Story by Claire McFarlane and Tammy Thorne
This article is featured in our Summer 2016 issue of dandyhorse.
GET YOUR MEAT ON THE SEAT is an old slogan you’ve probably seen on a patch or a T-shirt. You may have heard the phrase without knowing it originated from a small group of pedalling priestesses that delivered the bodacious bicycling battle cry with a sexy and aggressive twist. Those priestesses were the visionaries behind the ’90s femi- nist bike zine, Chicks United for Non-noxious Transportation or C.U.N.T.
C.U.N.T. co-founder Cathy Katrib-Reyes was amazed when she saw a photo of Toronto band Metric’s lead singer, Emily Haines, wearing a C.U.N.T. T-shirt on her Instagram feed a couple of years ago.
“The T-shits were all over. I sold about five different runs of them, so they went all over the underground bike communities; I travelled to San Francisco, NewYork and Montreal [for] different types of bike events with C.U.N.T.”
Katrib-Reyes along with Bridget Newson, Sally McKay, Nancy Smith Lea and Nancy MacDougall were the women behind C.U.N.T. when it first published in 1995. At the time, the women were heavily involved in Toronto’s cycling sub-culture. This was before bikes were mainstream in the city; when cycling downtown was considered a pastime for punks and renegades.
They needed a place to talk about the adventures they had on their bikes and the crazy – sometimes horrifying – things they encountered on the road. The word “cunt” was something hurled at them by angry motorists who couldn’t come to terms with women cycling in the street. In launching the zine, they were looking to reclaim the word and fill a void. At the time there weren’t a lot of organizations advocating for cyclists. C.U.N.T. used cut and paste before it was a computer func- tion. No Photoshop. No InDesign. No Quark even. Just PageMaker, a really, really long stapler, lots of glue sticks and a company photocopier –and every three months, a new C.U.N.T. was born.
Each issue had articles, pho- tos and cartoons that were glued into the zine and photocopied with a different colour cover for each volume. They were handed out at bike shops, coffee houses and other bike-friendly places. Johnny “Jet Fuel” Englar, who is still an important figure in the cycling and coffee communities in Toronto, would help distribute the zines and would host C.U.N.T. parties at Jet Fuel, his Cabbagetown coffee shop. Englar was one of the people who started the back-street courier bike races now known worldwide as “alley cats” and also helped bring the wooden figure-eight bike racing track known as the “human pow- ered roller coaster” to Toronto.
Photo by Claire Macfarlane
In C.U.N.T.’s heyday, Katrib-Reyes and Newson would slide copies of the zine into the new- est issues of NOW magazine, the most guerilla of distribution methods. They say they did it because it was fun and they were building community... and the only special tools they needed was that really long stapler, some elbow grease, and a sassy atti- tude. It was “extremely free freelance” says Katrib-Reyes.
C.U.N.T. was always intentionally feminist. They chose their name because they wanted to take back the word and to give it a better, more positive meaning. They used to always say “thank you,” as a retort when drivers would try to use it as an insult. “Just living as a woman you find yourself in conflict often,” says Newson. But have we come a long way, baby?
The women behind C.U.N.T. think we have come a long way as far as cycling in Toronto is con- cerned. In the ’90s, there were hardly any bike lanes, a drastic contrast to the city’s streetscapes today. Admittedly, Katrib-Reyes and Newson don’t bike as much as they used to. They often work from home and are close enough towalktoworkwhentheyneed to be in the office. Newson says she’s a bit nervous of riding with her young daughter, who is now too big to ride in the child seat on the back of her bike. “To feel comfortable riding with kids, it takes protected bike lanes and it takes quite a few of them,” says Newson. Now they say they prefer scenic rides down residential side streets. Newson says Queen Street West is the worst; she was once knocked off her bike while riding it. And, the underpass on Bloor, west of Lansdowne is at the top of the “best avoided by bike” list. Katrib-Reyes says Avenue Road north of St. Clair is terrible, and the Queensway with its highspeedanddangerousgrates is a “white-knuckle ride.”
As far as the feminist movement is concerned, we may not have gained as much ground as we have with bike lanes. Around the world, cities are recognizing the beautiful efficiencies of the bicycle, but in most places, we are still fighting for gender equality. The gender pay gap is still real and there still seems to be a general lack of institutional support for women (like lack of affordable daycare).
The bicycle has a strong connection to the emancipation of women. C.U.N.T. was a declaration of independence that helped move women forward – and the cycling scene in Toronto too.
C.U.N.T. eventually allowed P.U.N.T.s (Penises United for Non-noxious Transportation) to join their masthead and soon, the scrappy little lady zine that came up with the biking battle cry “get your meat on the seat” was a co-ed operation.
As bike culture and appreciation for C.U.N.T. grew (C.U.N.T. was featured in The Globe and Mail, BUST magazine and Broken Pencil) the need for a radical voice diminished. The women went their own ways in 2000, while Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC), the group that places white bikes at the site where cyclists are killed, and Critical Mass were going strong.
The humour and ferocity that C.U.N.T. brought to the bike scene was important. Nowadays the co-founders of the city’s original feminist bike zine say it’s important to have the spectrum of advocacy from radical to mainstream.
Perhaps a radical voice is necessary to achieving radical change in Toronto’s cycling infrastructure. Perhaps, it might take a little more noise in order to obtain a true minimum grid of bike lanes in the city. Only then will Newson feel comfortable riding with her child downtown.
At the pace we’re moving, we may see a full resurgence of ’90s zine culture before we get a minimum grid. Or, for that matter, before we achieve gender parity.
Behind the Scenes
Photo by Tammy Thorne
Photo by Tammy Thorne
Photo by Tammy Thorne