Women and Bicycles

While writing on a totally unrelated topic I fell down a different rabbit hole about the role of the bicycle in the liberation of women. I vaguely remember an example of how the bicycle enabled women to take their own letters to the post office and therefore not be under the control of men. But I have been unable to find a good source for this. There are several other examples and quotes about the ways in which the bicycle enabled changes in fashion and social order.

There is a new dawn … of emancipation, and it is brought about by the cycle. Free to wheel, free to spin out in the glorious country, unhampered by chaperones … the young girl of today can feel the real independence of herself and, while she is building up her better constitution, she is developing her better mind.

Louise Jeye (1895)

No girl over the age of 39 should be allowed to wheel. It is immoral. Unfortunately, it is older girls who are ardent wheelers. They love to cavort and careen above the spokes, twirling and twisting in a manner that must remind them of long-dead dancing days.

Kit Coleman (1889)

Then there is this anti-women on bicycles rant that states that “the bicycle is the devil’s advance agent”

Or this one from The Sunday Herald 1891 “I had thought that cigarette smoking was the worst thing a woman could do, but I have changed my mind.” now its riding a bicycle.

But Susan B. Anthony was a fan of the new mode of transportation and credited it with playing a large part in the emancipation of women.

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, untrammeled womanhood



Here is a Vox video on How Bicycles boosted the woman’s rights movement.

Aldous Huxley on Technodictators

I like this – but I don’t believe that technology is neutral since it is created, embedded, and used in a setting.

“All technology is in itself morally neutral. These are just powers which can either be used well or ill, it’s the same thing with atomic energy. We can either use it to blow ourselves up, or we can use it as a substitute for the coal and the oil which are running out.” -Aldous Huxley


We are free and powerless

Once again futuramb has a quote that I just need to steal and post here. Well done Martin!

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman neatly summarised the paradox of our era as: “Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.” We are indeed freer than before, in the sense that we can criticise religion, take advantage of the new laissez-faire attitude to sex and support any political movement we like. We can do all these things because they no longer have any significance – freedom of this kind is prompted by indifference. Yet, on the other hand, our daily lives have become a constant battle against a bureaucracy that would make Kafka weak at the knees. There are regulations about everything, from the salt content of bread to urban poultry-keeping.

Source: theguardian.com

Enforcing dress codes

In case anyone missed it President Sarkozy recently decided to attack the Burka

In our country we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,” Mr Sarkozy said to applause in the parliament’s ceremonial Versailles home. The burka is not a religious sign. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement,” he added. “It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”

So ok the man has a point. Equality cannot be achieved in a society when one group has the power to enforce dress codes on another group. The intentions behind forcing a sub-group to behave or dress in a special manner is irrelevant. As the saying goes: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions…”

Photo: Stencils Oslo May 2009 by svennevenn (CC BY-NC-SA)

So even we can agree with Sarkozy what can be done? Sarkozy seems to be attempting to regulate the wearing of a specific style of clothes in public. This is not the same as refusing to allow different types of clothes inside public buildings such as schools or courts. Attempting to enforce such a rule would in itself be a form of denial of freedom. Can you imagine police arresting burka wearing women on the street? This would hardly strengthen the image of France as a democracy.

Another question is what other forms of dress would be prohibited? Are we to focus on the fully dressed aspect then maybe wearing hoods, scarves and masks would be considered wrong. On the other hand if we were to see the lack of individual freedom as an important aspect then wouldn’t all the slaves to fashion be violating the intent of the law?

Times Online has a list of dress related regulation:

— In France a law was passed in 2004 banning pupils from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols at state schools, a move widely interpreted as aimed at the Muslim headscarf

— In Turkey where 99 per cent of the population is Muslim, all forms of Muslim headscarf have been banned in universities for decades under the secular government. In June 2008 the country’s Consitutional Court overruled government attempts to lift the ban, prompting protests

— In Britain guidelines say that the full Islamic veil should not be worn in courts, but the final decision is up to judges. Schools may forge their own dress codes and in 2006, courts upheld the suspension of Aishah Azmi, a Muslim teaching assistant who refused to remove her veil in class

German states have the option of choosing to ban teachers and other government employees from wearing Muslim headscarves; four have done so

—The Italian parliament in July 2005 approved anti-terrorist laws that make hiding one’s features from the public — including through wearing the burla — an offence

Tunisia, a Muslim country, has banned Islamic headscarves in public places since 1981. In 2006 authorities began a campaign against the headscarves and began strictly enforcing the ban

— The Dutch Government said in 2007 that it was drawing up legislation to ban burkas, but it was defeated in elections in November and the new centrist coalition said it had no plans to implement a ban

What the Sufi knew about technology

Before becoming an atheist I looked at many religions and I am still fascinated by the complexities of belief systems. Within Sufism (a mystical form of Islam) I came across a counter-intuitive aphorism which has often proven to be true: Freedom is the absence of choice.

The ability of autonomous individuals to chose stands in the center of most freedom discourses so at first glance the Sufi thought seems to be dead wrong. Lack of choice cannot be a form of freedom. This is of course until you have to pick a new mobile provider.

Yesterday I spent way too much time in the trivial decision of picking a mobile phone service. The method was relatively simple. First I ignored the smaller providers. This is a form of arrogance since it is built on the untested premise that they will not be good enough, but it is also a time saving device since a complete comparison between providers would have taken even longer.

This left three main players. All of them provide a relatively adequate technological base for my needs but the pricing systems vary incredibly.The simplest form of analysis was the cost for calls. But even this can be subdivided into three groups: (1) Calls to other mobiles with the same provider, (2) Calls to other mobiles with other providers, and (3) Calls to land lines. This is also made more nuanced since in addition to the cost for the calls there is the opening cost for each call.

The next unit of analysis is the cost for text messages this is thankfully simple since it offers a straight comparison. This was followed by the costs for international calls since I often call to and from Norway. This last one can be made more complex by analysing whether additional services with other telecom providers can make for a cheaper choice. The final main unit of analysis was the cost of data since I occaissionally (but not too often) rely on my phone as a modem.

This is all wrapped up with a bunch of silly but not insignificant sundry costs like billing expenses, startup costs, add-on costs for various services and so on.

Now all this was just to pick a mobile phone provider. If we were to be serious about our economies we would have to do the same for our energy providers, land line providers, Internet providers, cable tv providers, insurance providers etc etc etc…

So the Sufi were actually on to something… Freedom may actually be the absence of choices.

The End of Free Communications?

The final keynote of the day is Oscar Swartz The End of Free Communications? His talk is a depressing review of the way in which Swedish legislation is being rapidly updated to limit free communications via surveillance and harsher penalties. This wave of criminalisation is a reaction to technology which shows an overall fear of technology and the society which it is creating. Unfortunately the future cannot be stopped and the legislation will get worse.

He closes with some thoughts:

To motivate these laws we need to “create” wars as the war on terror and war on copyright violation.

Does the nation have to act in the way it did before – shouldn’t a new technological base lead to a new society?

The irrational fear of online terrors create an environment for these new laws

What can we do? Act, protest, understand to prevent global terrorism perpetrated on citizens by the people we elect.

The whole day has been very successful with stimulating talks and discussions. The whole effect has left my head buzzing with ideas and a realisation that there is a need to do something… but what? Right now the discussions continue.

FSCONS fast approaching

The real countdown has now begun for the FSCONS conference in Göteborg 24-26 October. The FSCONS has turned into one of those cool conferences with a good mix between the geek developers and the geek analysers.

Since any programming skills I may have are largely imaginary I attend the conference to listen to the latter group. Among them this year are

John Buckman from magnatune who will be talking about Squeezing the Evil out of the Music Industry, Rasmus Fleischer will present Copyright in an Historical Perspective, Eva Hemmungs Wirtén has written two books on her topic and I am looking forward to her talk on Digital Commons throughout history, Mike Linksvayer of Creative Commons is presenting a talk on How far behind is free+open culture? which should be good. Smári Mccarthy has a talk entitled Digital Fabrication and Social Change & Denis Rojo is presenting on Free software and the freedom of creation, Victor Stone is going to demonstrate Tracking Attribution Across the Web & Oscar Swartz is talking about The End of Free Communications?

And these are only the geek analysers! Most of the really fascinating stuff is stuff I don’t understand.

So it’s an easy guess to see that this years FSCONS is going to be really, really good.

Access to Language

Erin McKean writes an interesting article in the Boston Globe about the creation and use of new words and the unfounded fear of criticism some of the users of these newisms have.

Whenever I see “not a real word” used to stigmatize what is (usually) a perfectly cromulent word, I wonder why the writer felt the need to hang a big sign reading “I am not confident about my writing” on it. What do they imagine the penalty is for using an “unreal” word? A ticket from the Dictionary Police? The revocation (as the joke goes) of your poetic license? A public shaming by William Safire? The irony is that most of these words, without the disclaimer, would pass unnoticed by the majority of readers.

So I get he impulse not to be beaten up and accused of having a shitty vocabulary but really I agree with McKean – who cares! It’s the communication that counts. But never forget who your audience is.

When discussing Free, Open & Propriatary software I am often inclined to talk about language as being a product which we are all free to use, borrow, steal, plagiarise, remix to suit or own needs. In most cases we use and abuse our language to achieve a communicative purpose rather than to appease a dominant system of governance. Naturally some people will argue that there are rules to language and these rules are notto be toyed with.

This is not always so and there have been languages which have been firmly in the control of certain power groups. In this way langauges were used as a method of controlling the users, and often the non-users.

The languages such as Sanskrit, Greek and Latin have all been used as exclusive devices. In many languages  correct vocabulary, right dialect and proper enunciation of words have been used to identify and control insider and outsider groups. Basically if you did not talk like one of us – then you were not one of us. It is amazing to see how such a fundamental social infrastructure can be used to keep groups in check.

Added to this is the topic of language as a form of control in the sense that it controls what we are able to say and communicate to others. If you cannot articulate a word for freedom (as in liberty) and the people you talk to cannot comprehend such a word – then will the idea cease to exist? George Orwell explored this in 1984. Today technology has created two different impulses. Old formal language is being controlled by what is permitted grammar and vocabulary in the spell-check program. An opposite development is the growth of new languages and forms of language (for example slang) online.

This is something I have been kicking around for a long time but I need to develop it much further.