Of the many truths I’ve learned about being a writer, perhaps the greatest is that the more universal your subject, the greater the audience you draw. That may seem obvious, but for someone who typically writes about bicycles, branching out into subjects like doping, childbirth and sexism can result in some surprising results. Few pieces I’ve written have gotten the reaction that my recent post “PinkGate” has. To put it another way, it touched a nerve.
As I’ve watched the reaction in social media and here in our comments, I have drawn a few early conclusions. The first, biggest issue I’ve noticed is that many people think that sexism and misogyny that Amanda Batty has written about is a Pinkbike issue. Those who think this is a scandal within a single site are missing the bigger, uglier picture.
Sure, my title “PinkGate” points right at the site, but there was also a deeper, more metaphoric meaning to the headline, which refers to the industry’s long-standing phrase “shink it and pink it.” This is code for how women’s products are typically designed, and though at first people said this with a straight face, it’s now used derisively to point out the condescension that many women see in the disconnect between many women’s products and their needs and aspirations.
If all we do is call out one mountain bike site for allowing some ugly comments to be published, we’ve missed an opportunity for the entire industry to examine itself. Let me be ultra-clear, this isn’t a Pinbike problem. This is a too-many-white guys problem.
Before I go on, I want to acknowledge that some people still struggle to understand what the big problem is with the line Batty referenced: “it will, much like your girlfriend after a few shots, do pretty much anything you ask of it.” I’ve read comments and spoken with people who fail to comprehend the association Batty made between that and rape culture, so I want to explain that a bit. Rape isn’t just a stranger crime. According to one national study, a stunning 57 percent of rapes among college students are perpetrated on dates, and alcohol had been consumed by 75 percent of the assailants, but just 55 percent of the victims. The issue, fundamentally, is one of consent. That line suggests that the girlfriend in question might not do the stuff he has in mind if she weren’t liquored up, and therein lies the question of consent.
If that fails to sway you, then we should consider the lengths that universities are going to prevent date rape. Most universities have amended their code of conduct to stipulate that a man needs to ask permission before doing anything, and that he should ask with each new act. May I kiss you. May I touch you there. May I…. If that seems like a buzz kill, too bad. Too many men were unwilling to hear “no” when a woman said it for us to continue that way. It’s not enough for a guy to think that just because he wanted sex, she wanted it to.
Our sport, unfortunately, does not reflect the world we live in, either in terms of race or gender. I’ll spare you the footnotes to the studies, but there has been plenty of research on communities and workplaces that show the better represented each ethnicity and sex is, the happier and more functional that population is. All you have to do is watch one episode of “Mad Men” to see how morally barren a bunch of white guys can be when left to their own devices.
Speaking of advertising, every time a bike company uses a scantily clad woman to sell a product, that perpetuates the problem, by objectifying the woman. I’ve heard of instances where the creative materials, which can be characterized as bike plus model, were shown to women staffers who didn’t push back. The reason is simple; there’s a longstanding tradition of pushing people out who don’t agree with a company’s marketing direction. Disagreeing with a sexist ad is job suicide. Honestly, if the best idea your marketing director could come up with is using sex to short-circuit a guy’s brain, then you need a better marketing director.
You may be asking, “What’s the big deal?” Suppose for a moment that cycling did reflect the population at large in terms of gender and ethnicity. That would mean that there would be something like five times as many people riding bikes. That would mean healthier, more profitable bike shops. That would mean more profitable bike companies that had more employees and paid them better. It would be easier to attract top talent. And finding sponsorship for grassroots events would be infinitely easier because you’d be reaching a multitude of demographics, not just one. Hell, Fortune 500 companies might start taking a look at sponsoring big pro teams again. That wouldn’t be laughable if we could tell them 100 million people had ridden a bike in the last month.
Think about what that would mean for acceptance and advocacy. Cycling infrastructure wouldn’t be such an uphill battle because it would appeal to a much broader portion of the populace. Think about what that might mean for increased safety on the road. And mountain biking might not have such a tough time with trail access because it wouldn’t be perceived as a bunch of aggro white guys terrorizing hikers.
If, like me, you want a healthy, vibrant cycling, then we all need to do our part to help welcome everyone we meet into the sport. It’s time for a more open dialog about both gender and race within our sport. It’s time for us to examine how we market the sport both to loyal cyclists, and in our attempts to attract new riders. It’s time to acknowledge that if you’re using sex to sell your product, what you are doing is lazy and harmful. In short, cycling will be richer and better accepted once the locker room antics stop.
Image courtesy AMC.