From a few months ago….
As I wait for today’s cycle guests. I’m chewing the cud with one of my Ganjam friends who is aged around 11, she’s a neighbour of Satish’s where I store my cycles. We’re wondering why in India, most girls stop cycling when they become women. There are plenty of positive women role models cycling around the world and of course on our MyCycle tours. There were two from U.K. and Australia yesterday, two from Germany and Switzerland today and some very slightly older women from the UK and Australia tomorrow. Well done to them for setting a superb example! its really noticed by the girls as we cycle around.
But it’s VERY rare (exceptions above, prove the rule!) to see Indian women cycling and when we do see it, its clearly a change in society that comes from the growing middle class. That’s of course superb but we don’t see it often enough. Why?
Yes, why do Indian girls tend to stop cycling when they become women? Another conversation might help provide some insight.
Manjula tells me that part of the attractiveness of the opposite sex, (in addition to the usual rigours of determining suitability for an arranged marriage: caste, wealth, stars, parent’s occupation and much much more), there are certain physical characteristics that are looked for. (This doesn’t of course mean it applies across India’s diverse groups!) You know the sort of thing. Small feet for women etc. Well a novel one she’s just told me relates to foot arch. Men’s arch needs to be clear and distinct, women’s feet should be flat! really? its a patriarchal minefield.
My point is, this preoccupation with attractiveness and that includes all sorts of pressure to be perceived as ‘normal’ includes the barrier, the challenge, the tradition, the clear message that cycling when a girl gets older, makes her less attractive or desirable as a poteniutal bride.
Another friend of mine, who will remain anonymous, as a young women, did some really innovative community projects, in terms of helping poor families. When it came time to look for a husband she had to ditch that work and commitment and hand over to others, to ensure she was able to find a husband!! Otherwise, she might be seen as less desirable with all that baggage!
So likewise, I reckon a woman’s desirability, eligibility, acceptability vis-a-vis marriage is enhanced if she DOESN’T cycle! What a shame! Its so the wrong way round.
Now I’m all for sensitivity to cultural difference, I pride myself on having designed and created many projects in tune and partnership with the communities they served BUT that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be critical of tradition, there are also many things that should change. Patriarchy and oppressing the ladies to conform is one of them. Here’s to the different approach for these future women!
but I do realise that there is such a long way to go…
To be fair its an intenational challenge, women around the world face barriers to taking up or maintaining cycling. A previous guest and our good friend Tiffany Lam has written on this very subject, please follow the link here
to find out more.
Strength to the girls. (and women)… keep on cycling!