Gender inequality: it’s that ever-present force that undermines the well-being of the underprivileged while disproportionately benefiting the privileged.
BikeWorks, a volunteer-run community bike shop directed by the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society (EBC), is combatting gender inequality by reserving their South location every 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of the month exclusively for Women, Trans and Gender Non-Binary individuals. This means that cis-men, a.k.a. male-bodied persons who identify as male, are not allowed in the shop on these days.
“Most community bike shops in North America have similar programs,” says BikeWorks manager Coreen. “EBC was a relative late-comer in implementing our women & trans day in 2007.”
Coreen adds that the proportion of men in the shop on any given day is far greater than other genders, and that in North America, male cyclists outnumber all other genders by a three to one ratio. The policy is intended as a way to encourage other genders to get cycling and feel confident with bicycle maintenance.
Undeniably, there is a growing push for equitable treatment of disadvantaged persons. To be clear, “equality” and “equity” are not one in the same: equality means the same treatment is given to everyone, regardless of their advantages or disadvantages. By contrast, equity means the treatment received by each individual is such that, in the end, they all have access to the same opportunity. So why is equity a growing priority? If we assume that everyone begins on an equal playing field, we fail to recognize the systematic disadvantages faced by certain members of society. Without prioritizing equity, anyone at a disadvantage – in this case, anyone who is not a cis-male – cannot enjoy equality.
Women, trans and gender non-binary persons are at a disadvantage in the context of a bike shop. On any regular day, the shop is a male-dominated atmosphere. This noticeably discourages other genders from entering the shop, for fear of sexist treatment or apprehension about entering a predominantly male space. This is a sort of unintended segregation, which BikeWorks aims to counter with their Women, Trans and Gender Non-Binary days. Coreen shared several anecdotes that illustrate how non-male-identifying individuals have benefited from having a safe space to empower themselves.
“A woman who usually had her adult son do her bike maintenance, who, having never picked up a wrench before, tuned up her rusty old bike and was changing tires better than some pro mechanics I know by the time she finished.”
In addition, the program is making waves throughout the trans and gender non-binary community, with many coming in simply to offer thanks for implementing the program.
Feedback on the EBC website’s comments section seems to come mostly from cis-men who are displeased with the policy. In response, Chris Chan, EBC’s executive director, has stated that sexism in the shop is apparent: he regularly witnesses the assumption that, based on gender, an individual is inherently more or less qualified as a mechanic. This sort of unconscious/unintentional sexism is lifted when there are no cis-males to compare to other genders using the facility.
Perhaps one reason this program has been generally accepted is the non-profit nature of BikeWorks. Extending such programs to regular businesses would almost certainly ruffle a few more feathers – those denied access would be paying customers, after all. In spite of the inevitable outcry, I’d like to see some businesses take the lead on this front. There is a sense of justice in exposing the privileged to their own advantage, and once a few pioneers take this first step, the road will be paved for others to follow. Of course, the hope would be that specifically-gendered days will become obsolete, and people of all genders can enjoy the same equal and equitable environment. Until then, to the disgruntled cis-men calling this treatment “discrimination,” I suggest you visit the shop on one of the other 18 or so accidentally-discriminating-in-your-favour operating days of the month.