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Pet Sins February 2001

White American bragging about women on motocrycles when the US is late to the game

I in the US, where it seems that we often congratulate ourselves on our 'liberated' women, while extending a patronizing hand to women of "third world" countries by trying to show them the 'American way'. For instance, an acquaintance of mine was excitedly trying to get his girlfriend from China to learn how to ride a motorbike, showing her and other random acquaintances a plethora of motorcycle and scooter websites catering to women. He seemed very proud of the idea that he was helping this supposedly unliberated foreign woman learn to ride a motorbike, reveling in his own supposed "lack of sexism". But why is this self-styled liberal so self-conscious about his 'enlightened' tendencies? In a society that is truely free from oppression, people won't stop to think, oh, it is great a black man is on the moon', or 'a woman is president' anymore than they would stop to think, "Oh, it is great a white guy is on the moon."

I'm not at all claiming that it is wrong to support individuals who try new, atypical ventures. But if our society is realy at the point where it is totally normal and acceptable for women to ride motorcycles, then you won't be making such a big deal out of it, even in a "positive" way. I have many male friends from India, Vietnam and Thailand. From what they say, and what I've seen, many women in these countries ride scooters and sometimes motorcycles. The concentration of women-scooter/motorbiker riders in these countries' urban/suburban population is far, far higher than that in the United States. I counted about one women out of every 3 scooter/motorbike riders in Thailand.

For these women, riding a motorcycle or scooter is not a declaration of feminist freedom and independence. It is simply a necessity of life in suburbs that are not well-served by public transportation. Motorcycles and scooters, being much less costly than cars, are also often the only affordable option open to women.

The men of India, Vietnam and Thailand see women riders as something so normal they don't even bother to comment on it. Yet in 'liberated' places like the US, you have to have special websites and magazines dedicated to discussing the issues (including social barriers) affecting women who ride scooters/motorbikes.

I have no doubt that women in India, Vietnam and Thailand have to deal with some forms of sexism that American women do not have to deal with. But I do wonder if the converse is also true - that there are subtle forms of oppression American women face, but which Indian/Vietnamese/Thai women are free from?

I think there is sexism everywhere in the world, just expressed in different ways. We are arrogant to claim that US/the West exceed other countries in all ways.