll be mailing a $5 bill to Lisa Marie in thanks for this great one.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Esther
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Esther

👍💪💟🚲

Esther
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Esther

Jonathan, your site doesn’t recognize Emoji. I request you rectify that 😉

Esther
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Esther

for the record, my emoji of choice were: A thumbs up, a bicep being flexed, a heart, and a bicycle 🙂

John Lascurettes
Guest

I see them.

BIKELEPTIC
Guest

I see them on my phone but not on my laptop.

Anne Hawley
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Anne Hawley

By the way, your won comment(s) on the article in question were also helpful to me. Thank you.

Nick Skaggs
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Nick Skaggs

“The most upvoted comment in the whole thread came from one reader and fellow community member who we respect a lot: Lisa Marie White…”

Actually, as of right now the most upvoted comment in the thread is from “Reader:”

“As a longtime reader of this site, and recognizing it’s your prerogative to run it how you see fit, I strongly disagree with this piece of your response.”

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

Hi Nick,

You’re right! Sorry for any confusion. I’ve edited that line to read, “One of the most upvoted comments…”

Nick Skaggs
Guest
Nick Skaggs

Thanks. I feel like I should clarify that I didn’t make my earlier comment to marginalize what Lisa had to say. Her comment was very thoughtful.

I just felt that to refer to her comment as *the most* upvoted comment when it wasn’t made it seem too much like it had been chosen as comment of the week simply because it supported your moderation choices regarding Hart- something that Michael, in the final paragraph of the article, was very clear *wasn’t* the case.

Thank you all so much for your hard work, and keep being excellent!

daisy
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daisy

Great choice, all! Also, I am going to try to up my comment game.

Granpa
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Granpa

In my 60 years my first experience with gender-disregard occurred this week. On a project I am working on a female project manager was not getting a contractor to perform work as specified. I am an inspector and I went down to the site and told the contractor exactly what the female project manager had already told him. The issue was resolved within hours. There is no place in my brain where this makes sense.

Chris I
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Chris I

Now think about past experiences. Do you think that something like this may have happened before?

Grandpa
Guest
Grandpa

Nope

(sarcasm)

Anne Hawley
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Anne Hawley

Neither Lisa Marie, nor Jonathan and Michael, nor anyone, can really make me personally feel safe expressing a woman’s point of view or describing my experience as a woman in a public forum. Even here on BP I’ve been (or at least felt) shot down a number of times. That’s an internal issue that I’m responsible for chipping away at, even though my age and generation might mean that I’ll never be free of the fear.

But I’ve gotta say that Lisa Marie’s great comment, and its highlighting here as the COTW, go some way towards paving the ground, and I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Steve B
Guest
Steve B

This is a very powerful and insightful comment. Thank you, Lisa.

Kudos to BikePortland for choosing this as the comment of the week.

PNP
Guest
PNP

As a woman in two male-dominated fields (I’m a lawyer for a computer component company), I found myself nodding while I read Ms. White’s comments and also Anne Hawley’s. I do have the advantage of being in a fairly senior position in my work, but I’ve been over-looked and talked over so many times in my career that I’ve long since come to expect it. The good news is that retirement isn’t far off.

This is a great article. Thanks for publishing it.

Cory Poole
Guest

PNP! I get it!!! HAHA!

Barbara
Guest
Barbara

Yea & it gets worse the older one gets. They look at you like you are from Mars when you make any comment (like with 30 yr of bike mechanic knowledge) Like how could this “stupid, old woman know anything”. Initially was surprised & confused by it. Now I don’t even bother since know I’m totally discarded.

J
Guest
J

Not from me. I’ll learn from anyone, anytime, even from an enemy.

KHG
Guest
KHG

YES, THIS 1,000,000 TIMES. Every time I speak up, I have to consider whether it is worth the frustration of either being ignored because I’m a woman, considered too pushy/bitchy/sensitive/whiny, or not knowledgeable enough to speak. These are not always the results, but they are often enough to just decide not to bother speaking up more times than I’d like to admit.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

It’s so ridiculous that people think this way. When someone is taking, I listen to what they have to say no matter what.

Cory Poole
Guest

Great choice Jonathan! Best comment by far!

BIKELEPTIC
Guest

It does seem very self-gratifying to post more confirmation bias regarding your decision; especially when many women (and others) haven’t spoken up publicly due to harassment and emotional abuse. Voicing a dissenting viewpoint is seen as an a sign that you are against a cause, that you are shaming; and leaving you open to emotional abuse, bullying, ostracizing. It’s very akin to high school “mean girl” cliques.

I wasn’t going to comment, but at this point the whole issue has gotten depressingly old. I’ve unfortunately been in more than one abusive relationship and my most recent; if I didn’t do everything that my partner dictated I was frightened of the consequences and felt like I was walking on eggshells all the time. I feel like that right now – but it’s not because of Hart.

Lisa Marie
Guest

Halley – check your FB messages (unfortunately I don’t think I have your e-mail address!)

Lisa Marie
Guest

Just saw this! Thank you Jonathan and everyone at BikePortland for sharing the content of the post and for the incredibly kind words. And thank you to everyone who is open to talking about and working to address this issue. (and Esther and others for speaking up, too). It means a lot 🙂

Pete
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Pete

Very well written – and communicated!

Nick Skaggs
Guest
Nick Skaggs

Thank you for bringing your own thoughtful comments to this website! As much as I enjoy the journalism on BikePortland, the insights and experiences of its community really take things to the next level.

alli
Guest
alli

I really appreciate all the women who have commented here. It has convinced me to finally start commenting/contributing more. It’s ironic–if there’s any topic I’m qualified to comment about it’s bikes and bike riding (almost a PhD on bike transp, years at a bike shop, years racing, even was a SF messenger) but I rarely ever do comment because of so many of the reasons others have brought up here. There is a great community on this site and increased diversity will only make it stronger.

onetimedeal
Guest
onetimedeal

Huzzah for all the female commenters above and below.
i sincerely hope to hear more diverse voices in the future on this blog–
i also find it hard to be taken seriously on the road, and off, just because i am sporting different “equipment”, as it were.
We as women need to remember it was only a short time ago that we were “allowed” to have our own money, to vote, to own property—we need to celebrate those hard won freedoms and not keep our own voices quiet. Say it loud, say it proud, ladies.

Our opinions do indeed count, but
ONLY insofar as we exercise the right to VOICE THEM.

jd
Guest
jd

Boo to people who assume all sorts of expertise resides on the Y chromosome.

Hooray to BikePortland for a good response to a very bad situation, and to people who speak up, even if their voices shake.

KHG
Guest
KHG

This has been making the rounds among my facebook friends–and some of the most capable, smart, talented women I know have been commenting in agreement with it (I’m talking about surgeons, university professors, computer programmers, etc). Their voices being muted is a real problem, and is a loss for everyone.

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/reasons-you-were-not-promoted-that-are-totally-unrelated-to-gender

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Thanks, Lisa Marie White, et al! Well put and infuriatingly common, this:

“Speaking up, however, is equally unappealing as a woman. Throughout this ordeal, when other women have spoken up, I’ve heard the real-time responses of “she’s too sensitive” or “she’s a bit intense/needs to calm down” or “why is she taking this personally”. Outside of this particular issue, I’ve also seen women promote great ideas and seen them swiftly discounted for their lack of “experience” or “knowledge”… only to see a guy say the same thing and have his ideas lauded.”

A lifetime of it wears you out. I just speak now through a (male) sock puppet which (discouraging to note) is apparently a more successful communicator than I ever was. 😉