Comment of the Week: The challenge of speaking up as a woman who bikes

Comment of the Week: The challenge of speaking up as a woman who bikes

Wonk Night - Romp in the Comp Plan-3

Biking community leader Lisa Marie White, right,
leading an advocacy discussion at a BikePortland
Wonk Night in October.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Of all the conversations we’ve had on the site this week — there have been 1,100 comments on 27 posts — the biggest was about the line between journalism and community.

Many people who we respect disagreed with Jonathan’s decision to delete archived references in past stories to a man who, he’d decided, seemed to be using his perceived status to hurt other people.

The One of the most upvoted comments in the thread came from another reader and fellow community member who we respect a lot: Lisa Marie White, a prominent local biking advocate (most recently at Bike Walk Vote) and active community member. Here’s her take on Hart Noecker and, more importantly, on what Portland’s biking communities should learn from this conversation:

First: to those taking issue with Jonathan deleting information from the site, I believe he did the right thing. As someone who knows the situation and the accused (though we are no longer friends), not allowing him to promote himself via this site is important. Additionally, those posts have a tendency to falsely imply he was a leader (which he likely encouraged), though from what I know he was not.

Second: I’d like to echo Esther in thanking you for addressing this publicly. It is not simply an “incident” – at its root is a generally discounted female and minority voice in our bike community. To those who repeatedly tell me “but we’re the most progressive city and most progressive bike culture”, I’d agree… and what does that say about the state of female and minority voices in bicycling? If we have difficulty being heard here, where CAN we be?

The realities of being ignored and discounted (and having to have male board members forward e-mails to me, since despite being a chair, people assumed they must really be running our group) has made me, on more than one occasion, want out of the active transportation advocacy world.

Dismissing varied voices sets the stage for accusations like Byrd’s going ignored and doubted and shut down until the tally of accusers is high enough to force acknowledgment. It also allows Hart and others to dominate conversations at the expense of others. Aggressive speech from him was rarely a problem – aggressive responses from women have been met with discomfort and shunning.

I wasn’t going to comment, but silence and silencing has been our biggest problem and it has allowed egregious behavior to go unchecked.

Speaking up, however, is equally unappealing as a woman. Throughout this ordeal, when other women have spoken up, I’ve heard the real-time responses of “she’s too sensitive” or “she’s a bit intense/needs to calm down” or “why is she taking this personally”. Outside of this particular issue, I’ve also seen women promote great ideas and seen them swiftly discounted for their lack of “experience” or “knowledge”… only to see a guy say the same thing and have his ideas lauded. We’ll hold prominent women up as tokens of our inclusiveness, yet fail to integrate them into conversation and decision making in meaningful ways.

This is a systemic problem of which we have only scratched the surface, and I believe it is one of the reasons bicycling has stagnated in this city – many still feel no place exists for them in this world. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who has spoken up and to the men in the community who have shown themselves to be caring, compassionate, and open to examining their own faults. You give me a whole lot of hope 🙂

“Once you know better, you do better.”

I truly hope we do.

We don’t choose White’s comment because she happened to agree with our course of action on this, but because in this comment she puts her brain, her experience and her heart on the line to explain how things look from her perspective and point the direction we should go from here. If you ask us, that’ll always be the formula for great bike advocacy. Thanks for being one of the many who’ve spoken up, Lisa Marie.

Yes, we pay for good comments. As always we’ll be mailing a $5 bill to Lisa Marie in thanks for this great one.

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