A few comments about sex

Last week Jonathan texted me that he “would really love to see more women using our comments section.”

Little did he know that men and women communicating is something I, for decades, have spent a lot of time thinking about. It probably started with that 1981 Gloria Steinem piece, Men and Women Talking, and continued with the excellent 1990 book by linguist Deborah Tannen, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.

It’s a fascinating topic to me. The wrinkle of internet message boards is that most people comment anonymously, so you don’t know their sex. The structure of a Zoom call changes things too, profoundly, especially in terms of interruption.

My short answer to Jonathan was that more women than he thinks do already comment to BikePortland. Women, like men, can and do pick anonymous, gender-neutral user names. The deeper question for me is, why do we assume that everyone is a man?

And I mean the “we.” Just a couple days ago, an occasional commenter posted on one of our stories. “Oh good, so-and-so posted, I like his comments,” thought I. Meanwhile, I had also just received an email from this person in my home email account—nothing to do with BikePortland. I know this person, she is a woman! But it took me a day before I realized the woman in my email box was the same person in the BikePortland comments, despite the fact that her gender-neutral username was practically the same.

How does this happen?

I think many people expect a female commenter to fit into a certain voice, or trope. If you don’t fit into that, the assumption is that you are a man. The molds are “I as a woman experienced xyz;” the face of the cause/disease; the victim; the newbie in need of advice.

In the case of BikePortland, the email address that commenters sign in with identifies some people as women despite their gender-neutral, outward-facing identity. We’ve featured comments from women as Comment of the Week. Did you notice?

It’s still true, though, that BikePortland gets many more comments from men than women. But why assume that is something that needs to be fixed? Why is the male behavior considered the norm? We have five to ten commenters (all men I’m pretty sure) who write a lot, maybe even more than I do. Read them or not, agree with them or not, I appreciate that several of them write link-rich posts which can be informative. I think of them as BikePortland’s Greek chorus—a chorus which doesn’t sing together or agree with each other, but there they are.

So some percentage of men think the world needs to hear from them a lot. Fewer women are like that. (Did you know that hens can crow? Great big cock-a-doodle-dos as good as a rooster? I nearly fell off my tree stump when I heard that come out of a non-aggressive hen who apparently needed to establish dominance over a new bird I had just introduced into the flock.)

Anecdotally, my perception is that most of the women who comment on BikePortland do it precisely, when there is something they specifically can add to the discussion. Comments from women tend to be few, focused and on-topic.

I agree with Jonathan, though, it would be nice if we had more comments from women.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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Al
Al
2 months ago

Would it be possible to limit the number of comments someone can leave in a certain time frame? I imagine seeing numerous existing comments disincentivizes engagement regardless of sex, and I personally find it tiresome that certain people find the need to leave 1000 word essays on every post, especially when they no longer live here.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  Al

Sorry my bad.

EEE
EEE
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I think expats provide a valuable perspective. Several routine posters have moved away and it would be nice if they provided their perspective in their new digs. I look forward to them almost like lite versions of Taylor’s bikeportland reporting in Spain.

Caleb
Caleb
2 months ago
Reply to  EEE

That’s nice of you to say. When I first moved to Portland, I was amazed by the fact that bike lanes and bike route signs existed. Now I live back where I came from, and my city has a single 16 block bike lane road 20 years later. If I have any perspective to offer, it’s that some of the country still has next to nothing for cyclists, and this is coming from the most progressive city in the state.

My city made a bicycle advisory committee in 2015 or 16, and paid $80k for Alta to make us a bicycle master plan. I was on that committee for six or more years before the city shoved it under the Parks and Rec Department to the effect of it ending two years ago.

This country, like my state, has been upside down for pretty much ever, and people reading this site who complain about their auto rights would do well to recognize that.

Steve
Steve
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Don’t worry about it.

No Thanks
No Thanks
2 months ago

I mean, we could start with the amount of women Jonathan has alienated over the years because of his lack of education about gender issues in cycling and how horrible he’s been to a few for trying to push back against some horrific transphobia that happened in the comments.
I would also recommend that you change the title from A few comments about sex to A few comments about gender. Sex does not equal gender and what you’re talking about here is gender.

jakeco969
jakeco969
2 months ago
Reply to  No Thanks

Sex does not equal gender and what you’re talking about here is gender.

Way to mansplain the author. Big eye roll emoji

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

The deeper question for me is, why do we assume that everyone is a man?

Applies to your comment as well.

jakeco969
jakeco969
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It was an attempt at deep irony, but apparently not successful with everyone.

No Thanks
No Thanks
2 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

You realize you just assumed my gender and you are incorrect about it

jakeco969
jakeco969
2 months ago
Reply to  No Thanks

Please see my reply to Watts.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
2 months ago
Reply to  No Thanks

I strongly agree with your suggested title change. I would add that this site should have more coverage of queer, nonbinary, intersex, and trans perspectives.

PTB
PTB
2 months ago

Genuine question; I’m looking at all the headlines on BP page as it exists right now on 3.14 and I don’t understand what you mean. Capping I-5, tolls, Willamette project, jersey barriers in the golf course, etc. Lots of articles, today, in the past and surely in BP’s future, are about exactly this sort of thing; infrastructure, political advocacy, city/state laws about transpo. issues, etc., and I don’t understand what the trans perspective here would even mean. Why would a queer perspective differ from mine when we’re talking about safe cycling infrastructure or the like? What am I missing? Honest, not trying to start a fight or snark, I’m just clueless perhaps.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
2 months ago
Reply to  PTB

Bike Portland covers many different aspects of cycling culture and this coverage tends to be written by white cis-het people and focus on white cis-het people. Representation and inclusion are an inherent part of political advocacy.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 months ago

What percent should that be?

Caleb
Caleb
2 months ago

Our country has a representational problem on a massive scale, IMO, in that most MOC, for example, don’t represent most people. Does that mean we need to assume the worst about those who operate a platform that doesn’t provide comprehensive and proportionally accurate representation, or that any given white hetero has a given ideology or bias? And Like the above commenter said, do sexual orientation or gender dictate what safety anybody deserves no matter where they go?

con_tot
con_tot
2 months ago
Reply to  PTB

I think all of the articles you mentioned do inevitably impact queer perspectives because queer people are disproportionately represented in urban places for cultural reasons. Compared to this other commenter, I actually do find BPs coverage of these events to be sufficient. Jonathan and team could however bring in queer voices to explicitly shine a light on how queerness can impact one’s experience of transportation, such that well-meaning commenters like yourself would be aware of at least one example.

A personal example: I am a visibly queer man who does not drive so I am always walking, biking or busing to get around. As the weather begins to warm I may wear a pair of shorts that ends above the knees. Certainly longer than an average running short and looser than any bike shorts, but short enough that I am unlikely to ‘pass’ as a straight man. Maybe 3-5 times per year I experience someone, usually a driver, calling me a fa**ot, slowing down as they say it to watch my response.

Is this the worst experience imaginable? Not for me. I grew up in a poor rural region of the country where I personally experienced violent homophobia. But it’s never pleasant to feel singled out by a hateful person wielding a 2000 pound when you’re a vulnerable road user. I love to bike tour and these experiences only get scarier and more frequent the further you get from the city!

In regards to queerness and transportation choices, I have heard that most of my auto-centric gay friends DO NOT have similar experiences. It is far harder for another road user to perceive someone as queer when they are driving a vehicle, and the power dynamic between two car users is less likely to invite a verbal confrontation.

And this is already a long comment so I’ll just tack on that I love to see Lisa approaching reporting like this!

PTB
PTB
2 months ago
Reply to  con_tot

Hey Con_Tot. Thanks for your reply! *I* read your reply and it seems to me this is more “Life in a World of Absolute Shitheads” and less a transportation thing, but hell, that’s only my take on things. Again, thanks for your comment. I’m sorry that happens. It’s dumb as hell and has happened to me, too. It’s been a while, and it hasn’t happened in Portland, but when I’ve been cycling outside of Portland I’ve had things chucked at me (fortunately never been hit). Ice, bottles, a football. I think that’s it. Stupid. People are stupid.

Men Who Wear Shorts Above The Knee Unite!

Caleb
Caleb
2 months ago
Reply to  con_tot

When I still lived in Portland, a guy on a motorcycle called my friend and I faggots for pedaling our bmx bikes in the bike lane on Madison toward downtown. Now I’m in my late 30s, back where I grew up on a farm, pedaling all day on rural roads in the shortest Swrve brand shorts rolled up a couple inches, and nobody here has ever called me a faggot despite friends thinking I was gay when younger. As others suggested, the insults likely come front shit people, the type who roll coal and otherwise revel in other people suffering.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  No Thanks

Thanks for the comment. I’m always learning and evolving and just hope that anyone I’ve alienated or been horrible to many years ago would give me another chance. And thanks for the feedback on the headline.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  No Thanks

Oy vay. Such a Portland response.

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago

This is a very on brand response for you, middle of the road guy.

Taylor Griggs
2 months ago

Lisa, these are good points, and I felt compelled and inspired to comment (which I haven’t done in a long time). I, too, usually assumed BP commenters are men. I felt like I could tell by their tone, but who knows?

A little off-topic…I’ve been thinking about gender and biking recently because of a survey BikeLoud released asking women to share why they don’t feel comfortable biking in Portland. Obviously, I *do* feel comfortable, so I didn’t relate to a lot of the questions. I have been looking for a more nuanced angle to the question of why more women don’t ride bikes (according to the latest bike count report), but haven’t fully landed on one. Any unease I feel while riding my bike comes from the fact that a driver could easily kill me with their car, which they could do regardless of my gender. In terms of gender harassment, I actually feel a lot safer traveling by bike than by car, especially at night— no need to walk alone in parking garages or down side streets where you parked your car. I am interested in other people’s thoughts, though.

Maybe a more equal gender split in the BP comments would reflect an improvement on our streets, too. Thanks for this post!

joan
2 months ago
Reply to  Taylor Griggs

Taylor, thanks for this. I had the same issue with that survey. I think we are more vulnerable as cyclists, even though I also feel less vulnerable on my bike than on foot.

Lois Leveen
Lois Leveen
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

Yes, the survey was incredibly poorly designed, and whatever “data” it might yield will be limited by the presumptions embedded in the questions. As I noted in one of my responses, my biggest safety concern as a bicyclist (and a pedestrian, and a community member) are aggressive, distracted, and dangerous drivers. And generally they do not care what one’s chromosomes, pronouns, or genitalia are … they are threatening all of us. Sigh.

As for why men might comment online more, perhaps it is because women are busy working all those extra hours/days/months we must work due to the pay inequities that persist in our fine nation.

OregonRainstorm87
OregonRainstorm87
2 months ago
Reply to  Lois Leveen

exactly how I responded to the survey as well!

Heidi
Heidi
2 months ago
Reply to  Taylor Griggs

I appreciate this comment! I was frustrated by that bikeloud survey (and I didn’t end up submitting it) because it made so many assumptions in the questions and answers that I was unable to answer accurately!
The times where I have felt most unsafe while going home at night were either walking or waiting for the bus- situations where I have been alone, and either stationary or not traveling quickly- where my trying to exit the situation could act as an escalation. When I’m biking home at night (on my ebike that can accelerate pretty quickly to 20 mph, and which takes me pretty much door to door) I have never been vulnerable in the same way. The violence that I fear on my bike is being maimed or killed by a careless driver.

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago
Reply to  Heidi

Thank you, Heidi. I feel similarly. The vulnerability I feel when I am walking is different than the vulnerability I feel when I’m walking, or waiting at a bus stop.

MontyP
MontyP
2 months ago

Is there a female version of MAMIL? It can be a fairly accurate stereotype of the average cyclist who’d care enough to comment on a biking website.

Ray
Ray
2 months ago
Reply to  MontyP

Your perception seems to be quite different than mine, Monty. When I think of the much-maligned Middle-Aged Man In Lycra, I don’t picture the “average” BP commenter. Nor the inverse.
Most of the well thought out comments I read here don’t really seem to come from the kitted-up Cat. 6 commuter, which is my perspective of the “MAMIL” stereotype.
Though my jeans do have a small percentage of Spandex in them, so maybe I’m close enough?

BB
BB
2 months ago
Reply to  Ray

The local “fun” scene bike rides are way more sexist than any kitted up Cat anything type events.
OBRA racing and the Cyclocross racing scenes are completely supportive and respectful to women cycling. Far more than the local Pedalpalooza scene and other “fun” type rides.

Ray
Ray
2 months ago
Reply to  BB

That is exactly my point. You know that Cat. 6 isn’t an actual race category, right?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  BB

BB and Ray,

Let’s try to have this conversation without reducing complicated and multi-faceted people and groups into stereotypes. There are sexist people all over the spectrum of our society, you don’t need to pit one part of our community against another to make that point. Thanks.

Ray
Ray
2 months ago

Fair enough. Apologies.
My initial response to MontyP was an attempt to say that I thought many commenters here were not of the stereotype he described. I should have left it at that.

No need to allow this comment to post.

joan
2 months ago

We women are just as capable of rambling irritably at fellow commenters, but I have seen and experienced a fair amount of sexism in BP comments over the years, directed at other commenters and some of the women who have written here. Many women have been turned off by the dude-heavy comments and slights. The misogyny of some was on full display during Eudaly and Hardesty’s reelection campaigns, and the transphobia has been really gross and was pretty bad for a long time. The BP comments section is a regular topic of conversation among many, especially women, in Portland’s bike world. It gets really tiring, and some people have given up. I used to comment more, a lot more. It’s not that I have become more careful and concise in my words. It’s that I don’t always want to don the armor to wade in. Many regulars lack a generosity of spirit in response to others. It can be exhausting.

I absolutely agree that cutting off some of the long-winded commenters and the long threads would help make it more welcoming to others. If you know them here or in the real world, perhaps you find their comments insightful and non-offensive, but the nitpicking at some precludes others. (And Lisa, I believe you once suggested that too many comments by any one person and too much back and forth shouldn’t be happening in a healthy comment section?)

I think Jonathan is absolutely right here that many women have left the comments section and it’s a problem.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

I absolutely agree that cutting off some of the long-winded commenters and the long threads would help make it more welcoming to others. 

One way to do this would be to have long threads collapsed by default, something I personally would find annoying, but might be welcomed by others.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Or allow down voting. I know some online forums that gray out or collapse comments with large negative scores…

joan
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

We briefly had downvoting and I regularly got downvoted when I mentioned a concern about sexism. Downvoting made bullying women easier.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  joan

Thanks for the comment Joan,

I think things have gotten much better in our comment section of late and I hope folks who’ve given up check back every so often. I believe having this community space where we can gather is worth fighting for and I’ll continue to do whatever I can to keep the jerks away and make it welcoming and productive for all.

joan
2 months ago

Yes, definitely better, Jonathan. Apologies for not saying that up front. But I think it’ll be a while til some venture back in.

Clarity
2 months ago

I agree that it’s gotten observably better in the last year!

YrSocialistFrend
YrSocialistFrend
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

I agree with this – the vitriol against Hardesty & Eudaly was a big factor in my stepping away from commenting. It was cemented by the rampant transphobia in any post about gender (which as someone noted above is not the same as sex). The writer of this post doesn’t believe that trans women are women so that was the end of my involvement in the comment section.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
2 months ago

Just because someone doesn’t have your myopic view of particular issue(s) doesn’t make you right and them wrong.
People seem to think just because some issue in the world comes to the forefront everyone has to agree with some new way to look at those views or they are automatically evil/bad.
Must be good to be so closed minded about discussions about topics without all views being considered.

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

I have been puzzling over this comment… What? Whose view is myopic in this scenario?

No Thanks
No Thanks
2 months ago

Who are you referring to when you say the writer of this post is a transphobe? The author of the article?

YrSocialistFrend
YrSocialistFrend
2 months ago
Reply to  No Thanks

The writer of the BP post (not a commenter). I didn’t use the word transphobe because I don’t think she fears or hates trans people but Lisa has written that she thinks trans women should not be included or treated as women in things like sports. She excludes trans people from her idea of feminism.

No Thanks
No Thanks
2 months ago

Wow, guess this will be my last comment here. That’s horrible and is in fact, transphobic.

Clarity
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

It’s not that I have become more careful and concise in my words. It’s that I don’t always want to don the armor to wade in. Many regulars lack a generosity of spirit in response to others. It can be exhausting.

I feel exactly the same way. I’ve been actively reading BP comments for 7 or so years now but it’s rare that I feel motivated to wade in, especially as the tone of discourse has really shifted over time. The misogyny and transphobia (both of which I necessarily take personally) at times haven’t helped either.

There are some folks here who have either an abundance of spoons, free time, self-confidence, or (at times) entitlement that leads them to make sure that everybody knows their perspective & opinion on just about every issue. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I definitely don’t have the energy to do the same knowing that my (fringe transsexual-anarchist) opinions are going to provoke strong adverse reactions from some crowds unless I’m cautious & precise in my words.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
2 months ago
Reply to  Clarity

fringe transsexual-anarchist

I have a strong positive reaction to this.

Caleb
Caleb
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

I’m a man who despite growing up wishing to be like Jesus (agnostic for many years now) has messed up many times and hurt people, including being overbearing. Your comment resonates with me, though, because no matter how much I’ve loathed my mistakes, the way some other men have treated me has been disturbing in that they’ve clearly intentionally tried misleading or hurting me or others. I’ve come across antagonistic women, but none who were clearly scheming in the same way. Anecdotal, of course, but still worthy perspective for me to remember. Women can rape men, but I still subscribe to the notion of them being “the better”.

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago

“BikePortland’s Greek chorus”

Ha! Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. Thank you! I would also like to see more women comment.

Sio
Sio
2 months ago

I’ve just gotten out of the habit of commenting on things in general. I got tired of being bullied because of my gender. I stick to commenting in places where I feel specifically welcomed. The nature of the article compelled me to comment.

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
2 months ago

What English needs are proper neutral personal pronouns. “They” and “them” and “theirs” sort of work but often feel clunky or, lately, politically charged despite a century of informal usage. I really wish Ursula K. Leguin’s notion of “e” and “er” had taken off, as in, “E lives in Portland with er mate, Stacy” or “Stacy and er mate went for a bike ride.”

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Keller

How about the old fashioned “thou” and “thy”?

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
2 months ago

Yep. “They” and “them” as singular has been in the vernacular for about 100 years, but hasn’t fully caught on yet. Maybe in a few more decades it will. I wonder how long the transition to a singular “you” took…?

Adam
Adam
2 months ago

The decline of thou vs you to reference people in the second-person singular is a good example of how language changes organically but incompletely, even after a long time since the change. You took its singular role on because it was used as a more formal second-person singular when addressing someone of higher social status. Thou was commonfolk and people of equal social rank. Imagine if everyone dropped I and the royal we became the default first-person singular. We continue to debate how to reference people in the second-person plural, ie. “you all, you guys, y’all,” etc. That was you’s job!

So if “they” does in fact over take most uses of the third-person singular, we may have the same problem trying to replace the third-person plural. If you start hearing people say “them guys, them all,” or “th’all,” you’ll know the transition is near cemented. However, there was more widespread socio-cultural pressure for people to streamline the rules of addressing people using the more formal you vs thou. There is not as much widespread pressure to do so with “they,” I think, and most people are still going to find usefulness in he and she, unlike thou.

Matt
Matt
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Keller

Just sounds like “he” and “her” said in a Cockney accent.

C
C
2 months ago

Another woman here who basically never posts unless I have something very specific and factual to add to the discussion. I’m just not interested in dealing with the kind of arguments I often see in the comments section.