Thursday, December 17, 2015

Maxxis' 'Babe' Problem

Edit: shortly after hitting the 'publish' button on this exhausted missive, I came across one of the best summaries of this issue on RKP (RedKitePrayer). Patrick talks about how our outrage can drown out the amazing women who are kicking ass in the industry and highlights two of my favorite people ever... And he's right. I absolutely agree. Please check it out. In fact, if you read anything, go read this. Don't waste your time here. It's more of the same about economic patterns and whatnot. So. Go over there

...But if you're hell-bent on reading my words, then by all means... Continue. 

Another day, another exhausted crop of commentary on the sexist marketing campaigns within the bike industry. "But it's for charity!" no longer makes the grade and now we're left with more of the same internal debate between the people who want to see the sports market move past sexist advertising and those who cannot see the forest for the trees. There are those who focus on the positive things in the industry and the women doing these amazing things, and I applaud their attention to those. I try to share as much of that on my Facebook page and Twitter and IG, so please, please click on those links when I do -- they are the invaluable proof of the tireless efforts of the women who inspire me and those are not a wasted click. Just trust me on this. 

I wasn't planning on saying anything about Maxxis' 'babes' calendar. I truly wasn't. I've avoided the conversation entirely because, quite frankly, I cannot fight every single battle. I'm not going to shoulder every burden, combat every attack on women or comment on every act of bad, success-killing behavior exhibited by those in the bike industry who should honestly know better. I can't handle that much nuclear rage or that much unlimited stupidity. I'm so sick and tired of being sick and tired over the ridiculous amount of gender inequality within my sport. I'm exhausted over having to talk about the same damn thing, over and over and over again because it feels like these marketing people will never get it. And so I was going to ignore it... Until a friend mentioned me in a comment today on Facebook, lauding my own efforts to raise the level of dialogue and of working towards a better future for all cyclists, as well as those of the other women talking about these things. 

Shortly thereafter, someone replied with a comment about how this 'isn't really sexism inside of mountain biking' because Maxxis doesn't offer pro forms to mountain bikers.

And in that moment, I realized that this topic IS something that needs my perspective. This is the big white elephant in the room that we're not talking about: cyclists (and the larger sports world in general) would love to pretend that sexism outside of their sport doesn't involve them. Some cyclists even believe that sexism inside of their sport doesn't involve them because they don't experience it. 

I am here to tell you that this is everyone's problem. Why? Because, as I explained to the Facebook commenter, sexism anywhere is sexism everywhere. 

"Sexism in any industry is still sexism, regardless of the marketing department. Any action sport being marketed through sex is still a failing sport, whether some asshole at said company wants to admit it or not. And whether you see this as 'sexism in cycling' or 'sexism in _______', the bike industry still has a massive issue with how it sees, markets, values and uses women. As a member of that industry, Maxxis has a responsibility to its customers and the market. Do they make bike-specific items? Yes? Then they are a bike-industry company. They sponsor teams within the bike industry, they have a booth at Interbike, and they have quite a following within the cycling industry. That makes this sexism within mountain biking. It's pretty simple when you look at it from a wider perspective. Just because individuals would like to make sexism complicated doesn't mean that it's actually all that difficult to comprehend; it just means that the individual would rather find semantics to debate over rather than address the actual issues at hand. Also called a 'straw man' argument. 

So. 

Please stop with the apples and oranges bit. Sexism is sexism, plain and simple. And sexism and misogyny devalue women and degrade their efforts in any arena, so let's focus on fixing that, shall we?" 

It doesn't matter in what sport the female body is being prostituted and objectified -- it simply screams that this particular sport cannot sell itself on the merits of that activity alone and has to sell sex and skin as a motivating agent to attract the lowest common denominator. And, interestingly enough, I don't want cycling to be moto or car racing. 

Just like you wouldn't walk into an office party and take off your pants or hump your boss' leg, there are new rules being formed within cycling. There is a new generation of cyclists who see their female counterparts as equals, and our generation is creating rules of what is an isn't acceptable... Like treating everyone equally. A calendar of scantily-clad (or nude) women by a company involved in cycling isn't acceptable within these new boundaries, and if you do want to be successful, you'll stay within them. 

This is good. 

We need new rules. We need a shift in the consciousness of what and who we are as cyclists. Are we dopers and cheaters or will we insist on clean racing and improved testing and timing? Are we women-beaters and cocaine addicts or do we step up and demand the respectful treatment of those in our community? In our world? Are we bill-jumpers and responsibility-shirkers? Or are we citizens seeking to improve the happiness quotient and health of ourselves, our communities and our world? Are we environmental stewards or an entitled, wasteful generation hell-bent on self-destruction? We have to decide what and who we are. 

This decision isn't just about women, either. It's not only about equality. These issues also arise because of the financial and economic stability of the sporting market in the decades to come. As I (and others) have repeatedly said, the disproportionate gender ratio on this planet is rapidly widening, which means that due to inheritance, economic probabilities and birth rates, the majority of the world's wealth will be controlled and possessed by women over the next decade. Is this really a demographic you want to alienate because the plumbing is a bit different than your own? 

Mark my words: if we fail to include women in our strategic branding outlook, companies will fail. Betting on the continued devaluation of 2/3 of the global population is not a healthy, successful business practice. If we learn and seek to serve individual customers, we will thrive. But these objectifying 'babe' calendars? I doubt many women will be hanging them on their office walls. Let us sell products and services, not skin.