I’m going to be real right now – I’m a bike feminist who spends a lot of time riding bikes with dudes. I do a lot of organizing in the FTW (femme/trans*/women) bike community, and I’m constantly trying to find more non-cis male riding partners (and I’m having a lot of success recently!). But I spend a lot of time riding, wrenching and talking shop with bike bros in a variety of circumstances – at polo, on the mountain, on the streets, in the shop, etc. I love them, have learned a lot from them, and generally feel respected and supported in those spaces.
And sometimes I don’t. And when that happens it feels like shit.
It all starts with this image (I’m not going to post it because I don’t really want it on my blog).
First, let me say that female nudity is not inherently objectifying. In fact, this is my fav bike feminist image of all time:
She’s got lazerz shooting out of her boobs! She looks fierce! She’s standing over a crazy, rad bike! It literally has FEMINISM written across the bottom! It says so much about what I love about biking, and why I feel empowered by biking.
But the image in question, the one that makes me mad, shows a woman in just about the most ridiculous situation ever – she’s bent over a downhill bike in a thong. Who would ever ride a downhill bike with no pants on? Have you ever eaten shit riding down a mountain? I have. It hurts. And if I hadn’t been wearing pants, pads and other protections it would have hurt even more. As I said earlier, it’s not nudity that bothers me, it’s when the nudity feels like it’s for male sexual pleasure, and doesn’t empower the object of the photo that bothers me. In full disclosure, I don’t know the history of this photo – who knows, she might (and I hope she is!) a bombass downhill mountain bike racer, who directed that photo and wanted it to look like that. That is totally her call. Because this rant isn’t (really) about this photo, it’s about the context of the photo.
The problem I have with this image is that it was posted in a bike community that I really care about where I’m the only female-identified person who consistently participates. My way of dealing with being the only lady is to just ‘be one of the guys.’ I am one of the bros. I erase my gender when I’m there. It doesn’t always feel good, because it erases part of who I am, but this is my way of dealing with it, and that’s my decision to make.
The problem when images like this get posted in a small community that you’re part of is that it says once again – this is a boys club. You are not supposed to be here. You don’t belong. Women are objects, and only valued based on their sexual appeal.
So this image gets posted, and I’m feeling super shitty about it, so I think, what do I do now? This is a community that I’m a part of that I love (most of the time), and still want to be apart of after this. But at that moment seeing that was making me feel awful.
You call other people into the situation. I read this great article a few weeks ago about calling in versus calling out. To paraphrase it was about the right times to call people out in a public way, or call people in and bring people into a conversation. There are appropriate times for both, but in this case, for me, it felt right to call people in, and more specifically to call other people from this small community in to back me up.
And I did it pretty much the only way I know how – by making jokes. I joked about how it was a ridiculous outfit for biking, and I commented that people should post more objectifying pictures of men. And people had my back. People got what I was saying, they didn’t exactly call out that the image was fucked up to begin with, but people agreed that it’s a ridiculous outfit to bike in and people posted all sorts of images of naked dudes on bikes (I know that it’s not the same thing, but that’s not really the point here). I got other people involved in the conversation, and it reminded me that even when crappy things get posted in this group I care about, there are people who get it.
And this is by no means to say that I always call people in (or out) when messed up things get posted on the internet. That would literally be impossible. And I shouldn’t have to. I only do it when I have the energy for it, because so often trying to call people in or out can blow up in your face, and you need to be prepared for it. But occasionally you call people in, people respond pretty well, and it makes you feel way better about it and appreciate the awesome allies you have in your community.