Beauty and the Bike is a great film/book/project from the UK about encouraging young women to ride bikes more. Focusing initially on why British girls give up cycling once they reach a certain age, the film makes the case that bad infrastructure (lack of cycle lanes) and certain cultural notions (that bikes are for kids and men, not women; that roads are for cars and trucks, not bikes) are preventing young women from experiencing the fun and freedom that cycling can give. Taking their cue from the more cycle-friendly cities of mainland Europe, the project organisers have a two pronged approach to making cycling more appealing to young British women: fix the infrastructure to make cycling safer and less stressful, and combat the idea that young women can't or shouldn't be interested in bikes.
Of course, in many ways, changing the physical infrastructure of a town or city to facilitate cycling is much, much easier than changing people's cultural notions about women on bikes. Harass your town council enough and they'll probably put down a cycle lane or two, but try to convince people that women should be riding bikes more, that's a different story. However, by making cycling accessible, stylish and fun, the organisers of Beauty and the Bike show that it is possible to convince young women that they belong on bikes as much as anyone.
Now, we're not talking about completely subverting gender paradigms here. It's very much about making women on bikes feel attractive in relatively normative ways. However, it is, I think, an important first step to show young women that they can "look good" and ride bikes at the same time. After all, in the 19th century the very idea of women on bikes was revolutionary, because cycling constituted a physical activity (the sovereign sphere of men) felt to give women too much independence (through mobility). Thus a whole range of cultural norms were conjured up that attempted to curtail female bike riding by suggesting that the activity was undignified at best, unladylike at worst. Are these cultural norms, formulated in the repressive era of Victorian sexuality, the root cause of the reluctance of young women in Britain today to ride bikes? Maybe. Are the people behind Beauty and the Bike directly challenging the notions of femininity and beauty that undergird society more generally? Maybe not. But, by making cycling appealing to young women in 2010, they facilitate something that might be every bit as revolutionary as it was in 1899. As the American civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony said, "I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."
More details about Beauty and the Bike here.
I've also added another blog to the list: Copenhagen Cycle Chic. It updates regularly with photos and videos of stylish people on bicycles; because not everyone wants to be as fast and aerodynamic as possible.