Sexy vs Sexist: Joining the Debate


As the Chief Chick of an organisation committed to the staunch support of women's cycling, I'd like to outline my thoughts on the 'sexism in cycling' conversation. And I'd like to preface it with distinguishing between what is "sexy" and what is "sexist" because that, to me, is the crux of the issue. To be sexy is to be sexually attractive or exciting. Throughout time, the manifestation of who/what is sexy has changed depending on a whole range of factors - biological, psychological, physiological and evolutionary. Sexy is a spectrum between modesty and x-rated and everything in between. Some males find females sexy. Some find other males sexy. Some find both pretty damn attractive! And the same goes for females. It's part of our DNA. Sexy partner, reproduce, keep the genetic line going (or not!). Sexism is a social construct whereby one is prejudiced or discriminated against based on their gender. Admittedly, this may stem from traditional stereotypes of gender roles and/or a belief that one sex is superior to the other.
For those who know me, this won't come as too much of a shock but I'm a woman who (for reasons mostly related to the fact that I am more often than not in a helmet and lycra or a muumuu and a hat) does not take a great deal of time in my appearance. Notable exceptions include haircuts (and more recently dye jobs as I'm going grey at 30, thanks mom), showering, deodorant and the occasional desire to paint my nails while watching daytime television. Generally speaking, makeup does not feature and #sorrynotsorry to my poor partner who often has to work really hard to hide a visceral response to my morning breath and hairdos. Simply put, it's a rare day when I wear a makeup, blowdry my hair, put on a dress and shoes that aren't flipflops. That being said, the 'effort' that I choose to put into conventional aesthetics is not and should never (heaven forbid) make any other person feel negatively about what they choose to do with theirs. As long as it is a choice, honey there ain't no problem. In my humble opinion, that's what the feminist movement gave to us! The right (yes, the actual legal right) to dress as we please in public*. *Obviously there are limits in place - stop picking holes for the sake of it and stick with me.

The difference for me is more clearly understood by asking a simple question - "Does this impact the perception of the inherent capability of women?"

Sexy Here's an example of something that I would classify as 'sexy': girly calendars. Why? Because although this one might not be to everyone's taste, calendars are commonly used to display visually pleasing pictures to complement your obvious commitment to tracking dates and appointments at a glance. These images may be cute fuzzy kittens, landscape shots of a location you like or, you guessed it, sexy pictures. Riders (in CyclePassion at least) deliberately pose for calendar shots knowing that it will serve as a marketing exercise, ultimately deciding FOR THEMSELVES that it will benefit their careers. It is a PR exercise, something different. A novelty, not unlike my putting on some makeup and heels. And the people that buy the calendars know exactly what they are purchasing because they enjoy that particular... visual. Sexiness. Bikes. I get it. It's not for me, but it doesn't have the same impact of perception on a woman's capability.
Sexist One of my pet peeves is the use of Podium Girls at road cycling events. As I stated about, this is NOT because I have anything against modelling as a career, women who are attractive, women who use their attractiveness and confidence to get sh*t done, or the fact that there are people out there who appreciate a visually pleasing woman. The peeve originates from the fact that women are not equal to men in the world of road cycling. Not even close. The majority of international cycling events on the UCI calendar are for males only and, where women have managed to make inroads to equality, the journey has been difficult and lengthy with the end results still falling desperately short of "fair". The bottom line (so to speak) is that at the majority of international cycling events, the only role women are able to play is a Podium Girl. So, does this impact the perception of the inherent capability of women in cycling? Damn right it does! The clear message here is: "No racing for you sweetheart. Let the men take care of the hard stuff. You might mess your nails up before you kiss us on the cheek and present us with our jerseys. And we can't have that. Because here, you are merely an ornament and not capable of riding."
What about the #dearbikeindustry campaign? Here is where people start to get confused because they take modelling images (meant for calendars and the like) and use them for advertising campaigns in cycling. The whole point of advertising is to try and capture market share by appealing to your target market. So by using images traditionally considered 'sexy' by males, the bike industry is saying that their priority is males - which is not only foolish given women's purchasing power and retail behaviour, it's definitely sexist.
The message here being: "We're not going to bother advertising to you and we don't care if our advertising offends you. You are not important enough to consider and we see no value in working to understand what is appealing to you."
You got me? So, models, podium girls and all of those women who have a different idea of what's sexy than I do - this is NOT an attack against you. You are doing a job and you are doing it brilliantly! High fives all around. This is about making sure that we celebrate sexy (however you interpret it) and condemn sexism. Just ask yourself 'the question' and never be afraid to speak up.

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