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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cyclepassion - More like Cycle-oppression...ZING!

[While the title of this blog is "Get a Grip on Mountain Bikes" and not "These are Jamie's Opinions, Take 'em or Leave 'em," this blog will be riddled with my opinions on bike culture, and all that it encompasses. So, take 'em or leave 'em.]

Having used to write for a girls' empowerment blog, where I spotlighted the pervasive sexism that our culture can't seem to shake in the media on a weekly basis, I should not be shocked by anything sexist by now.  But every time I'm confronted with another image of an otherwise strong female in a compromising or submissive position, naked or scantily-clad, the feminist knot in my stomach tightens even more. This time I felt that twinge of disappointment when I found out about a calendar in Germany called Cyclepassion, that features famous female cyclists in the same way SI showcases the year's latest swimsuit trends.

The women are superimposed over a larger-than-life bike part, in a coy, seductive way, or going so far as to provocatively straddling the object. But the calendar "balances" the ridiculousness by also including photos of the women in action, tearing it up like the bad-asses they are. Those are neat. Then turn the page again and oh my god, LEGS.  Sonya Looney, a professional mountain biker, was interviewed about her recent photo shoot for the calendar and she says,
Sonja Looney, beautifully dirty!

"They had actually asked me to do the calendar the year before and I had said no because I was a little bit uncomfortable putting myself out there in that sort of sexy way... people may look at me that way, but I like to portray myself more as a positive, fun ball of energy than a sex symbol, and I was afraid that posing for the calendar would detract from the image that I've made for myself in cycling."

Pro cyclist...? Oh right,
she's sitting on a tire.
That makes sense now.
Yes, go Sonya, tell 'em how your amazing, fit bod is for your career and not to benefit the lecherous gaze of strangers! ...But then she went on:
"But they asked me and I thought about it for a year and finally said, 'As long as I'm in control of what I'm wearing and what I'm doing, it could be fun.'"
...*forehead smack* It took her a year to decide this was a good idea?? Girls on bikes are already sexy! High heels and cleavage are an unnecessary addition to nature. I don't care what anyone says, this is not a case of female empowerment. It is female delusion to think that by taking off their clothes at the behest of a male-focused enterprise, they're creating leverage for themselves in a male-dominated industry.

The bulk of cyclist culture was created by dudes, and only relatively recently has this culture pervaded mainstream society enough to attract ladies' attention.  What we're seeing happen is a divergence of industries, separating male cyclists from female cyclists, but with different levels of attention on each.  If the cycling industry spent the same amount of energy on promoting female cyclists or women's events as they do for men's events, maybe then we would see a boost in the number of women riders at the starting lines.

Cycling needs to be normalized for all genders - not making female riders out to be exceptions to the rule.  And normalizing cycling certainly won't come from glorifying female cyclists as sex goddesses! That does the exact opposite for the cause.  How are women going to gain respect within a vast industry of men when they concede to superficial feminine standards?  For the purpose of fairness, I researched the equivalent of Cyclepassion for men.  I couldn't find anything pin-up worthy (save for Thomas Dekker, who just happens to also be an underwear model for Cavello. Well, would you look at that.). But what I DID find was this super awesome bike photographer lady named Laura Fletcher who is doing EXACTLY that, creating a calendar of sexy pro biker men as a middle finger to Cyclecross for not doing the same thing to male riders. In a Skype interview, Fletcher says,
"I mean, don’t get me wrong, if you want to pose for a calendar, go for it, male or female. But I think that with all the equality that women are trying to get in this sport, it’s a bit shit that the Cyclepassion calendar exists where a male version doesn't."
Heather Irmirger,
Single Speed World Champion, 2011
Yes yes yes YES, you go, Laura Fletcher. AND not to mention, all the proceeds of this work-in-progress calendar will be going to charities and towards women's cycling causes. To go off of Fletcher's quote, my intent with this post is not to demoralize the athletes who agreed to pose for Cyclepassion - it's to shine a light on the residual systemic ostracization of women, left over from decades past when this sport first got its start.

Heather Irmiger, gettin' down and dirty.
I understand that there is also a tricky line women cyclists must walk to be treated as equals with their athletic counterparts and to stay true to themselves.  Because no matter which category of cycling you're into, it's not a sport for sissies.  You gotta look hard to play hard, which can take a tole on anyone who Look, if you want the world to see your sexy, perfectly-toned physique, by all means, show the world! You worked hard for that body, after all! But do it for the right reasons. (Cyclepassion isn't even giving calendar proceeds to charity! *Scoff!*)

Sigh....Welp, I'm exhausted. There's only so much I can say in a blog post without talking in circles. I hope I did not deter any of you with my 'raging feminism' from reading this blog in the future.  But these trends can't go unnoticed or they will keep happening. If any part of this post enraged you, share it with others. Have these conversations with your fellow riders and sponsors.  If this post mostly just annoyed you, then chill out and sit tight for the next one. If anything, remember the take-away moral of this post: be yourself, do it for yourself, and sign up for more races, ladies!!

Peace and bicycles and all that jazz. 

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