Forget the pay gap or the confidence gap. In an earnest post over at Mic, Elizabeth Plank calls attention to what she calls a “huge and under-reported” gap: bicycle-riding. Plank camped out in front of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Bridge to tally the number of male and female cyclists; “between five and seven men” (six?) rode by before she saw a woman. Plank isn’t the only one fretting over the “bike gap.” Wired recently devoted a post to ideas about how we, as a society, can address it. (For women, cohabiting with a male cyclist can help.) At Slate, Amanda Marcotte’s post on the bike gap is headlined “Women, to your bikes!”
The bicycling gap is not made-up. According to statistics Plank cites, in 2012, 77 percent of Londoners using Boris Johnson’s bike-sharing scheme were men; the League of American Bicyclists reports that, in 2009, women were responsible for only 24 percent of bike rides taken in the U.S. But does this make it a problem?
The “bike gap” is the latest in a small spate of “gender gaps” that don’t seem worth our concern. At New York’s “The Cut,” Ann Friedman says women don’t feel “at home in the world of weed.” It’s not entirely clear that Tracie Egan Morrissey, writing for Jezebel, is joking when she urges women to “close the gender gap on being potheads.” She cites research suggesting that nearly twice as many men smoke weed (or at least admit to it). The only possible explanation, according to Morrissey, is sexism. “When it comes to cultural representations, it's generally accepted that the world of weed is a guy thing,” she writes. “We aren't allowed to be lazy and we sure as shit aren't supposed to be sitting around eating junk food.” At Salon, Hayley Krischer says that women who smoke weed face a heightened risk of “stoner stigma.” In a similar vein, women have denounced the gender gap in video games; at Slate, Dana Goldstein encourages parents to “make” their daughters play on their computers.
Tallying has historically played an important role in feminism, and continues to today. If no one is counting, numbers can slide irrevocably in the male direction in any number of areas. It’s undeniably helpful to be reminded of the stark disparities in the number of female CEOs or senators. And even for some of these gaps that don’t seem to matter, you can make the argument that they can lead to more consequential effects. Playing video games, says Goldstein, may stoke kids’ interest in programming and tech. “I don't think you can argue that women are naturally less interested in cycling or video games or weed than men are—our choices are shaped by the culture and society we live in,” Ann Friedman writes in a email. “That society is pretty sexist!”
But hasn’t the instinct gotten a little out of hand? Video games, for instance, take time away from other, probably more worthwhile activities, like homework and socializing. “I’d hate to see a push to market more and more games to girls,” says Judith Shulevitz, senior editor at The New Republic (and co-author of TNR’s recent referendum on the future of feminism).
“No one bemoans the gender gap in female dominated activities,” points out journalist Jessica Grose in an email. “Where are the men in knitting or flower arranging?” Or, for that matter, where are the men in Soul Cycle? Marcotte admits that indoor cycling is dominated by women; she estimates that women make up “80 to 100 percent” of most spin classes. Yet she sees no problem. She doesn’t ask whether men feel unwelcome at Soul Cycle, or consider the implications: Are men missing out on the safe exercise of indoor cycling, forced to take their riding to the street, where they risk getting caught in inclement weather or hit by cars?
It’s possible that in a totally gender-equal society, every activity—from gardening and crocheting to taxi-driving and construction work—would have an equal number of male and female practitioners. But combatting each and every gender gap just does not seem productive. Grose, for her part, says she has “zero interest in bicycle commuting in NYC. It's fucking cold in the winter and I would get run over in a hot minute.” She can stay indoors—at no cost to feminism.