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Degreasing patriarchy with Abby Gordon, organizer of Chicago’s Clitical Mass, an all female bike ride

By Silas Reeves

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The male dominated culture of Critical Mass bike rides prompted a DIY activist movement for mass rides to include GLBTQ bikers and empower female cyclists.
The growing movement’s name came from a zine called “Clitical Mass” that inspired SAIC student Abby Gordon’s book club to take political action.

SR: How did you get started with Clitical Mass here in Chicago?

AG: Clitical Mass started in Pittsburgh when I had a feminist collective going on there. We would have meetings and talk about ways to involve more women in the queer community and the bike community.
This spawned the idea of a Clitical Mass. We had been to a lot of the Critical Masses and found that we weren’t so welcome there. We felt more invisible than visible because our presence was seen as being accepted, even though it wasn’t. We felt alienated. We felt that we weren’t welcome as women.
So we came up with the idea of a clitical mass, which would be an all-female bike ride in response to this male-dominated culture which we had all been dealing with, at that time, pretty harshly.
I was working at a bike shop at that point and coming into a lot of problems with the owner who had been discriminating against me and various other women who had been working with bikes or in collectives.
We felt that we need to start changing things and our way of doing that was starting Clitical Mass, an all-female bike ride.
As I became more involved in the Chicago bike culture, I began to see more and more of the (same) problems [here].
My friends and I had a feminist book club that we started on a whim…Typically, we’d pick books that would spawn some sort of activist related action that we could do. I brought in this zine called “Clitical Mass” which was written by a friend of mine from back home (in Pittsburgh), Andulhisa Nole.
We were reading through this, and being like, “Hey, man! We all ride bikes and have these problems.” We all got really excited and thought, “Hey! We should start a Clitical Mass here.” Since we all have experience with Critical Masses, we knew how to structure our Clitical Mass. We screen-printed flyers and posters and wheat-pasted them around town, used the Internet. We got a decent amount of women together for the first mass.

SR: How was the first ride of Clitical Mass?

AG: It started out really well. We had a power circle going on. We had all the women meet at the fountain in Wicker Park and then we rode to Pilsen, [and] Harrison Park.
In the beginning, it was great. We all sat around [and] talked about what we wanted out of this ride, what our goals were, and discussed some general rules and boundaries we would all follow. We wanted this to create a really collective consciousness. We didn’t want anyone to be a leader. We didn’t want anyone to be a follower. We wanted everyone to have equal input in what we were doing and what our goals were. [This] was difficult because there were a core group of six women that did…all the work to create this, but once we were in this space as women on bikes, we wanted it to be an equal exchange of ideas and opinions and work.
There were some altercations…At one point, a car clipped a woman, but she didn’t get harmed. There was some response from some of the women that I found troubling, and I think part of that was due to the fierce passion that we had at that time. We had such a rush of adrenaline.
We should’ve talked about what our goals were for a little longer. That’s not something they do at a Critical Mass. It’s not something we’re used to doing. We don’t sit in a fucking circle at a Critical Mass and talk about what we want out of this, we just ride our bikes, and that’s why Clitical Mass is different.
Our point is to be visible where we’re invisible, so we wanted to give everyone a chance to speak. However, there were a few people who had different ideas of what a Clitical Mass is. In the end, the fall 2009 ride was extremely successful for the first Clitical Mass Chicago, and it was a great turnout.

SR: What do you see as the future of Clitical Mass?

AG: I see it getting as big as Critical Mass. How many men and women are there in Chicago? Fairly equally amount. How many of them ride bikes? Probably a fairly equal amount. I would say my hope for Clitical Mass is for it to be a mass…the size of a Critical Mass. It’s important to think how Clitical Mass can help shape bike culture.
I also want to mention that it’s a women and trans mass. People that are invisible in our society are welcome in this mass, and we hope it gains momentum. It did in Pittsburgh. We had 100 or 150 people at one of our last rides there. So, for a mass that’s completely outside of regulation, outside of Critical Mass, that’s more DIY than critical. That’s our goal.
Another Clitical Mass was spawned because we didn’t organize for the following month. Some other people got one together, which is exactly our hope. It was really hectic putting the first one together and the struggle was definitely worth it. And someone else picked it up. Someone else started a Clitical Mass. I know that word of mouth spreads quickly. There’s Clitical Masses in Paris, London, Pittsburgh. I think that one mass will gain attention and word will spread, and we’ll have Clitical Masses everywhere.

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