Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trade Shows, Gender, and the Cycling Sausage Fest

File Under: Tales from the Cycle-verse

Hi, I'm a girl and I can fix a flat on my bike.  I can do it on my own, on the side of the road while thousands of other cyclists fly by on Hub on Wheels.  Of course - I'm still immensely grateful for all the volunteers who stopped to ask if I needed anything.

Hi, I'm a girl and I can build up this bike.  (Not talking welds here, but believe me that's on the to-do list.)

Hi, I'm a girl who writes about, advocates for, fixes, recommends, photographs, advises, commutes via ... all-things-bikes.

Hi, I'm a girl who is a keen observer of and sometime professional in the cycling industry and sometimes I want to vomit.  Especially when I see things like this and this.

Yes, these beautiful women are doing their jobs, it's true.  But if this industry is supposed to be egalitarian, forward thinking, and challenging the status quo - not just in health and infrastructure, but also beauty - why does the largest North American cycling tradeshow resound with this imagery?

Where did the real women cyclists go?  There were a few there but most were left back at the office.

There are real women out there; we're out here, we ride bikes, we know what we're talking about and yet are pretty much absent from this trade show.  There are some elite athlete beauties, but somehow even that imagery is a question mark.

Recently Elly Blue of Taking the Lane wrote a post about how to figure out if cycling imagery is sexist, and what trends we are seeing. A conclusion from this article, that somehow in marketing imagery it is men that are riding, challenging, and adventuring whilst women somehow end up next to the bike, as a place to secure fashionable accessories - an auxiliary subject for the gaze.

She notes:

"I want to point out that these images are not just made and chosen by men. Women are also active in many representations of bicycling that would fail this test, both as willing models and as photographers and producers. My point is not that we’re the helpless victims of sexist men, but that we’re all part of a culture where sexism is normalized, celebrated, and rewarded. I think there’s a widespread sense that this is the game we have to play if we want to succeed. In a way that’s true, but I’d argue that there are inherent limits for women in this game; we can only go so far. If we really want equality we need to change the rules."   -Taking the Lane

And there are even comments on the InterBike Facebook photo post linked to above, from men and women viewing this:

"Yep, this is part of the reason the industry and sport stagnates. Even Hooters is realizing how limiting this approach is." [from a man actually...]

"I  want to know if any of those girls could fix a flat..."

I know - just in this city - some amazing women in this industry, lady shop service shop owner and mechanic, web comic artist, photographers, pro racers, and so many others who live for bikes even if this may not be their profession.  They are incredible.  They are gorgeous, they do amazing things.  And yet somehow they're left out.

They're not worth marketing to?

Trade shows take industry culture and condense it, stick it under a magnifying glass and shine dazzling lights all over it.  Under this level of magnification you can't help but notice some things are out of balance, somebody's missing. Somehow at this show, real women cyclists are missing, or eclipsed.

The thing is you can market for them, to them, and things can look different. The attitude at the European trade shows is a lot different, and they keep growing - whereas this North American show has actually gotten smaller over the years, with big industry names leaving and running their own shows...

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Or if you're rusty on your Latin, correlation does not imply causation.  Just because the great North American trade show looks like this does not necessitate that this is the why of it getting smaller.  But there are a lot of women out here, from an economic perspective that's a big market demographic which this sort of imagery often alienates.

Perhaps you could even sell your brand better with informative, experienced bicycle geek girls who know what they're talking about rather than just having it memorized for the show?

Even a pro marketer must find it exceedingly difficult to take a tradeshow, which should be a veritable goldmine and market it successfully when you take a great product and put it through this kind of lens.

And as a consumer it's also hard when you're disgusted by a lot of it.

And the disgust is not so much, "Oh, overly-sexualized-imagery-again...", it's more of a: "Is this the best we can do?  We can make bikes that you can jump out of planes with, bikes that are lighter than my shoe, bikes fast enough to break land speed records, but we can't think of a tradeshow approach any more evolved than this?".

Talking Humanism

This great device, this bicycle, is a great vehicle for humanism.  But when half the species is not being put on an equal level, it's not humanism at all.

Just as Elle says, let's change the rules.  Somehow I'm going to!  Humanism in cycling, here we go!

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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License