Is this thing sexist? Introducing the “Bike Test”

This post is drawn from a presentation I developed for the first-ever National Women’s Bicycling Summit in September, 2012.

As the influence of women grows across all types of bicycling, there has been quite a bit of debate about the representation of gender in everything from ads to advocacy campaigns, race tracks to board meetings. Is that photo of a sexy woman on a bike sexist, or is it empowering? Objectifying, or compelling? Tokenizing, or inclusive? Is it different if the photo was taken by a woman? What if the woman depicted is an avowed feminist? Does this mean we are never allowed to depict women wearing skirts and heels? These discussions tend to get frustrating, in part, I think, because we don’t always have a shared idea of what these terms mean.

I saw the need for an analytical tool that could be used by both media creators and consumers to evaluate images of women in bicycling. So, inspired by the Bechdel Test for women in movies (still as relevant today as it was in 1985), I created…

The Bike Test:

Here are the criteria:

1. Are women present or represented at all?
2. Are the women presented as active subjects rather than passive objects?
3. If the gender were reversed, would the meaning stay more or less unchanged? (Or would the image become hilarious?)

Going down this list is a surprisingly effective way to evaluate inclusiveness of a wide range of representations and entities, including advertisements, movies, news coverage, organizations, corporate or nonprofit boards, events, conference lineups, curricula…whatever happens to be in front of you. And needless to say, this all applies well beyond bicycling.

Here’s a little more about each criterion, followed by examples — some of the results may surprise you.

1. Are women present or represented at all?
I wish this didn’t have to be on the list. Unfortunately, it still does.

For one prime example, take this (otherwise excellent and fascinating) interview with three luminaries in modern bicycle advocacy, in which they reflect on the history of the bike transportation movement and how it got to be where it is today. It’s full of names — dozens of them. Only one name, however, mentioned in passing, is female.

At the Women’s Summit, someone waved a magazine in the air that had been left on one of the tables in the conference hall — a recently published road bike mag that had not a single woman pictured in it.

It’s also interesting to note that most bike industry ads do not ever portray women unless they are for specific “women’s” bikes and accessories… even if they aren’t specifically for men either.

So yes, we still do need this to be the first criterion. I look forward to the day when we can drop it from the list.

2. Are the women presented as active subjects rather than passive objects?

This one is trickier. One question to help hone in on this is: Are the women actually riding bikes, or just posing on (or near) them? Or better, is the woman the hero of her own story, or is she there to be drooled over?

My favorite all-time example has still got to be these catalog pages presented in stellar contrast by Winnipeg Cycle Chick — her hilarious blog post speaks for itself. Note how the men are conquering nature and seeking freedom and the women…just wow.

It may help to think about this criterion through another excellent analytical tool, this one from the seventies: the Male Gaze. Coined by film theorist Laura Mulvey, the idea is that visual representations stem from and shape our identity, both as viewers and viewed. Mulvey points out that the view of the movie camera often represents the gendered assumptions of a heterosexual, white man, and tends to portray women as passive objects, often serving a similar function in the plot as, say, a pet, a statuette, a sled … or a bicycle.

Take major bike races, for example, like the Tour de France. Women are not allowed to race, but they are front and center as podium girls, on hand to congratulate and kiss the male victors.

Advertisements tend to fail this test in droves at this point. What does a naked female have in common with a bicycle frame? They’re both objects that “you,” the hetero/macho male audience presumed to be gazing upon them, might want to possess, I suppose. Even ads that sell bicycles *to* women often flop here at step two. Take this array of women being endangered while standing near bicycles — in the first one, you’ll notice the woman and the bicycle are such passive objects they are actually tied up to posts.

This second criterion goes beyond visual imagery. For instance, who is the presumed speaker of the former tagline of the Cycle Chic website? Who is the presumed hearer? Notice how the two objects of the phrase are interchangeable.

Or to take a real-life, non-sexualized but oh-so-gendered example of what it feels like to be a woman in the bicycling world, an image search for “bicycle advocacy” turned up this extreme gem, on the site of my local advocacy org no less. Through the lens of the male gaze, this photo just looks like a normal meeting, nothing special to comment on. When I showed this photo at the Women’s Bicycling Summit, on the other hand, a lot of women in the room were nodding and groaning in recognition.

3. If the gender were reversed, would the meaning stay more or less unchanged? (Or would the image become hilarious?)

Perhaps the best, though non-bicycle-related example of this is the hilarious photo series of men in classic female pin-up poses. [Some readers have been concerned that I'm suggesting that it's funny to represent men in an effeminate manner. That's not the goal. Pro tip: If reversing gender roles makes a representation seem ridiculous, then it's already ridiculous before you do so, just maybe you hadn't noticed yet. That's all.]

Many bike images that arguably pass the first two tests (though perhaps only by a technicality) lose it at this one, and lose hilariously. Go on, imagine a man trying to parlay his sex appeal in the same way as racer Liz Hatch has controversially, if successfully, done (in my mental image, the helmet is further down on the page). It becomes a parody. You don’t lust, you laugh.

I suppose a determined individual could argue that you can be active while leaning over to taste your suitor’s popsicle, or while pumping up a bicycle tire while sporting a “sexy nurse” costume. But you can’t really argue that these images would be able to sell cycling in the same way and to the same market with the genders reversed. They sure would be funny, though.

Then there’s the famous photo of racer Victoria Pendleton, who has gone a similar route to Hatch in baring it all in seductive poses for magazines. Interestingly, she seems to have caught the most grief for one particular photo — a nude pic atop a bike. But this one, I argue, passes the Bike Test with flying colors: There’s a woman, she’s actively, fiercely riding, she’s naked but not sexualized, and if you reverse the genders you get … Lance Armstrong, famously photographed by Annie Liebowitz (and relatively unharassed for it, as far as I can tell).

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.

It’s also worth noting that while sexist representations actively sideline women, they don’t really serve most men well, either. The macho culture promoted by much of the bike world (not to mention the rest of the world) is a burden to us all; we’d be better off without it.

If you’re reading this, you’re a consumer of media; and you may very well be a producer of it as well, or at least a retweeter of it. It’s up to all of us to be smarter than this — let’s start now.

Update: Having been circularly inspired by a blogger who blogged about this post, I’m adding an embed to this great video that uses the Bechdel test to evaluate 2011 Oscar nominees, just so it’s that much easier for people to watch it and weep. I mean laugh. I mean… get angry… or better yet, get active!

The Oscars and The Bechdel Test

Like this article? Check out the books I produce and distribute. Affordable, thought-provoking, fit in your pocket… and they all pass the bike test with flying colors.

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65 Responses to “Is this thing sexist? Introducing the “Bike Test””

  1. Brock September 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    I’m not so sure these are the right questions. I think the 2 prevailing issues are (1) objectification and (2) negative stereotypes.

    For the first issue, I’d ask: if a bike wasn’t in the picture, would the viewer conclude that the predominate interest in the photo is sexual in nature?

    For the second issue, I’d ask: does the photo play to society’s negative stereotypes of women? For example, does it show that they’re physically inferior in some way (e.g., pushing a bike up a hill), or more insecure (e.g., riding with a helmet in while a man in the same photo isn’t wearing a helmet).

    • Elly September 17, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

      Interesting revisions, Brock, and I urge you to flesh them out in your own — a blog post, perhaps?

      As for what I’m doing here, I hope someday we can set the criteria at that level of subtlety…. but we’re still in the world of sexy nurses, unfortunately. Or the world of no women being included, full stop.

  2. 86redshoes September 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Go, Elly! I I met you briefly at the Women’s Bicycling Summit last week, and I LOVE what you are doing. I’ll spread the word to my community.

    • Elly September 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

      Thanks — and great to meet you last week. Keep rolling!

  3. KJ September 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    Excellent piece Elly. I wish I could have seen your presentation! It’s fun and I think really important to look at media we consume through a critical and constructive lens. I like this test, it works for SO MANY kinds of media and can be applied to things not-bike too.

    • Elly September 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      Thanks, KJ — and yes, sometimes I think so much about bikes that I forget the rest of the world exists.

  4. Utility cyclist September 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    Nice analysis. As usual, you’ve given me lots to think about. I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m shocked by the photographs you found. We have so far to go…

  5. Travis Fulton September 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Definitely a valid metric that could be used outside of bike ads as KJ mentioned. I wonder what the prevalence of sexism in ads relating to more gender neutral products/hobbies is. I’m thinking that if more women were involved with cycling then there would be a decline in sexist ads. I can’t think of an example of a sport or hobby that might have a near equal gender split though. Board games maybe? Not too many sexy Scrabble ads.

  6. mudlips September 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    Provocative reading. Thanks.

    I must add: while the women’s bike summit undoubtedly included some great programming (evidence: your presence), the fashion show being front and center in the promotional material was a compete turn off to me.

    With a limited budget I had to weigh whether or not a trip to the summit could be justified. Most of the material I found gave great detail about the fashion show (featuring Copenhagen Chic’s M.C.A.) but little about the content of the forum; I found speakers name and topics but little else. Sadly, there was no way I was going to gamble that there was actually enough substantive content to balance the expense and attend.

    Fashion can be fun and entertaining but, at a summit aimed at growing cycling to be more inclusive, it seems counter-productive. Perhaps I’m wrong. I didn’t see the show. I’m curious, did you attend the fashion show, and did it really add to the conference?

    • Gary Kavanagh September 17, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

      It’s unfortunate that was such a turn off; for all the hype about the fashion show it was a small part of summit, and one which many people skipped to get dinner first before drinks (I was with such a group that included Elly as well).

      Fortunately as a Streetblog writer they got me into everything I wanted to attend without my having to foot the bill, but I would say the 1 day women’s summit that was a tiny fraction of the cost and time full PWPB conference, was equally valuable. It was a great line up of inspiring speakers, and I found the women to be much more forward in tackling very difficult or controversial subjects.

    • Elly September 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

      Like Gary said, I missed the fashion show (meant to attend, but ended up being last in line at the slowest restaurant in Long Beach). But preliminary reports say there were a heckuva lot of stilettos and bikini tops, and not a lot of bikes. Too bad — the one other explicitly “Chic” cycling event I went to was all about ordinary people showing off what they regularly biked in — everyone from commuters to hipsters to formalwear to racing kits. It can be done in a way that passes the test! But then again, this was in Long Beach, where maybe bikini tops are more the norm. That’s all I’ve got. Except that the women’s summit was awesomely inspiring and I only wish there’d been more time to talk to everybody there.

    • Trina September 17, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

      Agreed on the fashion show. I was not able to attend the summit, but it contradicted what the overall event was trying to accomplish. Personally, I’m not Barbie, I don’t want to play dress up. I want to ride my bikes. I also feel highlighting fashion concerns on a bike, is just another form of making women feel like they have to dress a certain way to ride. That’s slightly personal though, I’ve been having personal battles with the fashion industry since high school.

      What bothers me the most about advertisements in the cycling industry that objectify woman, is that the brand/ marketing dept. has the opportunity to encourage women to buy bikes. Thats the whole point of an advertisement, right? Sometimes I wonder… All of the big brand bike names sponsor some kick ass female cyclists, putting them in ad material would empower women and lead to sales results.

      I would also like to say that not all female specific bikes have to be pastel colors. Or put in as some extra in the types of bikes to buy: all mountain, cross country, DH… women.

      Good blurb Elly, keep it up.

    • Erik Griswold September 19, 2012 at 9:23 am #

      IIRC, The Women’s Summit was listed in the PWPB program, while the Fashion Show was not. Also, given the seperate location, the Fashion Show needed some promotion, and indeed attracted people who had not attended either the summit or PWPB. Fashion Shows tend to be monster creations in their own right, with requirements and demands from the event participants and sponsors like the need to highlight accessories provided for promotional considertion. For example, do we know if all the models know how to ride a bike? Sadly, in present day America, we cannot be sure, so car addicted have we become.
      Look, it was a first time event, and in future things can be changed. Its being outdoors made it far more accessible to certain media than any zzzz conference. At least there wasn’t a BMX ramp demo (Looking at you BikeNation!).
      And don’t forget, this was the first outdoor Fashion Show of any kind in Long Beach. Can you imagine what it would do for the bike/ped movement if a city dedicated to alternate modes like Long Beach started hosting more events like this one? Think of all the segments of the population that could be introduced to life outside of the luxury SUV that Long Beach can offer.

  7. Little Package (@littlepackage) September 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    These points remind me of Caitlin Moran’s (@caitlinmoran) litmus test for whether something is sexist or not — something I just read.

    So basically she states that if you see “the whole world as ‘the guys’… a bunch of well-meaning schlumps trying to get along” (as opposed to men vs. women vs. other) then the question is: “Is this polite? If we–the entire population of the earth, male and female alike–are just, essentially, “the guys,” then was one of the guys just… uncouth to a fellow guy?”

    This is interesting. If a guy put another guy in a nurse costume and had him sit in a stupid, sexualized pose and then wrote copy further sexualizing him, wouldn’t that be sorta rude? Well, yeah. If a guy held a party every day for years and didn’t invite a certain group of other guys, wouldn’t that be sorta rude? Well, yeah. If a guy held a party or celebrated an achievement he was excited about and none of the other guys showed up, or showed appreciation, wouldn’t that be sorta rude? Yep.

    A bit extreme, but can really show how energy flows in one direction a lot of the time.

    Moran’s second test “to detect spores of misogyny in the soil, which might otherwise seem a perfectly fertile and safe place to grow a philosophy,” is “Are the boys doing it?” Are naked and scantily-clothed men being used to sell bikes? Not really. Do men have to buy pastel-painted bicycles because that’s all they have available in their size? No.

    Anyway, this is modern and hilarious feminism in under 301 pages and there IS mention of sex with bikes, so yes I recommend it.

    • Elly September 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

      “Are the boys doing it” is a brilliantly concise way to put question 3 of the test. I may need to revise it. And I know I need to read that book. Thank you!

    • G September 18, 2012 at 12:34 am #

      Excellent piece!
      About the “one of the guys” test: to me it feels a bit too american/politically-correctish test. In my own culture (probably considered a bit on the macho side) the ezxamples given of “unpolite behaviour” would not necessarily be considered as such…

    • Little Package (@littlepackage) September 18, 2012 at 5:22 am #

      I’m sure Caitlin Moran would be thrilled to hear her “one of the guys” test seems “too american/politically-correctish,” given that she’s British and definitely NOT politically correct. Leveraging fairness is–or should be–universal. (Like something you’d really hope aliens would care to do if they landed tomorrow.)

  8. archergal September 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    I love the way you’re posing these questions. Thank you!

  9. GLHowe September 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    This reminded me of a recent long read written by Margaret J. Wheatley titled “Bringing Life to Organizational Change” where she introduces four questions found helpful for keeping meetings of organizations, groups, communities moving forward. They are, “Who else needs to be here?”, “What just happened?”, “Can we talk?”, and “Who are we now?” The article explains them and is found at:

  10. Jym Dyer September 17, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Bechdel’s “The Rule” is one of her best comic strips, though she credits a friend with the actual rule. Applying it to the marketing of bikes is brilliant. I guess I steer clear of publications that violate criterion #1, but I do see #2 and #3 violated all the time.

    It’s so phony! Women posing next to bikes with very skinny legs, in tight outfits unsuitable for biking in, with hairstyles that wouldn’t hold up to a light breeze. The males whose gaze this is intended for have to be extremely deluded, though to me sexism is a major delusion anyhow.

    (I should point out that there is nothing inherently wrong with skinny legs, just that they betray a lack of biking.)

    The vélorution needs more women on bikes to succeed, and of course I want women to benefit from biking as much as men do. We seriously need to be able to see more women on bikes who actually bike.

    • April September 18, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      Jim Dyer (Is this nesting properly?) not to be nit-picky, but skinny legs don’t mean anything–I’m a cyclist and I have skinny legs. Even after a 3,800 mile tour I had skinny legs, and a (male) friend of mine who does a lot of racing has even skinnier ones. That’s genetics for you.

  11. Neil Warner September 18, 2012 at 12:07 am #

    A good and thoughtful article. One small point, “that photo” of Vicki was generated by a female editor who heard a hugely patronising interview with VP on the radio and basically said fancy balancing things up a bit?

  12. Brian Glover September 18, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Interesting to consider the difference between swimsuit ads for people who actually wear swimsuits for swimming (e.g. ) and “swimsuit ads” like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

    OTOH, I do wonder whether criterion #3 simply reinforces the problem: why should we feel like it’s “ridiculous” and “hilarious” for men to adopt pinup poses? And if we do feel that way, is it OK just to accept that reaction? Like, “men who don’t conform to our expected stereotypes of masculine behavior are ridiculous, and that’s the way it should be”? As a man, I’m always aware that the rules for my behavior are quite a lot stricter than those governing the women I know — but hardly anybody’s out there trying to challenge them.

    • Elly September 18, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      Hey Brian — good point, and one that’s come up a couple other times as well. When I look at the men-ups, for instance, I think they’re hilarious not because it’s funny when men act effeminate but because it’s such effective commentary, turning a stereotype on its head — the joke is on the people who create those images and perpetuate them as normal, not on the lumberjack with the tea cup. But then again, what analytically makes sense to me could very well also make someone else feel like crap, and that’s not the goal at all.

      I definitely don’t want to police or mock men any more than I do women. Caitlin Moran’s “Are the boys doing it?” is a good way of fronting Question 3 — what do you all think of that as an alternative?

    • Elly September 18, 2012 at 10:47 am #

      Just added a clarifying note to the story. How’s this sit with folks?:

      [Some readers have been concerned that I'm suggesting that it's funny to represent men in an effeminate manner. That's not the goal. Pro tip: If reversing gender roles makes a representation seem ridiculous, then it's already ridiculous before you do so, just maybe you hadn't noticed yet. That's all.]

  13. joeracer September 18, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    “Go on, imagine a man trying to parlay his sex appeal in the same way as racer Liz Hatch has controversially, if successfully, done”

    Yep. Mario Cipollini IS hilarious.

  14. Brian Glover September 18, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    “If reversing gender roles makes a representation seem ridiculous, then it’s already ridiculous before you do so, just maybe you hadn’t noticed yet. ”

    Nicely put. Go, Elly!

  15. ajzelada September 18, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    I wonder if diversity needs to be part of this discussion. I rather hate the idea of gender neutral as it seems a milque toast vision of the spectrum of gender appearances. Inclusion of all expressions of the human form would be lovely. This is hard for the politically correct crowd who presuppose that Bike Barbies & Bike Chippendales are stereotypes to avoid and yet other stereotypes still abound and serve purposes for likes to gather with likes. Perhaps a fourth question of sex testing should be, are you simply secure with your own sexuality & it is meaningful to the Self? Perhaps this enlarges the First Elly Rule to Are all genders present in their variety of expression? Looking at a magazine, Momentum, one can still have an emphasis on consumerism but also a playfulness about ‘attire’ without being condescending to stereotypes or denigration of bicycle skills of genders.Living in Portland, OR makes it difficult to even think about this as we have such a huge spectrum of people who present themselves all over the sexually diverse map. Some of us perhaps just take it for granted we live in a continuum of variation and ignore Lycra bicyclists! Hoping all readers tell Elly what a great thinker Elly is…z

    • Elly September 18, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

      Yes, thanks for bringing that up, AJ. Diversity definitely needs to be part of this discussion. Both within and beyond gender. I guess that’s the next blog post…. I’ve got a couple good ideas.

    • calitexican September 19, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      diversity always does! at least this latina thinks so. thanks for writing this comment!

  16. Travis Fulton September 18, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    I have an idea about why people lash out so fiercely against ideas like this and just wanted to throw it out there and see what people think (and to help flesh it out.)

    I believe people have a notion of finite resources in relation to their basic (physical and emotional) needs. If someone else is going to get more, it means less for them. Some feel that this is the reason for jealousy in relationships, the fear of receiving less love and affection if their partner is (or perceived as) giving it to someone else. So, in this case, men feel that if women were treated equally, then they (men) would have to share more and therefore get less. This applies to wages, power, authority, privilege, prestige, opportunity, sex, love and bike magazine coverage. I think the same dynamic is played out in racism and homophobia.

  17. GEdwards September 19, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    “…trying to parlay his sex appeal in the same way as racer Liz Hatch has controversially, if successfully, done…”

    Mario Cipollini?

  18. calitexican September 19, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    thanks for the shoutout :) –CTX

  19. andwegotothesea September 21, 2012 at 5:21 am #

    Reading this and the related post and news on your talk/blog on this topic. I was reminded of the Jennifer Siebel Newsom documentary, related Tedx talk, and #notbuyingit campaign. Are you familiar? I keep seeing references to needing to be more critical of media representations of women beyond bicycles, and this is something that many have attempted to address…

  20. MexicanSongBird September 23, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    As a man the sexuality appeals to my base instincts. As a women, if you’re offended, send the mfg a letter and simply boycott the brand. If they think your gender is a significant part of their market, perhaps they’ll listen or maybe they won’t care. Personally, I don’t care. (Re-Posted to correct a typo. Thank you.)

  21. Hart Noecker September 24, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    I would tend to agree that gender role reversal helps show whether something is sexist, however men and womens bodies are different, and the kind of poses that show off our bodies differ as well. And then there’s simply a matter of taste. I have a hard time finding what makes a pose ‘passive’, if a woman has her back arched suggestively, I don’t equate that with her being submissive or weak. Certainly we should question sexism, especially in advertising, but let’s make sure we’re not looking for it so hard that we turn into the P.C. police.

    • KJ September 28, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      Passive posing in photography is just what it sounds like, the subject isn’t doing much, an active pose is the subject doing something. It’s not so much about submissiveness. Though it CAN be, when you have a male subject and a female subject, the prevailing thing is to have the guy *doing* something active or assertive and the woman posed passively or the recipient of the male action. Icebreaker is kind of notorious for this. Though I think they have gotten better.
      (nevermind for the moment the making the guy a beast, that is ALSO problematic)

      Here is a blog post that breaks down the recent ESPN bodies we want photospread that may help. scoot on pass the comic and classic art images to see examples, though the whole blog post is pretty good any may answer your question.

  22. Randal Foster September 27, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    We should see ads that feature pictures of women like we saw of Marianne Vos winning the Olympics (or at Worlds, for that matter). Not only would that sell equipment, it would also capture the ethos of women in cycling.

  23. Girlie September 27, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

    Check out this terrible misinterpretation of this article. She sited this article as a source for the blog post and then proceeds to employe the vary tactics both the article and she criticize. With no understanding of how the female form was functioning within her cartoons. Plus she adds insult to injury by implying large breasted women are dizzy and not too smart.
    I guess I’m posting this as an example of – don’t do it like this……please.

  24. Erik Sandblom October 5, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    I think this is a helpful test for those wanting to think about the issue. But it’s not the kind of test that puts out definitive black-and-white answers. Sometimes, the deeper you dig into an issue, the more greyscale it gets.

    The Icebreaker ad mentioned in KJ’s comment would not pass the bike test because the gender roles presented are not easily reversed. But I think the woman looks pretty cool, and it looks like she’s the main character because she is the only all-human character in the picture. It’s a female’s perspective. The man is like a male mermaid. I like the picture.

    I think commenter Sam said something sensible on Bikeyface’s blog, so I’ll take the liberty of quoting from it here:

    “There are plenty of women who dress well and dress to be admired by men. They revel in male attention. I don’t identify with this group, but many of my friends do this and they do this deliberately – they enjoy and revel in titillating men. Men enjoy this too – its a game and I must express genuine surprise that you’re not aware of this (or at least that’s the impression I get from reading your comics). Sexual dynamics and sexual energy is part of human nature and the advertising industry has tapped into it brilliantly.”

    So tests are great but at the end of the day you need to ask yourself what you think, because only you can know that.

    • Girlie October 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Seeing how all of my comments on Bikeyface blog have been edited out and I have been unable to participate in the dialogue and silenced there…..I will respond to you here Erik.
      I cannot agree with Sam’s post because who defines this titillating of men. I propose that me wearing a t-shirt next to another girl wearing the same t-shirt might read a bit different and probably falls into Sam’s titillating category by default. His entire premiss is flawed and not fair. That said sexuality can be a game but because a girl is sexy it is not necessarily one. Plus the side note that my dressing is not solely based on male gaze rather related to fashion, mood, sometimes sexuality, and other times utilitarian.
      Erik however your breakdown of Sam’s post I found more accurate concerning rightness and wrongness varying.

      Here are my views about her blog that she has refused to posted.
      I feel she’s accidentally employed the same tactics as the people she’s criticizing.

      She’s made the female body the focal point and it is not glorified. Rather it serves as the point of criticism. It is a male dominate voice/perspective/language/gaze, she’s serving up exactly what she’s meaning to criticize, and in doing so propagating the tradition of misuse of the female form….i.e. puppeting it to serve a purpose and not function in it’s own right. It is the focal point and therefore the thing displayed to be analyzed and even judged – not the media and advertisers as she intended. The comments from most of the females responding are in a defensive stance based on looks and dressing. This helps back my point.

      Also, the cartoon sexy is exaggerated in a way that frankly is really insulting in its own right…..with the big breasted dizzy girl….like breast make you dizzy and attractive women are not too bright. This she does irregardless of the media and advertisers…..even they don’t go that far. But even worse than that it puts women at odds, establishes aesthetic hierarchies, and mocks women who dress and look a certain way.

      I understand what she meant to do but in the end she failed miserably and in the processes illustrated exactly how indoctrinated we all are in this dominate cultural voice.

      I only see the irony in her actions not her comics…..I understand her point was well intended but it missed the mark. I’m guessing she doesn’t have large breasts and doesn’t look like what she was mocking….some of us do.

      Lastly, I don’t think because something is well intended that that necessarily exempts it from being sexist. For example: Take the old school feminists who didn’t think a woman should be able to stay home and have babies. Nowadays this is simply about choice not anti-feminist.
      Using the Bechdel Test she fails 2 out of the 3

      1) Are women present or represented at all?
      ok the cartoons got this one. PASS

      2) Are the women presented as active subjects rather than passive objects?
      The “frumpy” women might be called the active subjects though the male could be as well…..and the passive objects are the “hot” women. FAIL.

      3) If the gender were reversed, would the meaning stay more or less unchanged? (Or would the image become hilarious?)
      Ummm yeah if the cartoon put sexualized guys in place of the sexualized women it would be hilarious. FAIL

    • Erik Sandblom October 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

      I take back what I said about the icebreaker ad. I think it passes the test because the woman is the subject and she is doing something.

      About point #3, “if the gender were reversed”. The icebreaker ad might not pass that part. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing in this case, because I don’t think either of the roles is shown as demeaning. I also think it would be nice if people had a little more freedom about the gender roles they take.

    • Erik Sandblom October 9, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      Girlie, are you sure your comments were edited out? Mine took several days to appear. Maybe yours will be up in a few days too.

      Who defines the titillating? Well that’s a very good question. I think different people will make different definitions, and that’s why you need to be careful when judging. So again I think Elly’s bike test is a good thing, but it’s really just a guide to one’s own thoughts on the matter. It’s not an objective truth.

  25. Girlie October 10, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    No mine were edited out from the start. I don’t know Bikeyface personally, have never posted to her blog before, and I meant no malice…..but I won’t lie I’m a bit bitter about being censored. My views are strong but also educated. I never got the chance to participate in the dialogue, and I think dialogue is the key to finding the answers and closing the gaps in the different definitions and judgements you spoke to.

    On the point about titillating men….because a woman is perceived as sexy does not necessarily mean she is actively teasing. She often has no control of social standards of sexuality, rather she is in a body and it is sexualized separate from her single existence. I don’t think you disagree with this but it’s a bit different than thinking it’s as simple as the way she dresses is connoting her sexuality or titillating of men. She may have less control over this than Sam implied in that quote. I think it’s an important distinction.

  26. Gasper Johnson November 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    This continued conversation is a testament to the value of this post. Carry on Blu.

    As for Bikeyface I think you have a reasonable critique. I saw the images and was a little confused at first. And yet, I do want to mock those that would use the bike only as a fashion accessory. Any suggestion on how to present this challenge?

    I hate to complain that something is not good enough unless I have a suggestion for how to make it better.

  27. Jean March 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    Well written. And useful to show to any local bike shop and local bike events organizers that want to bring in more female cyclists.


  1. Women in the media « SWE-SJSU - September 18, 2012

    [...] the complete article here; the numbered points are Elly’s word-for-word process, the indented comments are my [...]

  2. Yet another Orange County cycling death, and a long list of bike links for your midweek reading « BikingInLA - September 18, 2012

    [...] Blue questions the obvious sexism in bicycle marketing; Bicycling’s Fit Chick says that’s one thing she won’t miss about [...]

  3. So Then There’s the Gender Thing « A Promise to Dad - September 19, 2012

    [...] Taking the Lane [...]

  4. Putting the Bike Test to the test | Taking the Lane - September 19, 2012

    [...] Monday afternoon, I posted about the Bike Test, an analytical tool to help the people in the bicycle industry, advocacy, and media to determine if [...]

  5. Cyclelicious » Vosper’s Law of Interbike Booth Babes - September 19, 2012

    [...] been quite a bit of discussion online following Elly Blue’s bike test of women and marketing in the bicycle industry. Melyssa expands a lot more on the bikey Bechdel [...]

  6. Bike News Roundup: Is this bike thing sexist? | Seattle Bike Blog - September 19, 2012

    [...] Is this thing sexist? Introducing the “Bike Test” | Taking the Lane – Must read. [...]

  7. Eugene’s bike commuting percentage; gender issues; and other bits and pieces « Eugene Bicyclist - September 24, 2012

    [...] of men and women and bikes, there’s a fine bicycle writer named Elly Blue, who was questioning whether women are fairly presented in the bicycling world or whether they are objectified. She was [...]

  8. Cars banned from Paris roads; bikes banned in Iowa; anti-dooring campaign launches in NYC; bicycle superhighways in the sky. and more « Cascade Bike Blog - September 25, 2012

    [...] of gender in everything from ads to advocacy campaigns, race tracks to board meetings. In response, Elly Blue has created an analytical tool to be used by media creators and consumers alike to evaluate images of women in bicycling: The Bike [...]

  9. Why We Bike: My speech at the Women’s Bike Summit | Cute travel bags for bikes, baby and yoga | Po Campo - October 2, 2012

    [...] breakout session, along with Susi Wunsch of Velojoy, Mia Kahout of Momentum Magazine, Elly Blue of Taking the Lane. I titled my talk “Why We Bike”, and this is what I [...]

  10. Failing the Bike Test in eight seconds « Cascade Bike Blog – Cascade Bicycle Club – Seattle, Washington - October 17, 2012

    [...] my smile waned. My brow furrowed. This perfectly fun and inspiring video deflated me as it flunked the Bike Test in eight [...]

  11. A post about Black representation in bicycling ads… | Our Bikes in the Middle of the Street - December 14, 2012

    [...] 2. It features a gender neutral person! Is this a man or woman? Who cares! They love to bike! And whoever it is, they are not sexualized. This is important because this ad ran in Bust—a feminist pop culture magazine, with a mostly woman-identified audience. So we could assume this person is a woman, as it would be kind of pointless to have yet another bicycle ad with a cisgender man featured—especially in a feminist magazine. Women are overly sexualized in the bicycle world—a world in which you would think that sexualizing women would be kind of, I do not know, stupid?! But no, it happens. A lot. (So much so, that a bicycle advocate created the Bike Test to check for sexist representations) [...]

  12. How To Get More Women Into Cycling | Glitter Gravel - March 8, 2013

    [...] (or at least be neutral), or will it push them away? Elly Blue from Taking the Lane wrote the “Bike Test” which I love, which will help you determine if an image you are posting is [...]

  13. What does “feminist” mean anyway, and Disaster! on a sliding scale | Taking the Lane - March 11, 2013

    [...] by their actions and choices rather than their appearance and relationships? In short, does it pass the bike test? To this community’s credit, the vast majority of submissions I receive pass with flying [...]

  14. Marketing, cycling and women | Unofficial Unsanctioned Women's UCI Cycling Blog - March 11, 2013

    [...] women to market to men is as old of the hills – and I really liked this blog post by Elly Blue on the fabulous Taking the Lane, setting out three simple rules on how to tell if [...]

  15. Is this thing sexist? Introducing the “Bike Test” « sisters from different misters - March 17, 2013

    [...] via [...]

  16. There’s girls, there’s women and there’s ladies* | accidento bizarro - March 17, 2013

    [...] to Caitlin Moran’s ‘Are the boys doing it?’ test, and also related to @Ellyblue‘s The Bike Test, question 3.) This works for the word ‘girls’: if you’re going to talk about ‘Team GB’s [...]

  17. Da li je ova stvar seksistička? Uvođenje “Biciklističkog testa” | cyberwanderlust - April 29, 2013

    [...] Elly Blue via TakingTheLane [...]

  18. Kako se kalio biciklistički feminizam | cyberwanderlust - April 30, 2013

    [...] Da li je ova stvar seksistička? Uvođenje “Biciklističkog testa” by Elly Blue via TakingTheLane [...]

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