Why Dutch women cycle more

In this Guardian blog post by Herbie Huff and Kelcie Ralph the authors find perhaps the least persuasive justification for establishing family friendly policies in our polity: it will encourage more women to bike!

Women in Holland, researchers have learned, are able to bicycle more because they have fewer chores. The three reasons why: childcare responsibilities are more evenly shared, work weeks are shorter, and children and elderly don’t need as much chauffeuring around.

So they use this extra free time to bicycle. Yes, the authors contend, “Reducing total work hours and encouraging more flexible schedules for men and women alike could free up the time necessary to get around by bike.” Or, cynics say, it could free up the time necessary to watch more television.

Yes, Holland has a bicycle culture that makes it easy and accepted for everyone to bicycle. But even if the U.S. enacted all those family-friendly policies, we would still be a different country with a different transportation culture.

To this point, read the Motherlode blog post from today, about a woman traveling to Omaha, Nebraska from Washington, DC, a road journey of 1200 miles, with her husband and two children, in order to give birth. The writer talks about how she prefers the outcomes at the Nebraska hospital, but she curiously omits the risk and ennui of driving for three or four days each way, once while nine months pregnant, once with a newborn (can’t nurse in a moving car). I believe Americans have a cultural blind spot where motor vehicle transport is concerned, with the effect that these kinds of behavioral contortions pass without comment.

Americans perceive time in the car as time to ourselves, in our own personal bubble of control. The trip to Nebraska is not a 24-hour endurance test, with all passengers strapped down tightly for their own safety, unable to move, and the pilot solely responsible for the life and death of his family. It is transformed into an unforgettable four days of family time, with songs and banter, bracketing a joyous life event in the family’s collective timeline.

‘She was of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made.’ –Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

Deeds of endurance, which seem ordinary in philosophy, are rare in conduct, and Bathsheba was astonishing all around her now, for her philosophy was her conduct, and she seldom thought practicable what she did not practise. She was of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made. She was indispensable to high generation, hated at tea parties, feared in shops, and loved at crises. Troy recumbent in his wife’s lap formed now the sole spectacle in the middle of the spacious room.

—Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter LIV

This is one of the best-known Thomas Hardy quotes out there. Generally everyone loves a mother, and everyone loves finding something to say about a mother. I happen to see it as a little bit of damning-with-faint-praise: accomplish all this and the most you achieve is to have a future president or poet laureate slip from your womb? (Quick, can you name Barack Obama’s mother?)

Bathsheba is attending a Christmas party at Boldwood’s, when all of a sudden her presumed-dead husband appears and shatters Boldwood’s chances of marrying Bathsheba on the rebound. So Boldwood, taking his cues from R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet videos (or the Jimmie Rodgers–popularized ‘Frankie and Johnny’ song), does what any insane admirer would do and shoots his rival dead.

Somehow, in this one episode, Hardy manages to unite Bathsheba’s earthy practicality in love—as expressed in her reluctance to dally with the affectionate male gaze—with her earthy practicality as a small business–woman. She is the all-practical All-Star here, combining her unquenched affection for Troy with sure steps to save his quickly waning life.

It’s confusing, therefore, that Hardy then sets out to diminish her with the mother simile. Is it that her power over the narrative has reached such a point that he needs to undercut her authority in order to bring the book to a close?

‘She had never taken kindly to the idea of marriage in the abstract’ –Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

Until she had met Troy, Bathsheba had been proud of her position as a woman; it had been a glory to her to know that her lips had been touched by no man’s on earth—that her waist had never been encircled by a lover’s arm. She hated herself now. In those earlier days she had always nourished a secret contempt for girls who were the slaves of the first goodlooking young fellow who should choose to salute them. She had never taken kindly to the idea of marriage in the abstract as did the majority of women she saw about her.…That she had never, by look, word, or sign, encouraged a man to approach her—that she had felt herself sufficient to herself, and had in the independence of her girlish heart fancied there was a certain degradation in renouncing the simplicity of a maiden existence to become the humbler half of an indifferent matrimonial whole—were facts now bitterly remembered. Oh, if she had never stooped to folly of this kind, respectable as it was, and could only stand again, as she had stood on the hill at Norcombe, and dare Troy or any other man to pollute a hair of her head by his interference!

—Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter XLI

Bathsheba Everdene is the most puzzling character in Far from the Madding Crowd, but with this passage, Thomas Hardy really clarifies her motivations. Too bad it arrives forty-odd chapters into the book, but if one’s read this far, it comes as a well-deserved prize to find this little cribsheet stuck between the pages.

Bathsheba and Troy, her husband, have been quarreling over his previous relationship with the ill-starred Fanny Robin, and this passage brings to the fore her regret over marrying at all.

I love self-sufficient people, but reading about them is always a lot more interesting than meeting them, because it’s so hard to find common ground on which to converse. Bathsheba in this passage bemoans the loss of her self-possession and how she has degraded herself through marriage. It’s a pretty revolutionary stance to take, and I think this is why it only comes after we’ve read two-thirds of the book: it would make no sense if we had not already gotten to know Miss Everdene, both through her prior steadfastness against marriage and her latterly regretted indulgence of it.

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‘I want to see the words in between the words, and I want others to understand them.’ -Samantha @ Girls Write Now

I could watch these highlights of the Girls Write Now event last
weekend all day; they just get better and better. Erica’s poem in the
clip below is pretty powerful (“red velvet cupcakes of indifference,”
anyone?), but Samantha speaks with such assurance she just knocks the
whole event onto a different level.

Happy International Women’s Day!

For everyone who thinks that Valentine’s Day is overcommercialized and
promotes gender stereotypes, please consider celebrating today, 8
March, International Women’s Day.

 Accordingto the United Nations:

Why dedicate a day exclusively to the celebration of the
world’s women?

 The United Nations General Assembly, which is composed of delegates
from all the member countries, mentioned two reasons: firstly, to
recognize the fact that peace and social progress require the active
participation and equality of women; secondly, to acknowledge the
contribution of women to international peace and security.

 For the women of the world, the Day’s symbolism has a wider meaning:
It is an occasion to review how far they have come in their struggle
for equality, peace and development.

Ghost Girl

I like how this nifty artifact looks in real life, and I tried to get
a good picture of it to share with you. It’s my old clear plastic ID
holder, in which I kept a little picture of my girlfriend. As the
months have gone by, the ink from the photo print has been gradually
transferred to the plastic of the ID holder.
So when I got a new ID holder, I carefully transferred the now faded
and smudged picture out of the old holder and into the new holder and
then stared in wonderment at what was left behind, a ghostlike image.
I can see the real girl behind the ghost girl, because I’ve been
staring at the photo for months, but can you?