Getting Girls On Bikes - Where Should We Draw the Sexy Vs. Sexist Line? (Video)
Photo of Miss June from Tyk's 2011 calendar.
Does the world need more girls, women, elegant ladies, and feminist female fatales on bikes? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. John Pucher's latest look at U.S. biking data tells a sorry tale - men 18 - 64 are fueling the growth in commuter cycling, while women simply hold their numbers steady and the number of children (male and female) riding is dropping. Meanwhile, women are the 'indicator species' for a good bike infrastructure, which generally calms traffic, improves citizens' health, and reduces air pollution.
Sex sells, we all know it, and Copenhagen Cycle Chic is probably the best indication that sexy sells bike culture effectively. Yet how far can society go with that approach before it loses sales appeal ("Look great, ride a bike!") and degrades into bike porn? Look at Tyk's new models talking about a pinup calendar after the fold, and check out an art installation from artist INSA, then give us your views.
Alexis Finch (a woman) has been doing pinup calendars featuring women and bicycles for the last three years. Next year, for the 2012 calendar, she's got a fresh crop of models from the streets of Chicago and a Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000 for calendar production.
As you'll see in the video, all of the models interviewed praise the experience of doing a bike pinup calendar as empowering, not degrading. Working in an all-female milieu, the experience, according to the Kickstarter page, inspired and helped women to "find confidence in the ownership of their sexuality."
Photo diptich from INSA web site.
Perhaps the same could be said of UK artist INSA's Girls on Bikes art installation, which is also all about, well, girls looking sexy on bikes. Posed in front of large graphics in cities from London to L.A. to Hong Kong, INSA's (also volunteer models) do display a lot more flesh than Tyk's models do, and we have only the photos, not any interviews, to guess at their feelings.
INSA says about the installation as a whole, which features 12 photographs:
In this set of photographic works the viewer is instantly confronted with a series of subjects fighting for attention. INSA orchestrates a conflicting dialogue between all the elements and explicitly subordinates the value of his own street art to both the possessed object of the bike and the overtly sexualized female presence. Thus questioning our individual perceptions of the ownership of public space, of sexuality and of belonging(s). And by using the colour spectrum as a simple narrative INSA unifies this series of walls that were painted across the globe."
One thing that seems clear is that INSA's models all fall in to more or less a single view of female sexuality - a more male-dominated view, if you like, where the breasts and the butts play the lead role and definitely "subordinate the value" of the artist's own graphics. Tyk's photos, on the other hand, though they show women in a lot more makeup and styling than most of us would wear in everyday city cycling, offer more than one version of sexy.
Finch says of the Tyk studio shots, "the tiny little peek of an ankle that you get to see, the flirtatious look over a shoulder. It's about knowing what you've got, and giving it out in whatever dose you feel like giving it. For women in the cycling community, where your sexuality has been so much of a detriment to being taken seriously...if you can realize the power that that has, it makes it a lot easier to walk in to a shop and think, I know all this, but I also know how to fix a flat."
Finch's words help to explain how she sees her pinup calendar models not as exploitative objects but real people who also can look good each in their own way. It seems to be the difference between commanding attention by looking good and feeling good, and demanding attention because there's so much on display a viewer can't help but look.
Is that slight difference enough to keep Tyk's pinups on the right side of sexy, appealing to women and would-be women bicycle riders?
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