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It’s Not About the Hair and Heels: Prop 6 Opponents Shoot Down a Specious Argument

A Senator, a Mayor, and housing, transit, and bike advocates showed their opposition to Prop 6, and showed that it is possible to ride a bike in heels and sporting hair. Photos by Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

It started with a tweet. Or rather it started with a remark about Prop 6 made by Diane Harkey, who is running for Darrell Issa's congressional seat in Orange County, which was tweeted out by KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen.

“This is just fraud,” Harkey says in the video, about the gas taxes Prop 6 would repeal. “It's forcing you to take bikes, get on trains, hose off at the depot and try to get to work. That does not work," she said, to cheers and laughter from listeners. “That does not work with my hair and heels. I cannot do that and I will not do that.”

The video clip, unsurprisingly, garnered negative attention both for Harkey's ridiculous claim that paying gas taxes forces people onto bikes and trains against their will as well as for the idea that proper grooming requires transport via private vehicle. Reactions included pictures of superbly groomed people riding bikes, some wearing heels.

But what really got attention was the response from State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who wrote: “Having ridden Muni w 'hair & heels' & seen many [a] drag queen ride bikes with the same, I call bullshit.”

That got the attention of John Bauters, Mayor of Emeryville, who challenged Senator Wiener to help him prove that anyone can ride a bike in “hair and heels.” On Sunday, they were joined by about thirty men and women, some sporting long hair and high heels, on a bike ride from San Francisco's Castro district down Market Street to the Civic Center.

Elsa flees the crowd with her mom
One of many Elsas heads home for a nap

The sidewalks in the Castro, like on most Sundays, were crowded. It being so close to Halloween, there were people in costume, including a smattering of knee-high girls swanning about in identical ice-blue princess gowns as they emerged from the Castro Theater's noontime Frozen singalong. A festive atmosphere prevailed at the Jane Warner Plaza, where bike and transit advocates awaited the arrival of the senator and the mayor. TV cameras and cops stood by, ready for whatever was going to happen.

Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, showed up  in black stilettos and fishnet stockings to support the ride. The SFBC, he said, "recognizes the many barriers that women face when it comes to everyday bicycling, and apparel is certainly one of them."

"Rather than mocking the barriers that women face," he said, the bike ride "highlights the absurdity of Diane Harkey's comment and the very real dangers posed to Californians if Prop 6 passes."

In a conversation before the ride, Mayor Bauters had told Streetsblog that the ride was meant to be fun, but they were very serious about its message. “Stating that people won’t use bikes or transit because they are a woman or because of how they dress affirms and entrenches patriarchal systems that need to change,” he said. “At the same time, these arguments are being used as an excuse not to work on climate change, invest in transit, and make our roads safer.”

“I'm not here to challenge anyone’s personal belief system, but what I have a problem with is closing off the minds of others to the idea that change is possible. Rather than holding us back from the future of transportation infrastructure, elected leaders should be focused on the future of mobility, sustainability, and climate change.”

Brian Wiedenmeyer of SFBC testifies to the negative effects of Prop 6
Brian Wiedenmeier of SFBC testified to the negative effects of Prop 6

On Sunday, he got specific. “Prop 6 is a horrible and dangerous proposition for the future of transit in California,” he told the crowd. While the ride may have started as “a little bit of a joke,” he and Senator Wiener were serious about showing up “in support of all the modes of transit that all people in California should have access to. Transportation and multi-modal access is so important,” he said, “and the infrastructure we have in California is already behind schedule for repairs--but it will get a lot worse if we have Prop 6 pass.”

“We're out here today to raise awareness of how much transit matters.”

Crowded onto the tiny plaza, the group had to move aside when a trolley passed by. “More transit! More transit!” they shouted, laughing and waving at the driver. Senator Wiener, looking somewhat elegant in his pink wig and heels, told the crowd: “As fun as it is, this is deadly serious. Prop 6 is going to make our streets and our bridges less safe. More people will be injured; more people will die. People will have more trouble getting around if Prop 6 passes.”

“This isn't about, as Diane Harkey says, forcing people to ride a bike and to hose down at the train depot, or whatever she said. It's about giving people choices.”

Emily Cohen, a lead in the No on Prop 6 campaign, showed up in hair and heels as well
Emily Cohen, a lead in the No on Prop 6 campaign

“If you need to drive, go ahead and drive--you want smooth roads. If you want to take a bike, you also want smooth roads,” he said. “If you want to take transit, like I do all the time, you want trains that are actually not going to fall apart.”

“This is about making sure that everyone can get around however they want to get around.”

Wearing a long wig and high heels should be a pretty good way to get attention, although, this being San Francisco, the noisy group of bicyclists attracted only a modest number of stares. Did any of them realize that was their senator in the pink wig?

Arriving at the Civic Center, the group did a celebratory circuit of the park before breaking up. And it seems that Senator Wiener stumbled on a truth many women have already discovered. “What I learned from this experience is that biking in heels is not the issue,” he said. “It's walking in heels that is really hard. The bike part is easy.”

“But,” he added, “I biked in my heels and my hair was fine and didn't blow around too much, and I made it all in one piece and it was fun.”

“And hopefully we raised awareness of how horrible Prop 6 is.”

The ride was inclusive--no one was forced to wear heels

A little bit of video of the ride below:

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