This became particularly obvious when, in November 2016, the people of Rotterdam held a referendum on the city’s suggestion to replace 20,000 units of affordable social-housing units with 36,000 properties for middle- and upper-income households. In the end the referendum failed due to low turnout and the unclear nature of the question posed (whether the public agreed with a proposal to attract residents with more spending power). The properties were eventually destroyed, despite the fact that 72 percent of those who voted did not support the measure. In the Netherlands, direct displacement hardly ever happens and very few, if any, of the families ended up on the streets thanks to the country’s strong welfare system and extensive tenant rights. As van Gent pointed out, many were even able to improve their housing situation. Still, this was seen as a highly controversial move.
“It’s kind of scandal in my view,” said van den Berg, “to say to your population, ‘This city would be so wonderful if only some of you would leave.’ And I would say, with these very explicit gentrification policies in place, this is exactly what the city is saying. So they have child-friendly city efforts, which is wonderful, but if you focus them primarily for middle-class families, then that means the displacement of working-class families.”
This is one of the reasons why cargo-bike riders, especially mothers, are sharply criticized from all sides of the political spectrum. The right sees them as yuppies, out of touch, soft, feminine, and elite. “It’s the same kind of aggressiveness as toward hipsters,” van Gent explained, “because cargo-bike moms also represent urban change. They also represent affluence.”
From the left, bakfiets mothers are accused of promoting segregation by using their cargo bikes to transport their children out of the diverse neighborhoods where they reside into schools in more affluent areas, where the majority of students are ethnically Dutch.
The bakfiets is associated with femininity, but fathers also use it. When they do, the bikes’ association with women comes along for the ride. The bakfiets has also become a symbol of new fatherhood: Cargo-bike dads are seen as “soft,” cool, and highly involved with their children. The bakfietspapa also takes a papadag, or a day off of work to spend with his family, and he is very likely to work part-time. Gender equality in these kinds of families may be higher than in the general population due to the fact that both partners work four days a week.
That being said, it is common for Dutch women to work part-time, participating in what is known as the one-and-a-half earner model. While this often seems like achieving a perfect work-life balance, the reality is much less rosy, and this has to do with ideas the Dutch have about mothers and parenting. There is still a “Dutch culture of care,” which expects mothers to stay at home and do the majority of parenting and house chores. Sending children to daycare for more than three days a week is considered to have negative consequences on their development. Moreover, schools and sports clubs rely on women to provide skills (and unpaid labor). And so, even in the seemingly gender-equal Netherlands, mothers still work the so-called second-shift of parenting, care work, and house chores. As a result, they are stressed out, and at the end of their tether. For this reason, the heavy, unwieldy cargo bike has also become a symbol of the impossibility of work-life balance—the Dutch version of “having it all.”