I’m angry. One of Australia’s peak motoring bodies the NRMA, the makers of murdering machines Subaru, and a company called TOLL who make money from speeding, have joined forces with the well meaning but misguided Amy Gillett Foundation, and Bicycle NSW. With so much collective power, it’s a shame this alliance wants to just wag their fingers at cyclists for not wearing helmets:
I don’t give much thought to mandatory bike helmet laws. I live in a hilly city where, frankly, even the off-road trails are quite treacherous. I also listen to podcasts or music while cycling, so am quite partial to these imitation side levers called cat-ears that cut out the wind noise. So it’s really only when I ride my boy up to school in the morning that I don’t wear a helmet. I’m so glad there are no bus shelters between my home and his school. Because if I had to look at this sign I would be back at 2 in the morning with a blue marking pen, to draw a blue star of David on the girl’s arm.
Forcing adults to wear helmets at times when they can judge for themselves that they are as safe as the billions worldwide who, today, will also ride bikes without helmets, is a form of marking.
Markedness is a standard concept in linguistics that feminist scholars are aware of, and that I think cyclists should be aware of as well. Once you see how linguistic and other forms of marks work to keep power with dominant groups, and just how insidious marking can be, you will want to take a marking pen to every example.
A classic example of a marked term is the word “female”, comprising the unmarked word “male” and the mark, “fe”. Us dudes are spoken of as though we are simply human, while you lassies are spoken of as though you are human, except for the “fe” , to indicate something dubious about you, perhaps that you’re fairer, or prone to hysteria, or possibly witches.
Marking yourself is never a problem. You can have your tattoos and funny hairdos. It is being marked by individuals or groups with power over us that we ought to be wary of. Farmers mark livestock to sort them for slaughter. German Jews were marked by the Nazis not long before they met the same fate. Putting on a bicycle helmet to ride along the footpath to your local shop, for no real reason except the state says, is accepting a kind of a mark.
I’ve been quite happy wearing my helmet (for most trips) in my hilly city since I moved here two years ago. Plus I see enough other people riding around with no helmets to be fairly sure the police here in Tassie couldn’t care less, having enough poor-on-poor murder and rape to attend to. But this finger waging poster has raised Australia’s mandatory bike helmet laws as an issue again in my mind, and one I have to respond to.
If the law were about head injuries it would extend to skateboarding, surfing, driving and possibly soccer. Since it doesn’t, I can fairly assume it is about marking cyclists. Law makers’ and capitalists’ motives for wanting to do that are obvious, really: we cyclists are transgressing an embedded principle of city planning, which is that everyone has to pay money to someone for the use of machines if they want to move. This is an implicit tax that has crept in, on which many depend, for example those owning shares in NRMA, Subaru or indeed TOLL who move things for people who choose to stay home.
These free riding cyclists need to be marked. Any who refuse, the poster reminds us, are breaking the law. Furthermore (and I’m looking at my country’s flag on that helmet), they are un-Australian, or in other words traitors. Looking at this poster I see a dog-whistle message to bigots that it is okay to kill anyone they see on a bike who will not bear the mark the authorities have said they must wear.
NRMA employ someone named Daniel to remove “offensive” messages from their facebook page:
Excuse me while I use more fitting language to remind NRMA that they are not at liberty to park their roadside maintenance vehicles on footpaths or in bike lanes. It’s the law.