Friday, February 11, 2005

Cycling Sexism

Cycling Sisters is a fantastic group of women bikers in Chicago. We hold rides, repair/maintenance workshops and sometimes parties or other social gatherings. The group is usually very, very supportive. Today the list-serve exploded because of images of women in the Raleigh 2005 Catalog.

Women were shocked and appalled and sickened. The chorus chimed:
"How dare the magazine use women in miniskirts to sell bicycles!"

Hilariously a man piped up that he has seen women bike in similar clothes and that maybe it wasn't sexist. The events and clothes that he described were mine. But the Hornet's nest was disturbed and I think some women wanted blood to flow.

I admitted to biking in skirts all of the time and explained my philosophy of biking fitting into my life seamlessly--instead of being a gear-intensive, clothes-changing, bag-carrying burden. Then I had the audacity to state that the pictures didn't really bother me and that there may even be benefits to these photos.

Holy shitstorm. Hornets galore. The comments to the listserve itself weren't too bad, but the ones directly to my email were hilariously horrible. Several of the women, people who actually know me, had my back.

I was labeled as a subversive and told that I have bought into the patriarchal ideal of the female. I am not expressing my own will when I bike in skirts, but instead conforming to the male standards of beauty in an attempt to gain the approval of the ruling class by offering myself as a sexual object to them. What a hoot. Jackasses in pick-up trucks and taxi drivers are the ruling class? I missed the changing of the guard.

First off, I am no stranger to feminist theory. A lot of it is interesting and insightful--but there is also a whole set of man-hating garbage that not only discredits feminism but also tends to perpetuate the same stereotypes and power dynamics that true feminism seeks to eliminate. Secondly, I really don't think I am some weak-willed woman who curries favor with men as the means to get ahead. I am a tomboy and fit in ridiculously well as 'one of the boys'--certainly better than I do with 'typical' women. Additionally, I really love how these angry women feel justification to dismiss my dissenting viewpoint and try to strip me of my free will because I don't buy their party line. Way to stand up for other women. Finally, am I subversive or obediently operating within the paradigm of the prevailing ideal? I don't think I can do both.

The best part about this was that I didn't recognize the names of any of the women who emailed me directly. Hmmm....odd. Women whom I admire and consider to be great leaders and proponents of women's cycling, and are out on the street supported my position, whereas women I don't think I have met consider me a traitorous, hoochie bimbo. I don't have any solid justification, but I have a hunch that some of my critics are bitter women who enjoy getting angry and self-righteous, and that this inclination, instead of biking is what drew them to the group.

Obediently yours,
The subversive hoochie


At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Subversive Hoochie,
I'm with you. Riding a bike shouldn't have to be a conformist activity where only certain clothing styles are acceptable. Furthermore, the wearing of bike-specific clothes only serves to intimidate non-cyclers from being interested in riding a bike at all. As far as the irate feminists, it is my belief that most organized/semi-organized groups wouldn't exist if there wasn't a reason to be pissed off. That said, it wouldn't be a bad idea to pay a bit more attention to what taxi drivers think of you.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Sascha said...

after reading this at uglybike, I decided to come back here and post a few thoughts I had on the subject.

I looked at the pictures of the chicks in the catalog and it made me burst out laughing. If that *actually* sells bikes to stupid guys, they hey, good for marketing for taking advantage of that mentality. Men who are motivated by stuff like that deserve to be taken advantage of.

If you look through their entire catalog, they don't offer a single racing or performance road/mtn bike under 50cm. They don't offer women's sizes at all until you get to the recreation mountain bikes. So, unless you're a tall, broad-shouldered woman, you really couldn't ride a Raleigh performance bike anyway.

It's totally obvious that they don't consider women to be an important part of their marketing segment. Raleigh doesn't even offer custom frames under 50cm. As a woman who rides a 43cm Trek 2300 wsd, I think this is too bad, but I'll just continue to buy my bikes elsewhere and so will every other petite woman on the planet.

Also, since none of the other performance cycling manufacturers have had to resort to models to sell their bikes, one might wonder about the quality/reliability/service offered by Raleigh that they have to distract the shopper with chicks.

just my .02


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