policy & design

Note: cyclist shaming


A Current Affair, which is an Australian evening news show (according to almost everyone I know, watching it is a sign of mental degeneration: however, it is a prime-time show on the most watched TV station in Australia, so you be the judge), recently ran a clip about a female cyclist. Here is how they announced it:

Footage of an Aussie mum towing her baby daughter behind her bicycle on a busy road has shocked police and road safety experts. They say it is irresponsible and downright dangerous. You be the judge.

I have previously written about cyclist shaming on Australian television. But cyclist shaming is a product of a whole culture, not just of one TV program. In his discussion of the program, Alan Davies notes that the woman in the clip had sought advice after being filmed, worried that her job as a pre-school teacher might be threatened if she’s portrayed as someone who can’t look after her own child. Unless pre-schools collude with Channel Nine, which is unreasonable to assume and we won’t, Australia has a whole-of-culture problem.

Cyclist shaming, like rape victim shaming, is a knee-jerk hostile reaction to the presence of a person who has been hurt, or might have been hurt, or might in the future be hurt, by the status quo. This person ought not to exist. The fact that they do is their fault. In fact, by existing, they are showing disrespect to the entire reality. And while we’re trying to make them un-exist, we are wrapping our violence into a semblance of concern for them. “Being here is not safe for you. In a perfect world, you would face no dangers, but you do, so FUCK OFF.”

It is a bullying approach to governance, which understands democracy as the rule of the mighty, and the art of governing in democracy as one of, basically, damage control. Instead of seeing democracy as a system in which everyone should have equal opportunities to flourish, it sees democracy as a system in which the powerful rule, and the weaker need to be forced out of their way, preferably by enforced laws. It has been applied to everyone at some point, because most of us are a part of some disadvantaged minority, and all of them were, at some point, told to get out of someone else’s way, or else: women, children, darker people, people of other religions, gay and trans people, people with disabilities, elderly people, and so on.