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.

Grieving the Loss of a Feminist Friend

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.

A grainy picture of a woman in a blue dress and wearing a headscarf. She is seated in front of a table loaded with loaves of bread.
Jennifer in her element — in the kitchen, doing some sort of craft, and laughing. Photo courtesy of Michael Cohen.

The Swimmers

The Swimmers is a 2022 movie about real-life sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini, Syrian refugees who swam alongside a sinking dinghy full of refugees in the Aegean Sea on their way to the island of Lesbos. Eventually they reached Germany and Yusra went on to swim at the 2016 Rio Olympics as part of the Refugee Team.

What does this have to do with feminist fitness? Not much really. I watched the movie with the idea it might be worth reviewing for a blog post. It’s not a bad movie, but not much of a feminist fitness angle.

However, there was some pretty amazing swimming. Yusra Mardini swam butterfly competitively, and there were plenty of sequences showing very fast, efficient butterfly stroke. At every swim practice since I watched the movie I have tried to recreate what I saw on the screen.

Do I look like this?

Nusra Mardini, wearing a white swim cap and pink swim goggles is reaching forward with her arms outstretched in butterfly stroke. She is in bright blue water with water splashing up around her head. Photo was taken at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2022, by AFP.

Not a chance! But for a few moments each length – if I’m lucky – I feel like I look like this, and that’s what matters to me.

ADHD · fitness · habits · motivation · self care

Reflections on freewriting in my fitness journal

On Sunday, I made my first entry in my fitness journal and I was surprised to find myself enjoying the process of reflection. 

Back in January, I was musing about what I wanted to include in my fitness journal but given the chaos of last month, I never did come to any conclusions.

But, seeing as I have decided that February is self-contained (and is the only real month at the moment), I felt free to just write whatever the hell came to mind (a.k.a. freewriting!) and to not worry about whether I was gathering useful information for my future self. 

I just set a timer (to free my ADHD brain from the worry that I would end up writing forever) and got started.

A photo of the decorated top section of a journal page
Image description: a photo of the top of the first page of my fitness journal. I coloured the top of my page pink and wrote the words ‘February Fitness 2023‘ in gold marker before outlining them in black. Under the words is a line of narrow washi tape (red with gold dots) and I drew a gold heart outlined in black on each end of the horizontal line of tape and one in between the words February and Fitness.

I wrote about how I was surprised that my evening hip exercises have revealed that my left hip is tighter than my right one, even though my right hip is the one that I have to be careful with. 

And I wrote about how I accidentally left my watch timer going on Friday so it seemed like I had done more yoga than I had, which was annoying but which prompted me to take off my watch and do several shorter sessions of yoga and stretching on Saturday so the exercise tracked would match the exercise I had actually done. 

That, in turn, prompted me to write about which of those sessions I had found most useful and which ones I would do again. 

That made me wonder about the yoga sessions in Apple Fitness + and whether I wanted to try those which reminded me that I chose a longer rowing session in the program the other day. That session was great but I did have to pause a few times – that felt like an important note for my future self. 

Writing everything down helped me to feel that all of my efforts were, indeed, part of the biggest picture – my own well-being – even if they weren’t all stepping stones towards a specific outcome.

A GIF of Snoopy looking happy while fireworks go off around him.
Yes, I will have a big celebration for anything. Snoopy knows what’s up! Image description – a GIF of Snoopy, the dog from Peanuts comics, smiling as fireworks go off behind him and the word ‘YAAAAY!’ appears above him.

And, intriguingly, I had no self-judgment crop up at all in the process – it just felt like a celebration of what I had done rather than a measurement of what I did against what I had planned.

Note: I am always aiming for that celebration feeling but the questions of ‘Was that enough? Why didn’t I do more? Why can’t I stick to a plan?’ still crop up for me sometimes even though I have lots of practice in self-kindness. 

Even though I didn’t have any specific questions in mind when I started, my first foray into reflective fitness journaling worked out marvellously. 

I have everything I need for future reference – a few notes about what I did last week and how I felt about it – and – bonus!- I feel gently inspired for the week ahead. 

Realistically, I only plan to write in my journal once a week, while continuing to give myself the freedom to follow my train of thought wherever it leads.

However, now that I have established a ‘container’ for that kind of thinking, I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up putting a few thoughts into it more often.


Women’s Hockey Inspiration

Earlier this month, I went with my friend Vicki to a Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association (PWHPA) game. It was awesome!

Tennis legend and PWHPA Investor Billie Jean King made the ceremonial puck drop. I got to see some of my favourite Olympic players, including Brianne Jenner and Sarah Nurse. I also got to watch crowds of girls excited to see their heroes and dream that they might might someday join them as professionals. Every single official was a woman.

Billie Jean King drops the puck as players from both teams look on.
A crowd of girls in winter coats and hats are pressed up against the glass as Olympian Brianne Jenner skates by.

It was so much fun to see Vicki’s enthusiasm too. She spent the entire weekend at the arena, watching several games and doing the adult skills clinic. For her, seeing the players up close and watching how they move on the ice was a real dream. She is pretty sure she smiled for the entire time she was doing drills and asking questions; she couldn’t stop grinning during my time watching the game with her.

Vicki wears her new PWHPA jersey and gives the thumb’s up while standing in a hockey arena.

For me, the best moment was when Vicki told me about a discussion at the end of the skills clinic. Participants had a chance to talk to the players and one of them, Emerance Maschmeyer, told her that while they enjoy hosting clinics for young girls what they really look forward to are the clinics for adult women. She said they are inspired to see the women learning new skills and having such a huge passion for the game. When Emerance found out Vicki’s age (50), her response was that Vicki is old enough to be her mom and “it makes me want to get my mom out playing hockey!”

Sometimes on this blog we get frustrated with all the inequalities that still exist in women’s sport. But things really have changed since Vicki and I were kids. Vicki’s parents tried to enrol her in hockey when she was a kid in Saskatchewan but they were told “girls don’t play hockey”. I wanted to play on the newly-formed girls team when I was about 13, but my parents were the ones who said “girls don’t play hockey”.

Now we have professional players and role models, even if they are paid a pittance compared to the men. There are mixed and girls/women-only leagues. it’s still hard to catch a women’s game, but it is no longer weird.

Vicki Thomas is a former competitive cyclist who now swims, bikes and plays hockey for fun in Ottawa. You can keep up with her here or on Twitter.

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa. Her recent enthusiasm for cycling is due to Vicki’s influence.


In Praise of Jessica Fletcher, and RIP Angela Lansbury

Dame Angela Lansbury died yesterday. In addition to her show Murder, She Wrote, I had fun last year listening to this podcast about her fitness book Positive Moves. I even tried her fitness video, which you can watch here. They only reinforced all the good feelings I had about Jessica Fletcher as an active role model, that I blogged about last May.

I have been re-watching Murder, She Wrote for pandemic relaxation. I admired Angela Lansbury in the role of Jessica Fletcher, author and sleuth, back when it first came out, and watched the show regularly. Now that I am approximately the same age Jessica was when it was filmed, I love her character even more.

Lansbury was 58 when the show debuted, and from the opening credits of the very first episode, Jessica is casually active in so many ways. She walks, cycles, skis, jogs, rides horses, and dances. She travels widely and fearlessly. She is both clever and wise. I remember admiring those things about her when I was younger. She was a bit of a role model even then.

Jessica Fletcher, wearing a beige jacket, smiling and on her bicycle, in the village of Cabot Cove

Now that I am older, I have been noticing and learning new things about the show. Especially in the early seasons, Jessica treats a diverse cast with dignity and respect. Long before the age of Black Lives Matter, a much larger immigrant community, Indigenous issues and disability rights, Murder, She Wrote tackled some of these issues and represented all those communities on screen – sometimes because it was relevant to the plot, and sometimes simply because they were people.

Jessica is widowed, but never remarries or has a romantic entanglement despite many male characters being interested in dating her (and one offering marriage). Apparently, this was something that Lansbury herself insisted on, in order to keep the focus on her character as a mystery solver. She also has a panoply of strong, interesting older women as guests on the show. Half the fun has been checking the bios to discover (or rediscover) stars from the 30s through the 60s.

Almost 40 years after she first appeared, Jessica Fletcher is still a role model for me. And apparently for others too. Aside from articles about the Jessica Fletcher effect (cycling inspiration for women as they hit their 40s), there are websites about “what would Jessica do”, as well as Twitter and Instagram fan sites. Dame Lansbury is still active at 95. Now I have new life goals, still inspired by her.

Dame Lansbury with her famous bicycle in 2013. She is wearing a white top and long black skirt.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa, where she is currently working from home and riding her bicycle, walking, dancing, and riding a horse as often as possible. She does not solve murder mysteries.


Paralympics and other athletes with disabilities, and representation

The past few weeks had me thinking about athletes with disabilities. They have been in the news a lot lately. My thoughts are rather jumbled because this is a group of athletes I rarely think about. It’s a shame; there are some great athletes doing amazing things, and as a good feminist I should be considering all kinds of diversity, not just the people who identify as women. In approximate chronological order:

Terry Fox – this Canadian icon was in the spotlight in late January when protesters in Ottawa decorated/desecrated (depending on your perspective) the statue of him right across from Parliament Hill. Fox famously ran the equivalent of a marathon a day all the way from Newfoundland to Thunder Bay in in 1980, to raise money for cancer research. That was 143 marathons, before the cancer that cost him a leg returned and killed him a few months later, at the age of 22.

Steve Fonyo, another young man who lost a leg to cancer and finished Terry Fox’s cross-country run to raise funds for cancer research, died a couple of weeks ago. He struggled with addiction and had several criminal convictions, which have tainted his legacy. He reminds me that a person is much more than their disability, or how they respond to it.

Both those young men achieved something I never dreamed of doing. Both were inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. But from the 1985, when Fonyo completed his run, until 2004, I don’t recall hearing of a single athlete with a disability. 2004 was the year Chantal Peticlerc had an astounding Paralympic Games in Barcelona, winning five gold medals plus an exhibition event. It was her fourth Paralympics, and she had won multiple medals at all of them.

The next big news story is the Paralympics going on in Beijing right now. Remember that? I am sad to say I don’t know the names of the flag bearers, or any of the other athletes. I confess I haven’t been tracking the results anywhere nearly as closely as I did for the earlier winter games. Paralympic sports are complicated, with various classifications depending on the level of disability. There are no pro teams, or even big endorsement deals, so these athletes are virtually unknown to most of us.

Two Paralympics stories I have been following relate to representation. The first is the fate of the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic teams, which were banned from participating even as neutral athletes with no identifying flags or colours, following the invasion of Ukraine, Regardless of the reasons, I can’t underestimate the crushing disappointment this must have been to athletes who rarely get an opportunity to be on the world stage. They cynic in me notes that the invasion didn’t happen until just after the Beijing Winter Olympics, so those athletes did not face the same sanctions.

The other story of representation is the number of female Paralympics. Overall, they make up just under 25% of all athletes at the games. In comparison, 45% of athletes at the Beijing Winter Olympics were women. This gender gap is even more pronounced among coaches, technicians and guides.

Among the Canadian women, at least, there is determination to make change by inspiring girls with their podium finishes, and then becoming coaches themselves after they retire from competition. Big wins alone won’t make the difference, as Mollie Jepsen, gold medallist in the standing downhill ski event said this week “The more representation in sport, the better. The more people that younger athletes can look up and see like, ‘Whoa, that’s a girl, and she’s out there doing that’ — I think just no matter what, the more females we have in sport, the better”.

Mollie Jepsen, in a red and white outfit, skis down a snow covered hill.

Concluding thoughts: this is an area where I really see my biases. I want to be more attentive to the achievement of these athletes, but I find it hard to connect outside my natural tribe of women athletes. Is it okay not to love them? I feel guilty, even though I refuse to feel guilty about many other biases in the sporting world (I also don’t love professional tennis, golf, baseball or football, but still like the Toronto Maple Leafs).

Can I make more of an effort to learn more about these sports? I could probably do that. Now is a good time to try, while there are clips of great performances readily available on-line, along with profiles of many athletes. Hopefully others will do the same. To take Mollie’s words a step further, the more people we have saying “whoa, she’s out there doing that” and the more fans we have following the sport, the better.


The Year of Tiny Pleasures

A friend has a daily goal of 15 minutes of movement, so I thought she might enjoy tracking her efforts as part of the Facebook group 222 workouts in 2022. She wrote back that she didn’t think it would be a good fit because people who do 10k hikes and own Peloton bikes would not be interested in her 15 minutes of stretching or struggles with a 20 minute dance routine of warmups and isolation exercises.

My response to her original post this was to share this cartoon, and the comments below it.

Sam also shared this cartoon, but it is too good not to use again.

“If you read all the posts, there are plenty who are doing 30 minutes of yoga (I am doing that series and it is a lot of just sitting and breathing). But many of them won’t finish the 30 day series. I know I didn’t finish until about May last year. Late last year there were a lot of “I took my elderly dog for a slow shuffle” posts, and through most of the year many of us posted #slmsmph (stupid little walk for my stupid mental and physical health). The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you do, except to you. The rest of us are just there to be cheerleaders. There are weight training, indoor cycling and gymnastics workout posts that are irrelevant to my interests and abilities. But I like to look at the pictures, especially when people go outside to do a walk or bike ride. Having it pop up in my feed every day helps me remember I want to move, even if it is just to walk to the park and back (takes me about 20 minutes).”

She wasn’t convinced, but that’s okay. The year of tiny pleasures is also about doing what works for you.

My tiny pleasures right now are all things that don’t require me to leave the house because it is too cold. I am focusing on my on-line ballet classes, with some yoga offered by a work colleague, and the occasional gentle movement class with a local studio. I have abandoned that 30 day yoga challenge already.

As soon as it gets a little warmer, I look forward to getting outside with friends. A short walk with some duck watching, as I did with my buddy April recently, was a joyous hour of connecting with someone I haven’t seen in too long. That shared time was more precious than the thing we did (though 5km on a frosty day was nothing to sneeze at).

Diane in a brown furry coat and red hat, with April in a black coat, green hat and black balaclava

I am holding these two images close to my heart for 2022. The first reminds me that not every fitness activity needs to be exciting or a big challenge. The second reminds me that the best part about being active that I get to spend time with friends.

2022 isn’t shaping up to be a great year on the global scale, but I intend to make it as pleasurable as possible at my tiny scale. I will make opportunities to connect in person for walks or outdoor swims. I will continue to draw inspiration from my virtual friends at 222 workouts. And I will garden (good workout, good for the planet, good way to spend time with friends and neighbours). Mostly I will grow food, but I will also plant some flowers.