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To What Extent Are Teenage Girls Cycling Less Because of Fewer Opportunities to Move Freely in Public Spaces? A Sociological Survey in the Varied Environments of Montpellier and Strasbourg

David Sayagh

Research framework: Cycling practices are underpinned by considerable environmental, health and economic challenges. Despite this, teenage girls seem to be cycling far less.

Objectives: This article studies the extent to which this is the result of a gendered inequality when it comes to the opportunity to move freely within public spaces.

Methodology: We conducted a dispositionalist analysis based on observation campaigns (direct experimentation and observation) and formal semi-directive interviews conducted with 43 boys and 39 girls aged 17 to 18, as well as 26 of their parents, in the varied environments of Montpellier and Strasbourg.

Results: The results indicate that adolescence tends to be a period of incorporation and reinforcement of gendered dispositions toward free movement within public spaces and that this period is particularly restrictive for girls. The social injunctions of this group appears to contribute to a strengthening of their fear of travelling alone, a fear of venturing from home and a fear of public spaces which considerably limits the possibilities of engaging in forms of solitary, adventurous, improvised and “occupying” bicycle practices. This observation appears to be exactly the opposite however when it comes to boys.

Conclusions: By explaining many observable variations within each gender category and including socio-economic and residential backgrounds as well as context, we illustrate that cycling deserves to be analyzed as a distinct practice that is gendered, social and spatial.

Contribution: By taking a dispositionalist sociological approach, we reveal the (re)production of gender roles and the (re)production of inequalities of potential mobility to illustrate that cycling is a fully social fact.