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Introducing BikePortland’s new column: Biking as subversion

Posted by on March 24th, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Please join us in welcoming a new regular contributor to the site: Taz Loomans. Taz, a Portlander whose writing you may have seen on Atlantic Cities, Inhabitat or her own site BloomingRock.com, will be taking the delicious title of BikePortland’s subversiveness columnist. She’ll be approaching that from many angles, but we suggested she start things rolling with a bit about herself.
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The world didn’t want me to bike. Biking was for men, for recreation, or for poor people, but definitely not a mode of transportation for a woman.

That is the message I got from my parents when I started to ride my bike in Phoenix. My dad was born and raised in Tanzania and my mom was raised in Mozambique. We are Muslim Indians by origin. Both my parents come from places where only poor people bike, and even then, women aren’t among them.

Riding a bike became about more than just subverting the way modern life in my city was designed around cars, it also became about transcending some of the ethnic cultural taboos I grew up with.

I started riding a bike for transportation for a lot of the same reasons other people ride, for the environment and to get exercise. As an architect, I was also fascinated with the way I experienced the city in a different way than I did using a car. Plus, I thought that commuting by bike was cool and it held an air of freedom that seemed appealing. I suppose it was freedom from the norm around me in Phoenix, which was living out in the burbs and sitting in traffic for hours.

But riding a bike became about more than just subverting the way modern life in my city was designed around cars, it also became about transcending some of the ethnic cultural taboos I grew up with.

When I looked into the taboo of women riding bikes in some cultures, I found that bike riding was completely banned in Saudi Arabia for women until recently, when women were allowed to ride in restricted recreation areas — and only for entertainment,not for transportation. It is funny, because that was one of the point my parents raised: bike riding seems OK for fun, but not to get around.

So I looked into it some more and found out that the taboo of women riding bikes exists in parts of Iran and Turkey as well, where conservative religious scholars are espousing a different kind of bike technology that would make it more onerous for women to ride a bike. They are looking to build the “Islamic bicycle,” which comes with a boxy contraption designed to hide the lower part of a woman’s body.

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Women are allowed to bike for transportation in Iran, but they are required to dress modestly, which entails strict dress codes that include not showing any part of your body except your face, hands and feet. This makes women nervous to ride, as it is almost impossible to ensure that some part of your body won’t become exposed due to a possible breeze.

Every time I get on my bicycle, there is an extra part of me that exults.

In Pakistan, women who straddle a bicycle or motorcycle seat are shamed as morally-loose women and are culturally discouraged from riding these vehicles, unless they are passengers in the back with both legs off to one side. And the few brave women who ride bikes in Afghanistan are routinely harassed by men passing by and are told that they are bringing shame to their families. Recently, a group of Afghani women formed the Women’s National Cycling Team of Afghanistan aiming to participate in the 2020 Olympics. They have garnered both ridicule and actual threats to their lives and intense admiration among some Afghanis and people around the world.

My family has lived in the United States for over 30 years now, which is almost all of my life. And it is true that the extreme restrictions and taboo against women riding bikes in other countries has only showed up as a minor protest from my mom and dad, who were, though disappointed in my choice, not vehemently against me riding a bike for transportation. After five years of my doing so, my parents have come to accept this part of who I am and have come to understand that there is nothing untoward for a woman to ride a bicycle for transportation.

And every time I get on my bicycle, there is an extra part of me that exults at knowing that I am eschewing traditional views about women doing something physical and “sporty” that is usually relegated to men, even though I live in a country where this is nothing remarkable.

Taz Loomans is an architect and a writer who lives in Portland. Check out her blog at BloomingRock.com and stay tuned for her next installment here on BikePortland.

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31 Comments
  • Adam H. March 24, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Welcome to BikePortland! I look forward to reading more of your columns!

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  • paikiala March 24, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Welcome to Portland.

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  • Gary March 24, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Fascinating start. Thank you for the contribution, I sincerely look forward to the future installments.

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  • Editz March 24, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Cable lock…

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    • 9watts March 24, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      helmet…

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      • caesar March 24, 2015 at 5:00 pm

        Lights….

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        • Mossby Pomegranate March 24, 2015 at 6:18 pm

          ACTION!

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        • Adam H. March 24, 2015 at 6:30 pm

          Camera…..

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          • Caleb March 24, 2015 at 10:17 pm

            Action…

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            • 9watts March 25, 2015 at 11:44 am

              singlewordcomments….

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        • Barb & Max March 25, 2015 at 9:07 am

          Damn ya’ll! So preachy and up in her business when she just wrote about biking as a freedom act, a thwarting of social pressures and expectations. Does she strike you as someone who needs your guidance? #thanksivealreadygotamommy

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          • Caesar March 25, 2015 at 11:39 am

            Manners…

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    • Annette March 24, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Cable locks are subversive… 🙂

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    • Taz Loomans March 24, 2015 at 6:08 pm

      Hi! That photo was taken when I just moved here and I only had a cable lock. Not to worry I have a U-lock now!

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      • Taz Loomans March 24, 2015 at 6:09 pm

        Oh right, and I had a helmet and lights too!

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  • 9watts March 24, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    I too look forward to your column. The distinctions you made between cycling for fun (allowed) and for transportation (forbidden) in some countries I find fascinating, and relates to distinctions some people observe in this country.

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  • jeg March 24, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    I was disappointed the article to the islamic bike didn’t have a picture for the lolz. I hope you bring a fresh activist perspective to getting Portland multimodal.

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  • 9watts March 24, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    “Both my parents come from places where only poor people bike.”

    I’d love to learn more about this.
    It seems we have locally specific notions all over the world about who does and doesn’t bike. I remember reading here in a CCC publication that ‘bikes came into our neighborhoods with drug dealers in the ’90s’…
    http://bikeportland.org/2012/08/01/community-cycling-center-set-to-build-bike-repair-hub-at-new-columbia-75326

    and in another article: “Jewish people don’t bike.”
    http://bikeportland.org/2012/10/28/new-york-citys-bicycle-delivery-men-79381

    These stereotypes clearly arose within certain specific, local circumstances, probably even came to be true at some point. But how, and why?

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    • jeg March 24, 2015 at 6:12 pm

      In group, out group, and half of people have an iq below 100.

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    • Mickey March 24, 2015 at 7:10 pm

      How about ‘in Portland in 2015 it is mostly bougie people who ride bikes.’

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  • Rebecca March 24, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    After reading your article I feel very grateful to live in a place where my only restrictions as a cyclist have been things like poor infrastructure and scofflaw motorists – there have never been any restrictions on my actually being a cyclist because of my gender. My mom taught me how to ride my bike and I have always been free to make a rainbow of questionable fashion choices while riding.

    Thank you for the perspective. Looking forward to your next article!

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  • Bill Stites March 24, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Nice work Taz! Looking forward to future articles.

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  • Dave March 24, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Bravo, ma’am. Occupying road space in the US on a bicycle is an act of cultural deviance and subversion that few appreciate!

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  • Trek 3900 March 25, 2015 at 1:24 am

    Taz,
    Get a U-lock. Or else your bike will be stolen. Cable locks will not stop thieves.

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  • Tim March 25, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for making biking a little less subversive for everyone.

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  • Lance P. March 25, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Welcome Taz! Now let’s talk bad bike parking policy and negativity towards women who bike to a local establishment on Sandy (cough… cough… Fiona’s story… cough… cough)!

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  • Becky O'Leary March 25, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Hi Taz! I have missed seeing you at the old Tea Chi Te on Hawthorene! Am very excited to find you here and welcome your writing.

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  • Erin March 25, 2015 at 11:28 am

    Great article! Your comments about the taboo of women riding bikes, reminded me of the book Wheels of Change, and these articles about impact of early US women riding bikes
    the importance of the bicycle to the women’s liberation movement
    https://crankedmag.wordpress.com/issues/issue-4/the-importance-of-the-bicycle-to-the-early-womens-liberation-movement/

    How the Bicycle paved the way for women’s rights:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/06/the-technology-craze-of-the-1890s-that-forever-changed-womens-rights/373535/

    nice profile of the Wheels of Change book
    http://www.brainpickings.org/2011/03/28/wheels-of-change-bicycle/

    We’re not always that progressive here either. 🙂 It would be nice to improve access to bikes and bike reading to under-served folks in our community.

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  • a.j.zelada
    a.j.zelada March 26, 2015 at 8:45 am

    Check out http://blackwomenbike.blogspot.com/
    This was started by an architect (I think) in DC who experienced bicycling by an AfricanAmerican mother and child, where the child yelled:
    “there is someone like me”..on a bike. Powerful dynamic of inviting many into ‘our fold’ who might not give themselves permission to join our bicycling world. See you on the next architecture ride. Z

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  • Cranky March 27, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    Can’t wait to read your stuff Taz. Welcome.

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