Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I'm Published!

My article on gendered portrayals of bicycling recently got published. I've had requests for a follow-up article and a tentative request to submit a piece on biking for the Chicago Magazine. Pretty Cool. Read more if you'd like:

Where are the women bicyclists? Certainly not in the pages of bicycle catalogs or magazines.

Many of the common bicyclist stereotypes are men: racer, mountain biker, messenger — they are all hardcore and they are almost universally depicted as male.

Look at the advertising. Prevalent images are aggressive, mud-splattered young men going down challenging mountain bike paths, or competitive guys on road bikes racing fast.

When we finally see men and women together on bikes, they are presented as couples, leisurely riding along recreational, car-restricted trails. Sometimes there are family pictures. These people aren’t typically riding, but simply holding their bikes and wearing helmets in wholesome poses.Also missing will be pictures of women riding alone, riding in traffic or getting dirty. And you sure won’t see women riding bicycles as a means of transportation.

Of course, Madison Avenue’s sexism is legendary. So it’s not surprising that when the industry shines its beacon on bicycle products, there’s a “No girls allowed!” notice tacked on the doorway to fun and adventure.
Apparently, this suits the bicycle marketing departments just fine. What I wonder is, what possible profit do they see in boxing men and women into such narrow areas of interest, and possibility?

It would be great to open up a bicycling publication and see an image of a commuting woman assertively taking her lane in downtown traffic. How about a girl with a messenger bag on her back, jumping a pothole in some alley? Or any woman, with her shoulder and arm muscles flexed, jaw clenched, wearing that “take-no-prisoners” look. Instead page after page supports the notion that men grit their teeth and pound through the pain, while women smile sweetly as they serenely sightsee and stop for snacks.

Portrayals of different riding styles segregated by gender begin with the youngest demographics. Raleigh boys’ bikes are advertised for their toughness and ability to withstand the miles of abuse your “little rippers” dole out. Their girls’ bikes come with matching handbags, streamers and are guaranteed to be “a hit in the ‘neighborhood style parade.”

What we face is self-fulfilling, cyclical prophecy: offer boys tough bikes, advertise with photos of men riding hard, and we raise yet another generation of boys who believe that bike-riding is only about speed and competition. Simultaneously, give girls frilly, pastel bikes emphasizing style instead of function, depict women only as casual riders, or ignore them completely, and find that girls aren’t as interested in competitive, high-performance riding.

Gender stereotypes are counterproductive to promoting bicycling. So is the consistent portrayal of biking as strictly a leisure activity — whether hardcore racing or casual sightseeing. Strict categories and divisions don’t represent the bikers on the street. We are women and men, young and old, big and small, fast, slow and everything in between. We ride for a lot of reasons: transportation, competition, leisure, exercise, thrills — ideally, all of the above. People who ride are diverse because bicycling is an inclusive activity. We shouldn’t allow these tired images to paint us into the same tired roles.

As bicyclists, we can do our part. Look, for example, at the Cycling Sisters, ( who welcome all women and who volunteer to teach bicycle maintenance and traffic skills, organize challenging rides, give racing workshops and support each other to become better riders.

Look at the women who bike each day to work. Look at the ones who train out on the lakefront, fierce and proud.

The real face of bicycling is out there: millions of women — and men — doing things our own way. We set the examples you won’t find in the mass media.

Come ride with us.


At 10:54 PM, Blogger Kati said...

I've been reading your blog for a while. You have really inspired me to just get out on the street (I've been favoring the carfree bike ways in my hometown of Minneapolis). I also just added my first-ever toe clips. I primarily ride a turquoise Schwinn Traveller circa 1987, but I also have a pink Hawthorne 3-speed and dark blue Bridgestone mtn bike (bought for me when I was a preteen) in the sable.

Anyway, I was wondering if you have any pics of the Mint Julep.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger michael said...

Excellent piece.

Even worse than the marketing of bikes for girls is the dearth of sensible rides for kids, especially girls. Hot pink, glitter mountain bikes may look "girly", but what a silly bike! This is the kind of bike a young woman should actually use to get around her neighborhood, maybe get to school, the library, the mall, etc? Ugh.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger jojo said...


Hmmm.....I don't have any good pictures of the Julep, but there are some tiny pictures of her in my post about the June Critical Mass.

I'm intrigued--the Julep is also a Schwinn Traveller. Her color is almost identical to the Celeste green of Bianchis. (minty, seafoam...) There aren't any numbers where I've been told Schwinn model numbers are located (rear left drop-out), so I haven't been able to identify her age.

When I lived in Mpls, I used the greenway as part of my commute from Uptown to Downtown St.P. It was a little bike highway. I learned to ride on the streets in Mpls, and learned to love it in Chicago. Glad to think I might be inspiring some people. Ride on.

Mb2: Thanks. I don't have a problem with making the bikes appealing to little girls. My problem comes from the suggestion that the girls won't really be riding much, and are only interested in the appearance. If pink and glitter helps put girls on bikes--AND they actually ride them a lot, then great.

My Julep is pretty and girly--but she gets the job done and passes plenty of bikes on her daily travels. Function before style.

I can't wait until the final death knell of mountain bikes (except for the few people who actually use them off-road). They just aren't a good choice for most biking, especially biking as transportation.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger annie said...

When I was a kid my dad wouldn't LET me get a girly bike. He said "those bikes are silly, let's get you something sensible." So I ended up with a red and silver Huffy, which mortified me at first until I realized that out of my trio of little second-grade friends (2 girls and a boy) it was the boy and me who could ride through the woods and off of curbs and stuff, and our friend with the pink girly bike couldn't because her bike wasn't stable enough. I girlied-up my Huffy with dozens of hot pink spoke beads and a pink basket on the handlebar, and all was well. :-)

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Gilby said...

Awesome article!! I look forward to seeing more of your writing published in the future!


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