Well, not quite.
The cycling world has been abuzz this week with a significant amount of intelligent discussion about gender, and the role of gender in the cycling industry. I’m going to start with a disclaimer, a personal explanation, and an apology.
The disclaimer is that I’m a cisgender, heterosexual, white male who’s lived in the Midwest my entire life. I grew up on a farm. I went to very homogeneous schools. I was probably, at some point, one of those people who would say things like, “I have ____ friends,” referring to any specific minority group, as a reference claiming that I had relevancy to a conversation about privilege, discrimination or the consequences of either/both. I grew up in a world that was replete with all sorts of discrimination, whether it be based on gender, race, sexual preference, religion, or anything else–the same world that we all grew up in–but I didn’t really see it. Sure–I saw the flagrant stuff, as would anyone, and haughtily condemned it. What I didn’t see was the day to day discrimination. As I write this, I’m moderately terrified that in trying to talk about this topic, I’ll unintentionally engage in some gender-based faux-pas. I write at that risk, nonetheless.
The explanation is that for me, the change occurred when my wife and I had a daughter. I started to see the world that she was going to live in. I started to see the things that she was going to have to deal with when she grew up. I had lived in that world with my mother, my sister and my wife–all of whom I love dearly–but it wasn’t until I saw it as a father that I started to see the real, day to day discrimination that exists.
The apology is that because of the above, I’m not really well-suited to write this post. If you read what I just wrote, you can surmise that it was some form of gender-biased, paternalistic, overly-protective feelings of a father caring for his defenseless girl, that lead me to claim to see discrimination. That supposition would be false. My daughter is far from defenseless–she’s brilliant, strong, self-assured, and all of the things that I wish for her. It’s paternalistic in the literal sense that she’s my child, but the honest assessment of my scenario is that I became more aware once I had a child. I paid more attention to passing cars in parking lots, I paid more attention to the suspicious looking person on my street, and I paid more attention to the context of the world that we live in, and that my child would grow up in.
I read Christina’s truly great article, On Our Own Two Wheels, over on the Surly blog this week. If you haven’t read it, take the time to do so now. The experiences that she recounts are so different from mine as to be terrifying. I’ve never walked into a room and been discounted because of some objective descriptor that I have no control over (at least that I’m aware of). I’ve never been subjected to clear sexual harassment as a quid pro quo for “allowing” me to do my job. I enjoy cycling, and the cycling scene, because of how self-aware so many people are. It’s saddening to see the utter rubbish that someone has to put up with because of her gender.
Truly, the past few years have been eye opening in a lot of ways. I’ve “met” some e-friends via Facebook and have seen a lot of the different perspectives that they have–which have informed and enriched my own perspectives. People like Chris, Jenn, Eleanor, Laurie, Michael, Natalia, Christina, Jen–and many others. I’m not ashamed to say that my mind is expanding and my understanding growing. If yours is not, perhaps you have something to be ashamed of.
In light of the controversies that Christina (among others) writes about, Chrome has published their “apology.”
From the apology, we learn that posting photos of topless female models in Instagram was intended to be:
“Memorable and gender-neutral.”
We learn that Chrome has:
“Never adopted a ‘sex sells’ mentality or utilized sexuality in a deliberate manner to sell our products.”
We learned that Chrome is not apologizing for the “intent behind the promotion,” but rather is apologizing that everyone else out there is a pervert who misunderstood that their photo of topless models, clad only in Chrome schwag, were intended to be a funny gender-neutral critique of fashion, and not a misogynistic attempt to associate their products with an attractive, mostly-naked model in a bald effort to hawk their wares. Those quotes above are real quotes. Seriously. Like, not made up. Fer-realz. Chrome also says that, while they used topless female models in an advertisement for their sale…
“It was never our intention to sexualize women in any way through the promotion.”
I feel like this story would be far more effectively conveyed with more Dr. Evil memes, but I’ll not do so. I have no doubt that showing attractive people with products is an effective way to sell products. That’s what most advertising is premised upon–the desire to buy something to look like the people associated with that product. But I’ll go back to the outset…I don’t believe that there come a point in my life where I’d want my daughter to look at the Chrome ad, and think, “I want to buy something from this sale, so I can look like this person…”? Or speaking for myself, I don’t think that I would look at that advertisement and think, “Man, I’ve got to buy something from this company!”
I’m not going to start on the bikini socks, because frankly, I’m just at a loss. I don’t know where to start on that one.
Yeah, there are people out there saying that it’s no big deal. There are people saying that they admire attractive people of any gender, or enjoy looking at a beautiful woman. (Red Herring is for sale in the freezer section). I suspect that those people just don’t get it.
Frankly, I suspect that I don’t get it either, not nearly to the degree that someone who has been objectified and demeaned because of their gender. But I’m writing to say that I share the assessment that the Chrome advertisement and the Interbike socks are both in really poor taste, and that those who defend them–or who offer a “sorry, not sorry” apology like Chrome does–that those people are missing the boat. Any objective view of Chrome’s ad would be that it was a highly sexualized, overly processed photograph of a topless female model, leaning over to hand something to two smiling men on a sidewalk, to associate Chrome with sex. The photo is so processed as to render it impossible to even recognize that the model has Chrome wares with her. The focus is not the products, or irony, or social critique. The focus is a topless woman–and whatever whatever, but there’s no indication that she’s engaged in any form of public discourse or dialogue on women’s rights. She was hired because she’s an attractive woman who would walk around topless in an urban environment, for the purpose of taking a photograph to use in a commercial to sell products. That’s the objective read. Either Chrome is cool with that–as many companies apparently are–or they’re not. But it’s disingenuous to claim that this was not their intent, or to apologize to those who are offended.
So thanks to those who have broadened my worldview. And thanks to Christina for writing what she wrote. I’m with you.