Saturday, June 2, 2012

Asking for it

I've been thinking a lot today about the attitude that riders "bring it on themselves" and that we're "asking for it" by virtue of choosing to ride a motorcycle.  And I'm quite mad about it.

We need to acknowledge as fact that sometimes people make mistakes, and that accidents will happen; and when they do happen, if you're riding a bike at the time, the chances are you will come off worse than if you were in a car.  We do need to acknowledge that.  But we do not need to accept it.

This may sound like a hair splitting distinction, but it's a really important point that a lot of non-riders I speak to don't seem to grasp.  In desperation I've reached for the only parallel I can think of - that abhorrent attitude that some men have historically espoused which places the blame for rape upon a girl who was dressed in revealing clothes.  And while we acknowledge that rape happens, and is an evil and abhorrent reality, we will I trust never become accepting of this.  We will never accept it as natural or inevitable.

But in conversations I have had with non-riders, some people have been quite happy to say that in the event of an collision with a car, the rider has brought their injuries upon themselves by choosing to ride a bike.

Now if people want to point and laugh at me when I arrive at work soaked to the skin, with fingers and lips turning blue from the cold, I am happy to accept that.  I choose to ride a motorbike in sub-zero temperatures and so the consequences of being subject to the vagaries of Melbourne's weather are mine to enjoy, or at least endure.

When we cross over into talking about the consequences of other people's decisions and mistakes being our fault, however, we've crossed a line that should not be crossed.  If we make it acceptable for people to harm others through their actions, and blame the victims for being in the way, then we've chosen to let people get away with whatever they can blame on someone else.  What we ought to be doing, as a society and a culture, is encouraging and requiring people to take responsibility for themselves and for their own decisions, and to encourage and require people to behave in a socially responsible way that doesn't impinge upon the freedoms and happiness of others.

I'm not really satisfied with these images yet.  I reckon I'm better with prose than with punchy posters and snappy single sentences.  But I'm going to keep pushing this line because it isn't right for us to roll over and accept that other road users simply won't look for bikes and we should just live with it.  While it is a reality that we must accept, we should never be content with it as the status quo, any more than we should accept that girls who wear short skirts are more likely to be the targets of sexual harassment.  Some realities are worth fighting against.

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