How a bikeride can spark a discussion on women’s safety

Text Timmin Vooijs

Illustration Hanna IJsselstein Mulder

It’s 8pm on a Wednesday evening. I have just attended a mental health dialogue session, and I am biking my way through the gorgeous city of Amsterdam. Every view is a postcard picture and I am thinking to myself: I am so happy to live here, this city is beautiful at night! I continue biking West and start to think about what late dinner I will cook for me and my roommates, if they are home.

This is the narrative of my evening bikes. One thing I realised when I arrived home was that this narrative is not just my narrative; it is the male narrative.  What I only realised afterwards is that I am privileged to only have to think about my dinner and the beautiful city I live in, and not about the drunk man walking next to the road or the four guys on scooters at the crossroad. I do not have to think about how the humming to my music might come over ‘provocative’ to these people. I do not have to think twice about looking at these people. I do not have to contemplate if I should switch my lane to pass them, or maybe stay on the same lane because ‘I don’t want to draw attention’.

It’s in these moments that I feel slightly ashamed. It’s not the direct type of shame that comes from doing something bad. After all, I didn’t do anything; I have always treated women with respect and never have I harassed or called out women on their bike rides home. So where does it come from then? I have yet to figure out this question. And nor did I expect to figure it out that quickly. Every so often this ‘realization’ of my privilege as man comes to mind and I am also slightly grateful for this specific realization. Through this, I am reminded of two things. On the one hand, how much respect I have for women who go through this so much. Most of the female friends that I have talked about this to have told me almost the exact same thing: “It’s something I am constantly dealing with.” The second thing I realise is how we, as a society, pay too little attention to solving this issue. Of course I realise that there is more attention towards combating gender conflicts than there was 50 years ago, but still.

Besides the evening bike rides in Amsterdam, there are countless issues that women are facing just because they are women. The interesting thing is, I can’t help to think that men are not the issue. You may disagree with this and even find it a very confusing thing to say, but I think that society consists of men and women but the issues that we have are not just for and because of men and women. What I mean is that I am not sure whether the issue that women are facing can be solved by a magic switch in all the men doing these things to them. It’s societal,in the sense that it is a problem engraved in our society, if you will. Globally scaled issues like this, because this is not only about Amsterdam bike rides, did not suddenly appear. It is an issue that required a brewing of norms and values that we hold over both men and women.

So what does this mean for our metaphorical evening bike rides? What it means for me is that I think it will take more than lectures and discussions to get rid of this, seemingly globally occurring, problem. It will take a paradigm shift. It will take visionairs and philosophers, scientists and entrepreneurs. It will take every single person on earth to change this. But I am all for it.

That leaves me thinking: What can I do now? I can hear the cynists saying something along the lines of: “So what should we do, huh? Start thinking about every single thing we do?!” And the answer to that is yes! I do think we should do that. We should consider the idea that even if we would never mean it in a harmful way, the things we do or say can still be felt as intimidating. And of course thinking about this issue is already a great step. Especially as sociologists we ought to have an extra keen eye towards these issues.Talk to your female friends about this issue. Maybe even more importantly, talk to your male friends! Make this discussion as public as possible. That is our role; to speak up. Not every single one of us will go on to become a world known author of gender studies and eliminate gender violence, but every single one of us should work towards trying to solve this problem in our own way.

In the end, everyone should be able to think about nothing and everything while biking through Amsterdam at night, instead of constantly worrying about what others might do to you. Everyone deserves to feel safe. This is something we should all want to achieve. This is an issue that rises higher than a “female” thing or a “male” thing. No matter who you are or where you come from, this issue is vital for us as a society to combat. We have a preeminent role as sociologist in studying issues in society ourselves. Moreover, we might also have an important role in promoting and discussing these issues with people who wouldn’t necessarily be involved in these discussions. We all find our own way of tackling this issue and each of those is as valid as any other. Your experience will differ from mine and it should! Because every person in society has come into contact with this subject in different ways. It is that difference in experience that allows people to connect, collaborate and think critically of issues that are seen around us. And it is that difference that will spark the solidarity and perseverance which will allow us to deal with it once and for all.

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