Bridging gender contracts and urban policies: exploring the concept of ‘gender cycling contract’ in the Greater
Genre et politiques urbaines : définir le concept de « contrat vélo genré » dans le cadre du Grand Tokyo
This research project explores the impact of gender norms on women’s cycling practices in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. It analyses the influence of gender norms at multiple scales, from the structural scale of policy, welfare state and labour market dynamics to that of the individual cyclist.
Comment les normes de genre influencent-elles la pratique quotidienne du vélo dans la Métropole de Tokyo ? Ces normes de genre, qui structurent le quotidien, sont abordées à de multiples échelles, de celle des politiques publiques, du marché du travail et de l’Etat Providence à celle du/de la cycliste.
In face of the ongoing climate crisis, and the more recent COVID-19 pandemic, cycling has emerged as a key mobility solution for cleaner and healthier cities. While its practice has been promoted for at least a decade in Western cities, women remain strongly underrepresented among cyclists in the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada, Australia or France (K. Krizek et al. 2005; Pucher and Dijkstra 2003; Pucher and Buehler 2012; STIF-OMNIL-DRIEA 2010).
Past research has identified two key reasons for women’s underrepresentation among cyclists : the ‘risk-aversion’ and the ‘complex trips’ hypothesis. Following these explanations, women would not cycle as much as men because they would be uncomfortable cycling alongside traffic and because they would perform complex, chained trips as a result of unequally shared domestic responsibilities (Ravensbergen et al. 2019). Solutions put forward have often been limited to the idea of developing a high-quality, continuous cycling infrastructure (Mitra and Nash 2019; Teschke et al. 2017) that would ensure a feeling of safety, and thus ease certain complex trips, such as carrying children. However, it is worth underlining that these results, which have been universalised as ‘good practices’, are almost exclusively derived from Western cases. Among the 30 articles published on gender and cycling since 2010, only 4 study non-Western cases. Moreover, the methodological dominance of quantitative methods - 18 out of 30 articles - has allowed for a good documentation of practices, but a limited understanding of the processes that give rise to these practices.
This research will endeavour to answer these two key shortcomings by studying the case of Tokyo to answer the following research question: how do gender norms influence cycling practice in Tokyo ? Analysis will bring together two streams of research: one looking at gender norms, and the other at urban policy and the cycling environment. Building from the concept of ‘gender contract’ (Hirdmann 1996), it will endeavour to account for the political economic, structural processes that contribute to shaping a specific ‘gender cycling contract’ in Tokyo.
Bringing gender norms and structural factors to cycling research
Dominated by quantitative studies, gender and cycling research has tended to study the practices of women as a sociodemographic category, and to leave aside the processes that lead men and women to move differently. Engaging with the idea of gender norms would be a way to answer this first shortcoming: the concept of performativity, developed by Judith Butler (1999), refers to the idea that gender attributes are culturally defined and socially enforced, and that abiding to gender norms implies certain ‘performances’, that is, certain practices that stage these attributes. Care activities are among those: without taking into account the mode of transport, women tend to engage in more household-serving trips than men (Turner and Niemeier 1997), including those that are considered to be little compatible with cycling, that is, encumbered and escort trips (K. J. Krizek et al. 2006), as well as chained trips (Scheiner and Holz-Rau 2017).
It would be misleading to consider that these gendered task-sharing practices are only the result of individual choices: structural factors such as labour market dynamics, or welfare state provisions have a key impact on daily life organisation, and in turn, on mobilities (Isaksen and Näre 2019). To bridge the structural scale and that of the individual, Hirdman (1991) conceptualised the idea of ‘gender contracts’ as the ‘invisible power relationships that determine the roles, responsibilities, privileges, status, sexuality, and behaviour of men and women within households, communities, the market, and the state’ (Hudson 2018: 83). The concept of gender contract suggests that the same norms that shape social relations and task-sharing among heterosexual couples also shape labour market dynamics and social policies. The mobilities turn has shed light on the interrelation of social relations and mobility practices (Sheller and Urry 2006) ; linking this stream of research to the concept of gender contract offers promising avenues to reveal gendered mobility contracts.
Researching Japan, an unacknowledged cycling country
Japan is an unacknowledged cycling nation: the share of cycling trips is as high as 21% in the Saitama Prefecture and 16% in the whole Tokyo Metropolitan area (TMTPC, 2018), and women represent more than half of cyclists (Pucher and Buehler 2012). Moreover, the Japanese cycling practice challenges both the ‘complex-trip’ hypothesis and the ‘risk-aversion’ hypothesis. In Japan, those tasks that imply complex trips tend to rest overwhelmingly on women: Japanese women spend about 29 hours per week of household chores, while Japanese men only spend 2 hours (Shirahase 2014: 134). Not only do women appear to find cycling compatible with these tasks, but cycling as a practice is culturally associated with domestic activities: the typical Japanese bicycle is the mamachari, or mother’s bicycle (Steele 2012), extensively used to transport children and groceries. These trips are not eased by protected, dedicated cycling infrastructure. Indeed, Tokyo displays a very limited cycling infrastructure provision: there are only 73 km of recommended cycling routes in the Tokyo Metropolitan area (TMG 2019) compared to 2000 kilometres in London (TfL 2018). In Tokyo, cyclists are found on narrow, winding streets that they share with cars, and on sidewalks shared with pedestrians on the side of wide avenues.
This research endeavours to bring the gender-related and the urban components of this specific cycling practice together to draw the picture of a ‘gender cycling contract’. This project implies a multi-scalar enquiry acknowledging both the structural dynamics that influence daily life conditions - labour market dynamics, welfare state provisions, urban policy - and the shape of the gendered cycling practice at street-level. To carry this project, the researcher will use a multi-methods qualitative research design structured in two stages.
A first stage will aim at documenting the structural factors that contributing to shaping different mobilities for men and women. This will be done using literature review, document analysis and stakeholder interviews. A second stage will explore the influence of these gender norms and urban mobility ideals on daily cycling practices in two high-cycling case-study neighbourhoods, one located in Tokyo, and one in suburban Saitama. Cycling practices in these areas will be studied through long, semi-structured life-course interviews. Participants will be asked to discuss their current cycling practice in detail, but also how it changed over their life course with evolutions in work and family arrangements, as well as residential relocations.
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