Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Siglinde Harfnerstochter (OL) is a 6th C Merovingian housewife from the city of Metz. Her primary interests are cooking, textile arts and bonecarving. Siglinde lives in the canton of Caldrithig, Barony of Skraeling Althing, Kingdom of Ealdormere.
Not only is June a fantastic time to get out and enjoy the outdoors on your bicycle, it’s the time to advocate for safe cycling options for everyone, and connect with other people who ride bikes.
This morning I attended the launch in Ottawa, where OC Transpo had brought their rack and roll bus gear, so you could practice loading your bike onto it, and there was mobile bike maintenance, among other fun things.
One of the speakers talked about how important it is to her to be able to cycle safely with her young daughter, and how much easier it is to get around the area where she works by bike. Someone else talked about improved lighting her company is installing to make it safer to bike along nearby paths. And we talked about how cycling can help fight climate change, of course. All these are feminist topics dear to my heart.
Of course, there was also talk about evidence. Letsbike.ca has an app where you can log all your distances for the month. This information will be used to help build the case that there are a lot of people on bikes and they are active every day. I have written before about using Strava to influence city planning. There is still time to sign up for a shift for the annual bike use survey by Vélo Canada BIkes.
There are biking events happening across Canada so find some local to you and join in. If you just want to get out on your own, that’s cool too. It’s a great way to be fit, fight climate change, and help make this activity safer and more fun for everyone. Plus it’s easier to stop and enjoy the scenery.
On Saturday I joined my first-ever Critical Mass Ride in Ottawa. These are rides where large groups of people on bikes get together and ride through the streets as a way of pushing for safer infrastructure and normalizing using bicycles as a regular form of transportation. It turns out they are also a lot of fun.
About 250 people showed up at the start point from across Ottawa and Gatineau. There were people on racing bikes, hybrids, folding bikes, e-bikes, and cargo bikes. There were people older than me and kids on their bikes. There were dogs and kids in bikes. There were even a couple of supportive walkers and a guy on a skateboard.
We ended up at the heart of the Tulip Festival near Dow’s Lake, about 8 km from where we had started.
I ended up getting to meet people I only knew through Twitter, connected with folks working on active transportation through other groups, got to check out a street with new temporary bike lanes, and explored part of the river partway and a new footbridge I had never used before. It was a great reminder of how easy it is to get around by bike, too: my total distance for the day was about 22 km.
There are already requests for more Critical Mass Rides in Ottawa. Others are doing it too. I have heard about rides in Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver and several places in the UK this week alone. The Hamilton ride is a protest following the death of an 81 year-old cyclist last week, and the Vancouver ride is to protest the removal of hugely popular bike lanes in favour of another car lane through Stanley Park.
Whether you are a cyclist or a person who bikes, walks or rolls, you may want to keep an eye open for similar events where you live. Or organize one yourself! It’s just one part of the advocacy we need to make streets safer for everyone and help fight climate change, but it’s also fun and a great way to be active.
Recently, I discovered that the City of Ottawa uses anonymized, aggregated Strava data as a data source for determining where bicycle infrastructure is needed. Although the National Capital Commission has established a good network of recreational pathways in and around Ottawa, we desperately need more safe streets for people who ride bikes for regular transportation.
Apparently there is some way that adjustments are made to accommodate for the fact that most cyclists don’t use Strava or other tracking apps. I don’t understand all the science behind it, but I know just enough about statistics to know that sample bias is an issue, and I know that most of the people who use Strava are athletic types tracking longer rides. People using their bikes for short trips to do everyday chores may not use Strava at all, or not think to turn it on because it doesn’t “count”.
Since I’m a big advocate of cycling for everyone, I have started tracking every single ride, no matter how short. My aim is to mess with the city by skewing the data as much as possible in favour of shorter utilitarian trips, and show where better infrastructure is needed.
How am I messing with myself? Since I started tracking faithfully on April 17, I have racked up just over 105 km. I have become the local legend on segments leading to my work. My speed is trending downwards and I have set a couple of personal best times.
I have also become more determined than ever to bike everywhere possible, and my definition of what is possible has gotten bigger. Two of those rides were unusually long for me, but turned out to be perfectly manageable: one was a 13 km ride from the blood donor clinic, and the other was 15 km to and from Costco.
The blood donor ride was fun as I got to explore quirky neighbourhoods full of small businesses that I find hard to get to by public transit. I even rode across the bridges to and from Gatineau, the best part of my commute when I worked over there.
That Costco ride was an important stepping stone for me. The routes proposed by Google were all along busy roads but I remembered quieter recreational paths that made for a longer but safer ride. However, I did need to navigate one notoriously busy road with unclear painted bike lane markings (and only 1 block of protected lane).
Costco itself had the usual car-filled parking lot and the bike racks were way in the back of the building, so I locked up to a sign near the front. It was easy to pack everything into two panniers, and I didn’t need the bungee cords, extra bags and my knapsack I had brought along just in case I felt the need to train for the #carryshitolympics. Now I know that a mostly-pleasant half hour ride each way is all it takes to get to a store I generally avoid.
Physiotherapy isn’t actually all that fun, but I couldn’t resist the alliteration.
Sam has been doing lots of physiotherapy for her knees, and I have noticed increasing numbers of other friends who are doing physio for various ailments and injuries. My only experience until now has been after I broke my arm a few years ago.
Lately, however, my various aches and pains have been getting worse so I decided to see if a physiotherapist might be able to help me correct my posture or whatever it is I am doing wrong. It turns out I am dealing with arthritis in my knees, sciatica, some scoliosis, and trapezius muscles that are rock hard (not in a good way). This was not a complete surprise, but I had been in denial about naming the pains.
During that first session, I mostly got poked, prodded and stretched, which was surprisingly tiring. I then got sent home with a set of ten exercises to do every day until my next appointment. None of them are very big but they are surprisingly challenging. And I guess that’s the point.they are supposed to target my weak spots.
It feels weird to be doing something I associate with injury as preventive medicine, but it also feels wise. The more mobility I gain/retain at this stage, the higher the likelihood I will be able to stay active in future.
I don’t think of myself as a particularly introspective person, so I am a little surprised to discover that my preferred reading lately is mostly in support of my thinking for this blog.
On the go, I have:
Feminist City: A Field Guide, by Leslie Kern
“You Just Need To Lose Weight” And 19 Other Myths About Fat People, by Aubrey Gordon
The Book of The City of Ladies, by Christine de Pizan
I Just finished The Once and Future Sex , by Eleanor Janega.
I also participated in a Zoom panel on Finding Equity in The Low Car City, with Chris Bruntlett and Melissa Bruntlett. My next two acquisitions will be their books Curbing Traffic and Building The Cycling City.
And because all posts need a picture, here is my new bike, acquired this weekend. It has enough cargo bike features to make it really useful for running errands, and it has a step-through frame and a skirt guard on the chain so I can more easily cycle in a dress.
Recently a woman who serves on our local board of public health received a letter from a stranger telling her that she did believed she “cannot fulfil that role because of your unhealthy status. It is unacceptable to be overweight by the 20 pounds you appear to be carrying”.
Other women serving as elected officials in my city have been harassed in ways that range from their choice of lipstick (“makes you look like a cheap whore”) to violent threats that required police intervention.
It is no-one else’s business what someone weighs. There is plenty of evidence that being fat does not equal being unhealthy. How we define fatness is very subjective anyway. And don’t forget, diversity is a good thing. Having a broad range of of people can only help make public policy better by bringing their experience to decision-making processes.
Want to learn more? Skim through this blog, Google “fat women politicians” for many articles about the issue, listen to the Maintenance Phase podcast, or read Aubrey Gordon’s book “You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People. I’m reading it now and it is very solidly based on science.
It is true that men in public life sometimes get mocked about their fatness or some other characteristic, but it is almost always in the context of some other policy-based criticism. And there is almost never criticism of men of a similar size/ shape to the women being bullied.
I couldn’t find any images of larger women politicians that weren’t accompanied by stories about the harassment they had faced, and sometimes why they felt forced out of the public sphere. It made me so angry I ended up settling for an older photo of local open-water swimmer and former politician Catherine McKenna.
But then I got mad again that I couldn’t find something suitable, so you get a few more images of smart, capable women.
Last weekend I went to an event sponsored by a local medieval club and found myself sucked into the rabbit hole of dancing. I’m usually too busy in the kitchen or working on crafts to think about dancing, but this time it was a small event, I had plenty of time, and someone was teaching the dances – so I joined in.
I danced a lot! Don’t believe anyone who claims that very old dances are staid and stately. While some were slower-paced, many were very lively. I got sweaty and breathless. We needed to take water breaks.
I danced in pairs, in groups of threes or fours, in lines, in circles. I danced with men and women of all shapes and sizes. There was even an adorable six-year-old. I really loved how people paid minimal attention to traditional gender roles in the dances. Some male-female couples preferred to dance together, but most of us had no life partners to dance with, so we paired up with whoever was available. The people dancing “male” parts tried to remember to hold hands from below, while the “ladies” put their hands on top. It helped us keep track of whether we were a “man” or a “woman” for that dance.
It was an unusual contribution to my 223 workouts in 2023, but a lot of fun.
Over on Twitter, the cats who rule the internet have deemed Wednesday to be Mlemsday and everyone posts pictures of cats with their tongues stuck out (known for some mysterious reason as “”Malens” or “bleps”). They all seem very relaxed and content.
On Sunday I had a fantastic riding lesson, finally figuring out how to do something my coach has spent years asking for. When I did it right, suddenly all my leg position issues disappeared. I could feel the difference in my body immediately.
So could Fancy. She relaxed her head downwards and stretched her back.
Afterwards, I was so pleased I asked my coach to take a picture. See that blep? Fancy was clearly relaxed and content.
I wrote about my idea of cycling through the winter here and here. Sam wrote about it here, and that one includes lots of links to other posts about winter cycling.
Unlike Sam, my goal was to be a bike commuter and I am proud to say I DID IT! I go to the office four days a week, and since November I have avoided going in only about three times. Once was definitely due to a heavy snowfall. Once was due to a predicted snowfall where we were advised to stay home, and once was due to bitter cold (-43C with the wind chill). Admittedly, I did get lucky because a few more were regularly scheduled work-from-home or planned vacation days, but there weren’t many of those.
It turns out I love cycling in winter. I am warmer on my bike than when I try to walk. The roads are usually less slippery than the sidewalks. Admittedly, cycling in traffic isn’t for everyone, but there are enough winter cyclists around that I found most cars and trucks are paying attention and are pretty respectful about giving me enough space for safety.
Most of my rides are relatively short, and I have invested in a little bit of gear to ensure I stay visible, warm and dry. I have studded winter tires which I needed more for confidence than for road conditions. The only time they were really handy was the night I went for a group bike ride immediately after a snow storm when the roads hadn’t yet been cleared.
Now it is officially spring, and I am starting to shed the layers and think about getting my summer bike out. So here is one last celebratory selfie of me and my bike as winter draws to a close. Note the patches of bare ground in my yard.
On Sunday, my world got just a little darker when one of my oldest friends died suddenly.
I first met Jennifer 37 years ago in the context of a medieval group I belong to. She was one of the first people I knew who broke the second-wave stereotypes of feminism. She was married for over 40 years to Henry. She studied classics at university. She loved to cook, garden and do textile crafts. She was a woman of faith who shared her love of music with her church community.
She also worked in the high tech industry, then moved on to run her own business as a career coach. She was a fierce defender of rights – for the disabled, for the LGBTQ community, for visible minorities. She taught me my example about grace, tolerance and the value of diversity.
On the fitness side, it was more complicated. Jennifer never looked stereotypically fit, and she had mobility issues, but did do her stretches and some yoga, in addition to gardening. In the spirit of this blog, she did what she could and accepted herself as she was. And she was pleased that I was contributing here.
In recent months, and despite all her precautions, COVID caught Jennifer. She had some long COVID symptoms and then a series of “cardiac events” and died less than 48 hours later. Was it COVID related? I don’t know.
I do know is the world has lost a big-hearted and generous soul. This will be the reality for all us aging feminists going forward, no matter how fit we try to be.