6 November 2007

Freedom to Ride - Freedom of Expression

Image above is best viewed large. Just click on it and feel free to save as a screensaver.

It has to be said that we here at Copenhagen Cycle Chic are rather overwhelmed at the response we get regarding this blog. It's amazing how many people send us emails and photos for consideration as guest photos from around the world. Thanks so very much.

It's amazing to us because we started out merely wanting to record the bredth and depth of Copenhagen bike culture. It is so ingrained on our culture - as you see here in this photo of a wall mural in Copenhagen of a girl on a bike:
bike, woman, wallpainting (by isbye)
Or just see this advert for Raleigh bikes in Denmark. A rather different approach to marketing. Compare it with Raleigh's US website... One features casual elegance, the other men in lycra. :-)

We merely wish to show how effortless bike commuting can be. To inspire those in countries without a firm foundation for bike culture to just get out and ride. Lycra begone. Fancy gear begone. Just get on with it.

As expected we have a large group of female fans from around the world. This demographic group often tell us how inspiring the photos are to them. We think that is great. That's the whole point. As Dave Moulton writes on his blog - Womankind - You can save mankind.

A friend of ours pointed us in the direction of some inspiring historical references to women on bikes. We're thankful that women are no longer ridiculed for riding bikes as they were in the late 1800's, back when the bike was regarded as a 'freedom machine' for women during the suffragist movement.

Indeed, this quote is inspiring and still relevant today:

"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood." - Susan B. Anthony, American Suffragist, 1896.
Or consider Frances Willard - another legendary activist - who wrote a book in 1895 called 'How I Learned To Ride The Bicycle' wherein she praised the bike for the freedom it gave women. She often used a cycling metaphor to urge other suffragists to action:

"I would not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum."

We've come a long way. Moreso in some countries than others. Dave Moulton has had some grief about his post about Womenkind - You can save mankind - he responds here. But the narrow-minded won't get us down. Those who merely slap the label of 'sexist' on this blog don't have a very basic understanding of what it's all about and they judge others based on their own cultural norms. Without respecting the fact that people in other countries think differently.

And if they think bike advocacy in high heels is sexist, I would love to see their faces if they saw this advert for a Danish bike shop Cykelkongen [Cycle King]:
We don't particularly fancy this kind of photo - it is targeted at a different demographic group - but we respect the fact that others out there do fancy it.

All in all, thanks again for your support and kind emails/comments. We shall endevour to continue bringing you inspiration from the World's Cycling Capital.

May you forever ride with a tailwind.


Dave Moulton said...

There are two kinds of feminists; those who celebrate their femininity with high heels and beautiful clothes, and those who hide from it with hairy legs and ugly shoes. Please keep on celebrating the former.

Anonymous said...

I read the links and what's funny is the assumption that all the negative comments are from women and/or feminists. This assumption based on what I've seen is inaccurate.

The above comment by Dave shows this assumption to a T. Tell you what Dave and anybody else, you seem melodramatic. Some people will like what you say and some people won't.

Colville-Andersen said...

Indeed. I agree although I'd call it merely celebrating liberated women enjoying a rich and varied bicycle culture.

@anon: I don't share your assumption and don't see how you came upon it. Many of the naysayers who cast labels like 'sexist' and 'creepy' recklessly about are of the male persuasion. It seems to be 50-50. Although in my experience a large proportion come from North America.

the mostly reverend said...

hey, folks--
congratulations! you deserve the adulation and praise you receive.
every time i visit [daily or more often than that] i am reminded of how life could be better here in iowa, and it makes me more determined to try to do something positive about it.
and if i fail, i'm coming over.

Colville-Andersen said...

Why thank you, Reverend, sir. We are your humble servants.

Da' Square Wheelman, said...

Your site is wonderful! I've been reading both it and Dave's for months now. It inspired one of my own posts about a Dutch biker here in the City of Big Shoulders.

Anonymous said...


There are more than two kinds of feminists. Your comment is equivalent to the Cycle King advert, and it does a disservice to the intent of this blog.


Anonymous said...

If a woman wants to wear high heels and pretty clothes, awesome.

If a woman wants to have hairy legs and utilitarian clothes, awesome.

If they both want to ride bikes while doing it, so much the better. That's part of what feminism is about: women are free to display as much or as little diva as they want. It's not about hiding or displaying femininity: it's about displaying yourself without bowing to social pressure to conform either way.

I don't think Dave's being sexist, I think it probably is more of a generational and cultural thing. We American youngins have been trained to be hypersensitive about gender/queer issues in a way that people decades ago never were. So give the guy a break, there's obviously no malice or judgment. The guy just appreciates pretty girls on bikes.

I just discovered the blog, and I think it does have a positive message. I guess the only thing I feel a little odd about is that these women aren't asked if they want to be posted on the internet.

Sure, it's public domain. Legally it's fine. And the nature of cycling would make it hard to ask a girl at a stoplight such a question, and might ruin some candid shots.

But, as an old-fashioned type, I think it's more respectful to ask a woman her permission to do such things. Not because you're scandalizing her, since the images so far have been tasteful, but just because of simple respect for a person's privacy.

Other than that, this hypersensitive Bostonian liberal commie gay-rights-ally wingnut gives a thumbs-up to the concept.


Anonymous said...

go on with what you do!
you do bike advocacy from your cultural point of view, so IMHO in this context it isn't sexist.

the only thing which also came into my mind is what modern gent said: do you ask this women for permission to publish photos of them?
i'm not a jurist so i don't know if you have to ask,....

Colville-Andersen said...

thanks for the comments! glad you like the blog.

regarding permissions and what have you, the photographs are considered "street photography" in a legal sense. If I wanted to use the photos to sell a product and profit from them, I would need permission from the subjects.

Many of my photographs on Flickr fall into the street photography category.

Anonymous said...

Taking photos of women and publishing them on the internet without their consent may not be illegal, but it is certainly creepy and rude.

Colville-Andersen said...

You forgot something very important in your message.
You forgot to add "IN MY OPINION it is certainly creepy and rude".

Because despite what you may believe, it is not you who has been asked to define 'creepy and rude' for the other 6.6 billion of us on this planet.

However, with that said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Usually attributed to Voltaire

May you find sites you like on your future internet wanderings.

Anonymous said...

"That's, like, your opinion, man"? Well, I will explain my opinion.

On this site you take a relatively close up photo of a woman without her consent and put it up on the internet, in a subtly sexual context. Some of your subjects could conceivably object to this. And this is why you guys are creepy.

You could ask for consent. However, it is much easier for you to just take the photo without asking. You show a lack of respect for the wishes of others. This is what makes you guys rude.

In your opinion, you are neither creepy nor rude. Can you explain this opinion?

Colville-Andersen said...

Not a big fan of street photography, are we?

There's always one out of a hundred or so who object. Such are the laws of averages.

That you see 'sexual context' is nothing I control, although it is rather telling. I see, like most others, aestheticism, beauty and bike advocacy.

That you, in your opinion, find us 'creepy' is nothing I can control either. And nothing I lose sleep about.

It reminds me, though, of Janet Jackson's nipple at that football game. Millions of Americans were shocked, outraged, disgusted at the lewd, pornographic display.

The rest of the planet just shrugged and said, "it's just a nipple."

People are different and I respect that fact.

Like I said, good luck finding other sites that suit your tastes.

Anonymous said...

You haven't explained your opinion as I requested, and you falsely assume that I mind if a woman chooses to show her breast. I am the one who is arguing for choice here. You do not allow your subjects any choice about whether to be photographed and put up on the internet, even if it is merely to be admired by detached aesthetes such as yourself, and this is what bothers me.

Colville-Andersen said...

i respect your opinion, but i do not share it.

good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Is this site run by Boris Johnson?

I suppose your tagline would be a bit unwieldy if it read, "I've just taken a photo of you. Can I post it on my socially-important website about hot tottie, er, I mean women enjoying the freedom the suffragettes fought for...er...Normal people in normal clothes on normal bikes. Oh, but only if they're young and female. And pretty. And showing a leg. I like the sound of that...Oops, better include an occasional token picture of a father carrying his kids in his bike basket...Blimey...cripes..etc"

I am female, 32, and cycle for transport/fun. The emphasis of this blog, and some of your comments, do make me feel uncomfortable. I found it when searching for clothing that I would feel physically and emotionally comfortable wearing on a bike or off. For a long, rainy commute to work and not arriving at work/shops/friends house looking like an extra from Star Trek. (I mean the ones in red, not a Klingon. Although that might have helped me the other day, when that brave builder got out of his van to try and punch me for cycling too slowly along a narrow street. That was a bad morning...). I don't want clothing that defines me as an athlete when I just want to feel like me. I don't want me or anyone else to feel they have to change just because they got on a bike. My bike makes me feel free, but this blog makes me feel like someone let my tyres down.

The women on your site look mostly happy and relaxed, and I hope they are. But the comments by yourself and others and the composition of the pictures bely your stated commitment to record "the breadth and depth of Copenhagen bike culture". You have, quite rightly, realised that what people feel is appropriate wear on a bike can have important consequences for them and society. It is a great cause to try and convince everyone, including image-concious young women, that cycling across town is not an ultra-sporty, exclusive event powered by the static sparks from synthetic clothing. But I am an image-concious young(ish!) woman. The problem is I am one of the many that worry far too much about how we look, not because of vanity but because of fear. And you have alienated me. Your defensive statements only dig you in deeper.

Life is there to be enjoyed. I have noticed that I look at men on bikes, because, well, I can see them - they are not hiddden by the bodywork of a car. I can see this also works the other way round, when men look at women. It is natural. You have understood that what women feel they can wear on a bike can affect their behaviour and choices, but you have missed the point that it should be about women's choices, not men's choices. This is where you risk getting stuck in the mire of mixed feelings that women have about how they dress. And the mire can be deep! For example, I have realised that, because I do tend to get warm when I ride up the hills in my town, I could probably wear summery, feminine clothing, even when it's a bit chilly. This could be my moment, the moment the cyclist has the last laugh when everyone else is bundled up against the winter, my chance to get out of the same jeans I always wear and show myself. I am excited by the prospect. But I hesitate.

Have you ever wondered why some women hesitate to express their femininity through their dress? Can you believe the comment from "Dave Moulton", who states, "There are two kinds of feminists; those who celebrate their femininity with high heels and beautiful clothes, and those who hide from it with hairy legs and ugly shoes." ? Well done for capturing the essence of female angst, there, Dave. Has it ever occurred to you that some women, may not be hiding from their femininity, but are exhausted with participating in a world where being a woman means they are judged on looks above all else, pitted against other women, and put into stupid categories? Such feelings come from living in a world where the media and society is largely run by straight men, for straight men, where no woman is ever good enough to please for long. This bears little relation to the average man or woman's life, but it does impact on how women feel and behave. It is insidious - you think you are unaffected, then you realise you are worrying about what to wear to ride your bike to the shops! I put off the TV to avoid this never-ending bombardment, then I find the same crap here. What a shame the judgemental attitude of some men is what may prevent some of us from expressing our feminity, because when we step outside we are genuinely shy of being rated on a blunt, one-dimensional scale of beautiful (in Dave's opinion, what luck, girls!) versus hairy! Put simply (for Dave, bless him), if you are nicer about women in general, the women you might find attractive are going to feel less threatened, and might risk removing their all-in-one combined biohazard/git defence suits and shyly revealing their legs to the hostile world.

Your blog claims to be about women who just want to ride their bikes. But your photo choices have blatantly made it into a beauty contest judged by men. If you want to make women feel comfortable, then show women of all ages, and 50% photos of men. This woman would be cheered by both. When you show that you value everyone, you give people the confidence to be themselves, on or off a bike. That's when they will reveal their femininity or masculinity.

When I next visit Copenhagen, I am MUCH more likely to have the confidence to dress well (in the way that you might call attractive) if I know I am joining an inclusive community that will celebrate individuality and sexuality from both sides. It has nothing to do with my body shape, and everything to do with how easily I can share myself with the world and be accepted, today and for the rest of my life. No, the photos on this site hardly constitute revaling images in an internet context. But these are real people, who were within earshot when photographed on their bikes. It is indeed creepy not to ask people's permission before you post their pictures. This is the internet, not a library of pictures on your head that you saved "for later". Don't invoke the suffragettes when all you're doing is wanking.

You will have detected that I have some "issues"! But I also have a nice dress that I wear on the rare occasions I feel bold enough. Sorry Dave, but you frighten me. I am not a butterfly, nor a hairy gorilla who hates men. I don't want to live in a sexless world. I am just tired of finding myself in the peleton of the Tour de Ass when all I want to do is pop to the shops for some milk. I find men like you unimaginative and boring, and such a disappointment, as is this blog. I just want to be me, and ride my bike, and be free. I don't wear heels these days. Can't find find clipless ones anywhere, I'm 5'8" already, and my favourite man prefers it when I'm not towering above him.

Lots of love, Doris Dahon xxx

Colville-Andersen said...

Issues indeed, Doris :-)

Please don't judge our culture using your own yardsticks. The Cycling Girl [cykelpigen] is an iconic figure in Danish history and our photos merely expand on that. I say OUR because it's me and Marie who do the photographing/blogging. Yes, Marie is a girl.

Over half of the regular readers of our blog are women. Our little community - 3000 daily - is a happy mixture of both sexes who share a love of bicycles, urban cycling and beautiful Copenhageners on bikes.

I don't really have much more to add.