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Image Matters: Elly Blue’s Bike Test

There’s probably no better place to assess the representation of women in bicycle marketing than here in Las Vegas at Interbike.

More than 20,000 retailers, manufacturers and advocates are packed into the Sands conference center this week for the biggest industry event of the year — displaying countless marketing messages highlighting new products and campaigns.

Thanks to Elly Blue — and her presentation at the National Women’s Bicycling Summit last week — I’ve got a new lens to take it all in.

Panelists from the Who’s Selling Cycling to Women session (clockwise from left): Elly Blue, Yolanda Davis-Overstreet, Susi Wunsch, Maira Boustead, Mia Kohout (Photo by Bicycle Times)

As part of the “Who’s Selling Cycling to Women” panel, Blue came up with a simple analytical tool to assess women’s representation in bike-related media. Inspired by the Bechdel criteria for women in movies, Blue created a three-point test “to evaluate images of women in bicycling.”

  1. Are women present or represented at all?
  2. Are the women presented as active subjects rather than passive objects?
  3. If the gender were reversed, would the meaning stay more or less unchanged? (Or would the image become hilarious?)

“As the influence of women grows across all types of bicycling, there has been quite a bit of debate about the representation of gender in everything from ads to advocacy campaigns, race tracks to board meetings,” Blue explains. “Is that photo of a sexy woman on a bike sexist, or is it empowering? Objectifying, or compelling? Tokenizing, or inclusive? Is it different if the photo was taken by a woman? What if the woman depicted is an avowed feminist? Does this mean we are never allowed to depict women wearing skirts and heels? These discussions tend to get frustrating, in part, I think, because we don’t always have a shared idea of what these terms mean. ”

Read Blue’s full description of the Bike Test on her blog, Taking the Lane.


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