A Grease Rag friend recently called out a specific bike shop for discriminating against women. Since that Facebook post, my inbox has been blowing up with WTFs saying, "I have experienced the same thing at ___ shop! What can we do? How do we change this?" Male shop employees and owners have been contacting me saying, "What is this? I didn't know this was happening! Please help us."
Bike shops are a part of the "bicycle ecosystem" in Minneapolis. They make us a beautiful and rich city, and they need us to survive. Over the years, I have heard complaints by WTFs about ALL shops. Every. Single. One. So if you are working in a shop or own a bike shop and you hear a complaint about another bike business, do yourself a favor and assume the same happens in your establishment. Because it more than likely does.
What does this mean? What can we learn from this? How do we work together to make positive change?
When we discuss white supremacy and "whiteness" as an undeniable oppressive construct in our society, this does not mean all white people are "bad." Although the heavy lifting for anti-racist work should be done by the people who benefit most from white supremacy. When we talk about patriarchy and masculinity as oppressive constructs it does not mean all cis men are "bad." Although the heavy lifting for anti-sexist/trans-inclusive work should be done by the people who benefit most from male-dominated systems. Keeping that in mind, saying there are problems in bike shop culture does not mean all shops are "bad," it does mean there is a pervasive systemic/cultural problem that needs to be addressed. This means that because of the systems in place, if bike shops are not actively working toward a solution they are a part of the problem.
I think it is important for us to enter this conversation of "What can we do? How do we change this?" in agreement on two ideas.
1) ALL bike shops are not safe for ALL people.*
2) Complaints about ALL SHOPS indicates there is a systemic or cultural issue that needs to be addressed.
*I would also like to add that it is not just WTFs complaining, there is the self-described "newbie" contingent and also people who don't speak English that complain regularly about substandard treatment in bike shops. I focus on WTF inclusion here because that is what Grease Rag is all about.
I am not interested in having conversations with people who want to argue, "But I'm a good guy/ally and I work in a bike shop so there is no problem," or "I've never felt treated unfairly in a bike shop before so there is no problem," as reasons why we should not be trying to work together for a friendlier community. (Check your privilege, please.) I am interested in having conversations that move toward, "How can we work together to make bike shops places that are friendlier to more people?"
What work has already been done?
"Women" are a large part of the retail market that the bike industry is interested in catering to. In addition to the bottom line, some shops are interested in creating safer spaces for WTFs because they see the value in being welcoming community institutions.
For one or more of these reasons, we know bike shops want to (or at least pay lip service to) get better at being welcoming and comfortable for WTFs. Grease Rag's community partner shops went the extra step and asked Grease Rag/me (partnered with Brian F.) to do a "Listening Circle" event where we talked about how to respect WTFs in the shop, including how to talk about bodies and how to respect pronouns. General consensus was that there were some good tactics discussed. All of this is documented online for your benefit.
Recap of the Listening Circle event, by Holly
Full write up on how to make your own Listening Circle event with bike shop representatives and WTF experts
A collection of experiences our WTFs have had in EVERY bike shop, with recurring themes: marketing, expertise-seeking, follow up, don’t minimize with “just,” respect physical space and barriers- bikes can be extensions of bodies, microaggressions, don’t only address my boyfriend, I do not want pink “because I am a woman,” condescension, assumptions, no POC or WTF staff, age and ability and expertise assumptions and lack of accommodation.
No one said this would be easy.
I have mixed reactions to the Listening Circle event. One of the pieces that left me with a bad feeling was overhearing one employee/shop representative in attendance mention they were there because they "drew the short straw," and they refused to participate in go-arounds. So, in a small circle of Grease Rag partner shops, we have at least one person who views discussing treating WTFs like human beings as punishment. And that's all it takes, right? One bad employee hitting on WTF customers, misgendering/gendering customers, and making assumptions about needs and abilities makes the entire shop unfriendly.
For shops that really do care about WTFs as humans worthy of equal respect (in addition to wanting those sweet retail dollars) it is a hard task to single out these underdeveloped people for dismissal or more training. The season is only so long here in the Twin Cities and I understand you need staff who require minimal training to get up to speed. When you realize there is a bad apple, at what point and how do you deal with it considering you've already used up valuable resources getting the bapple up to speed? At what point do we decide that it is more valuable to teach respectful people bike shop skills than it is to train people with bike shop skills to be respectful of others?
This is one of the challenges a business must face. Ignoring and dismissing the problem does not make it go away.
Next steps for bike shops and employees
Gather, organize, educate (yourselves) Read More