Does a Fancy Women Bike Ride Make Sense?

September 17 was the day of the Fancy Women Bike Ride around the world. This year, there were rides in over 200 cities.

Riding with a group of women can be a joyous occasion, as you can see from the video of this year’s ride in Izmir, Turkey, where it all began in 2013.

After the ride though, our local organizer commented that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the name. Did it exclude people who didn’t want to dress up, or didn’t feel they had anything fancy enough to wear?

That led to a lively discussion among participants about the merits of dressing in different ways as a safety measure. Many of us had found that being super femme was protective. Drivers tended to give us more space. One woman noted that going from a gender-neutral coat to something more fitted and colourful had a noticeable impact on drivers around her.

However, this doesn’t always work. Female cyclists face harassment and bad driving at twice the rate of male cyclists, according to one study. They are particularly vulnerable to close passes and dooring because they tend to keep to the side of the road. But if they take the lane, they are sometimes threatened by aggressive drivers. Anecdotally, this was the experience in our group too.

Even within our group, some felt more vulnerable than others. The local organizer of Black Girls Do Bike rides said there just aren’t many women like her on the road so it always feels a bit uncomfortable. The woman who organizes rides focused on safety for kids (and brought her two along). The trans women who arrived at the last possible moment, hung back on the ride, and didn’t join the discussion until they heard us talking about “female presenting” cyclists.

My very unscientific answer to whether we need a Fancy Women Bike Ride is yes. It’s not just for women in places where riding is relatively safe for them. It’s for women who are marginalized in our community, and for women in communities where women are marginalized. It’s for women who don’t want to be fancy but want to be safe moving around on a bicycle. And it’s for women like me who see being fancy as part of their subversive feminism and celebrate the pink.

A group of women on the Ottawa ride stopped for a picture with their bikes in an urban area. They are wearing regular clothes and shoes instead of riding gear and sneakers.

Bicycles lined up beside an ice cream truck where we ended our ride. feminism, fitness and ice cream – it doesn’t get any better than this.

Dian Harper lives and swims (and cycles) in Ottawa.


Let’s Hear it for the Women Who Didn’t Make it to the FIFA Quarterfinals

I thought about celebrating all the teams who made it out of the opening round, but what I really want to celebrate is the surprising women who showed the world that women’s soccer is becoming increasingly diverse and interesting.

Here’s to 2019. Here’s to Haiti, Morocco, Panama, the Philippines, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia, who made their World Cup debuts. Only Morocco made it to the round of 16, where they were defeated by France.

Not just teams were new. There were also a couple of individual firsts. Nouhaila Benzina of Morocco is the first woman to play in a hijab at this level. She is being hailed as a role model for Muslim women everywhere, and especially those in France, where wearing a hijab is forbidden while playing sports.

Nouhaila Benzina is wearing the red, black and green jersey of the Atlas Lionesses soccer team, as well as a black hijab.
Nouhaila Benzina in her Atlas Lionesses uniform.

She’s not the only hijabi though – keep an eye out for Heba Saadieh, the first ever Palestinian referee (male or female) who also wears a hijab.

Referee Heba Saadieh, in a black jersey and hijab, holds her arm up while making a call. She is wearing a microphone and looks very serious.
Heba Saadieh making a call.

With powerhouses including the USA, Canada, Brazil and Germany out, the rest of the tournament looks rather Eurocentric. I’m not sure who I’ll cheer for now – maybe Japan because they have a very Barbie-coloured away jersey, and I love a subversive feminist icon reference, even if it was not the Japanese intention.

Five or six women jump and hug. They are all smiling. They are wearing pink and lavender uniforms.
Japanese team celebrates after a goal. Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP)

Diane Harper is a public servant in Ottawa.


Women Cycling

My Twitter friend Patty (@pattyboge), who is very active in the Winnipeg bike community, shared a couple of thoughts about biking and feminism this week.

First was an excellent commencement speech at Smith College given by Reshma Saujani on imposter syndrome. “Imposter syndrome is modern day Bike Face, just another attempt to hold women back. Just ride your bicycle, pursue what you want to pursue.

“Imposter syndrome is just two made up words on the page. Start pedalling, feel the sun in your face, feel the wind in your hair, feel the joy, feel the freedom, feel the love.”

Sam wrote about Bicycle Face way back in 2013. She also interviewed lawyer David Isaac in 2020 about how safe infrastructure and women on bikes. His key point was that safe infrastructure that connects to places where women want to go is key to getting women riding bikes. And it is a feminist issue because it can make cities more equitable.

That brings me to Patty’s second thought: « Women’s Rights activist Susan B. Anthony says it best ‘Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel, the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”

Patty’s response to all the people who pass two close and try to intimidate women to try to get us “off the road, B!&%!” is to say “we can’t and we won’t stop. Our bikes are our freedom”.

One of my favourite pictures of Patty, swiped from her Twitter feed. She is wearing a hot pink mini dress, sunglasses and a pink helmet with a tiara. She is riding a white e-bike with a front basket decorated with flowers. And of course, she has a huge smile.

It’s Bike Month – Yay!!!

Muppets on bikes

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.

Two women chat beside a variety of bicycles, with more people visiting an EnviroCentre information booth in the background.

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.

Members of EnviroCentre, who hosted the event, pose behind my bike with Ariel Troster and Stéphanie Plante, two city councillors who came by bike to the event (and who bike a lot!).

Of course, there was also talk about evidence. 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.

The Rideau Canal, looking towards downtown Ottawa. You can just make out a cyclist on the path right by the water. I took this picture on my way to work after the event.


This blog has changed me

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.

Black bicycle with a wooden box on the front, and a basket and panniers on the back.

Fat (and other) Shaming Women in Public Life: Just Stop!

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.

Catherine McKenna, in a white swim cap and red bathing suit, watches swimmers in at a Great Lakes Open Water (GLOW) in Hamilton Ontario in 2018.

But then I got mad again that I couldn’t find something suitable, so you get a few more images of smart, capable women.

A woman with short dark hair, glasses, and a pink jacket
Cathy Bennett stepped down as Newfoundland and Labrador’s finance minister in 2017. She has previously spoken out about abuse she’s endured online. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)
City Councillor Ariel Troster wearing fun cats-eye glasses, but hoop earrings, a green houndstooth scarf and fabulous red lipstick. Photo is from her Twitter page.

Nowruz Mubarak

Happy New Year, if you happen to be of Persian, Afghan or (many parts of) central Asian origin. To celebrate, here are some images of women athletes from Afghanistan, who have lost the ability to compete since the return of the Taliban to power, but not their desire. I found the protest photos of them in burqas, with their gear, to be very moving. Some have escaped Afghanistan and are continuing their athletic careers. Nowruz Mubarak to all of them: here’s hoping the next year will be better for all women who are unable to participate in sport.

Kimia Yousofi of Afghanistan is now living in Australia. Yousofi, shown running in a black track suit and hijab, was flag bearer for Afghanistan at the Tokyo Olympics.
Image: Christian Petersen/Getty Images


My Fit Feminism Is a Fraud

My “brand” is Run Like a Girl. I’ve written two books about the transformational impact of sports in women’s lives. How physical strength transmutes into empowerment for us elsewhere. And I write for this blog, at which feminism is baked into the very name. Before becoming a writer, I worked as a lawyer and human rights advocate for several years, even doing a Master’s of Law at Ivy League school. I transmuted my own life when I started running and accessing my potential in new ways. The extremely short version is that I left the practice of law. I started to focus on my passion, which was writing. I climbed back down the ladder and took entry level editorial work. I started to climb back up the ladder in publishing. Then, I moved to an educational start up as head of content, which soon head south organizationally and financially.

I liberated myself from my day job and took advantage of the financial freedom offered by my marriage. I worked freelance as a ghost writer and editor, without the daily fear of absolutely needing to make money. Instead, I worked on my own writing projects and followed my curiosity and desire to find work that felt creatively and artistically fulfilling and also of service. I trained in theatre, in Non-Violent Communication and Internal Family Systems, based on which I lead workshops, facilitate learning groups and offer writing, creativity and compassionate communication coaching.

In other words, I have a decent suite of skills.

I should be successful.

By which I mean—financially independent.

I am not.   

Time after time, I made decisions to prioritize the flexibility and freedom that benefitted me and my relationship. We (the team that my relationship was) didn’t need more money. I had the luxury of following my heart. My partner loved his work. He wasn’t resentful that I didn’t contribute my share financially. My contribution was …

This is where things get tricky. Me. Card carrying feminist with the author credits to prove it. What was my contribution to my relationship, if it wasn’t financial?

I paid the bills, even if I didn’t make the money to pay them. I managed a lot to do with the household and our social life. How gendered. I know. It gets worse. There was this: I offered my energy, my creative engagement with the world. I brought home what I was immersed in. A magpie decorating her nest. Would you like to hear the Baudelaire poem I worked on in theatre class? I’d translate it on the fly for my partner, to his delight. How about this demo of the Internal Family Systems technique that I watched today? Or would you come to a rehearsal of my new play and give me some feedback? And then I’d run an ultra-marathon on the side and feel strong and accomplished in the breadth of my life.

I told myself that I wasn’t a ‘50s housewife, setting my hair in curlers once a week and making sure I had on fresh lipstick and dinner in the oven when my man came home from work. But, was I really that much different? That woman offered her energy and engagement to nurturing and maintenance of the relationship. And when the relationship failed. She was lost.

After 29 years, my relationship has failed. I am not financially independent. I am in trouble.

At one point in my life, when I was working as an editor on finance books. I had an author who wrote about the importance of a woman being financially independent. I was a great editor—emotionally supportive, while constructively challenging her ideas and structure, to create more clarity and impact with her message. And I did not take the message in for myself.   

What was I thinking? That I would be safe and secure forever inside my marriage?

I did not even have a credit card in my name. I was the wife on my husband’s cards. Result? The only credit card that I am currently eligible for is cash secured. In other words, a debit card dressed up in a credit card costume. Which I was rejected for when I applied online. It wasn’t until I called customer service to point out that it didn’t make any sense to reject me for a cash secured card that I actually got approved. Having the sense of privilege to even make that phone call is a barrier to entry that made me wonder how many people are turned down and do not feel entitled to call the bank to follow-up. Ending up with a cash secured card with worse terms of use than mine and no possibility of being converted to a real credit card.

The feminist part of me is in a rage against the part who thought she’d be safe and secure. The tension between these two parts of myself, which has simmered for years beneath the surface has burst, spraying all the pus and blood of my misalignment. Bring back the stocks. Lock her up in the public square and allow real feminists to throw rotten tomatoes at her (and not even heirloom tomatoes). Tattoo my shame on my forehead: Bad Feminist! At least the feminist part doesn’t want to stone me to death. That would be against her politics.

Graffiti poster on multi-color wall repeating Feminists Resist by Claudio Schwarz on unsplash

These days, I feel like I’m held together by strings and tape (not even good duct tape, just flimsy scotch tape). I wake up in the morning and have to remind myself to breathe. When I exercise, which I still do, albeit very slowly and delicately, I need to take breaks for dizziness. And over and over and over again, I ask myself, why did I allow this to happen? Who is this woman I’ve become? 

I’m terrified, too, that exposing this truth about my fraudulent feminism will cost me friends and work, neither of which I can afford to lose right now. Yet, I can’t live anymore with the dissonance in my system. I don’t know what the future will be. Except I know it will be more feminist-aligned.

A friend sent me this Rumi quote: As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.

I sure fucking hope so.


Girls don’t fall out of love with sport… they are driven out of sport by structural barriers

The title of this blog is a quote from vice-chair of the South African Women’s Basketball Association, Kornelia Semmelink, at the South African Women and Sport Foundation last week, courtesy of Dr. Sheree Bekker, who researches gender-inclusive sport.

I follow Dr Bekker on Twitter, and here are a few more of her thoughts from that conference:

“Which actions/measures must we take to enforce long lasting changes in women and sport? Huge focus on building and supporting next generation leadership, transparency, values, and a national policy that has teeth.”

A national policy that has teeth might be something like Title IX in the USA. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, Title IX was established in 1972 to provide everyone with equal access to any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, including sports. This means that federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities. Before Title IX, one in 27 girls played sports. By 2016, that number was two in five.

Dr Bekker also noted “Let’s remember that it’s not only about elite sport. It’s about community sport, organizations, sport for social good, health and peace.”

Four Black and one Asian girl hugging and smiling on a sports field. Most of the girls are wearing blue T shirts, and one is in red.

That point led me to recall past efforts to encourage sport for all children as part of international development efforts. While those efforts seem to have faded away, I did come across an article prepared for a side event to the Women Deliver international conference in 2016. It was on the power of girls’ involvement in play.

Here’s what Women Deliver had to say: “The evidence is clear that sport and physical activity provide a myriad of physical and mental health benefits….perhaps equally important, sport represents a mold-breaking departure from the traditional scripts of femininity that girls are often given. Well-designed programs can begin to transform gender norms, challenge traditional roles, and break down gender stereotypes.

By increasing girls’ visible, active presence in the public arena, sport can transform the way girls think about themselves and the ways their family and communities perceive them. In short, sport can be an empowering force in girls’ lives….We know that sport provides girls’ access to female mentors and role models, as well as an expanded network of friends, group membership, and social capital. These connections are extremely valuable and often lacking for girls in many settings.”

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this blog, these reflections remind me of what drew me to it in the first place. Though it started out as a blog about being as fit as possible by 50, it has morphed into something much more. Here’s to another 10 years of reflection and advocacy for the rights of people who identify as girls and women to enjoy sports and healthy lives.

Two white hands holding glasses of fruit juice as they make a toast, with a blue background


Happy Hump Day

I don’t particularly like that expression – I like to think that Wednesdays are no better or worse than any other day. However, I have decided that this week needs every bit of celebration I can find.

Last week I had bad allergies and spent a lot of time fussing about whether it was COVID. My walking challenge is starting to wear on me. The weather suddenly went from freezing to being hot enough to kill half my poor seedlings when I put them outside to start hardening off. My lanemate and I were both in the world of “I’m too old for this sh*t” after Sunday’s swim practice. We will not even discuss the state of the world, which has me filled with crone rage on many fronts.

So Happy Hump Day: a made-up internet hope that things can only get better.

My allergies are feeling better, so I have more energy. I updated my tetanus booster, donated blood, and will get my second COVID booster on Saturday, so I feel that I am doing all I can to be healthy.

At swim practice, I learned a fun new drill, something that rarely happens after nearly 20 years of swimming with a club. And at Saturday’s practice I got the comment that I have a very respectable butterfly and natural freestyle stroke for long-distance swimming (coach was commenting on technique, as I am not fast). Every little bit of positive reinforcement feels good, even at my age.

The geese along my walk to work are hatching, the trees are coming into leaf, and I may just combine one of my walks this week with a trip to the pond for an early morning or lunchtime swim.

Adult Canada geese swimming with many babies on blue water, a dead branch in the foreground.
The pond, a popular conservation area and swimming spot near my home. Clear water surrounded by trees just staring to turn green and blue sky with whispy clouds above. The trees and sky are reflected in the still water.

I haven’t yet figured out how to channel my crone rage effectively; that is a feminist rather than a fitness issue, but I’ll keep working on it.

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.