Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cycle Chic Shame

Stylist, Catherine Baba via Fashion Tadpole

Catherine Baba on a bike by Martone Cycling Co.

It's always gratifying when you're kicking around an idea and you discover someone entertaining a similar notion. The other day, Christina of City Girl Rides voiced her frustration with "fashionable cyclist shaming." That's not her terminology, but for the sake of brevity and to serve my purpose, that's what I'll call it. I've touched on this topic before when I tried to make a distinction between how cycle chic had been appropriated by some and what cycle chic actually represents. As I've said before, I believe that cycle chic is about normalizing cycling to the point where riding whatever bike you have wearing the clothes in your closet is not a huge deal. It is not about establishing some de riguer mode of cycling. In fact, I think that the fashionable cyclist shaming is about reenforcing the technology and componentry fetishisation which supports jargon, tribalism, and consumption of expensive bikes and accessories. I don't want to take anyone's alleycat or century away from them. Have all the cyclocross bikes you like and wear a bib and an aerodynamic helmet if you want. I don't believe that my pretty bike rolling down the street diminishes the super light, technologically-advanced bike on the street at all. I don't believe that the heels I wear diminish anyone--not even another woman--who clips their feet onto their pedals. Perhaps this opposition is the natural reaction of a large entity, like the bike industry, which can't change just like that. Concern on the part of female critics is certainly not unfounded, but the critique that's often made is problematic.

One complaint that I've seen in some comment sections is that cycle chic creates an expectation for all women to wear skirts, heels, makeup, etc. while riding a bike. I don't see how the answer to this problem is to argue that women shouldn't wear skirt, heels, and makeup while riding a bike. The problem is the belief that womanhood is monolithic and that there's only one kind of real woman: If you're not conventionally feminine, you're not enough of a woman and if you are, you're not your own woman, you're brainwashed.

The main critique seems to be that bringing fashion into cycling is bad for female cyclists because fashion teaches women to tailor their appearance to male tastes. I don't buy that. Even though I've only found this one survey that supports the contrary, I think its widely known that women dress for other women. Moreover, I think fashion is a form of self-expression that allows women a lot of liberty. No colors or fabrics are off-limits to women. We can even appropriate men's clothing, like tuxedos. On the other hand, shame will not allow Anthony Bourdain to wear red pants. Just consider some of the things he's ingested and turn that statement over in your mind a bit.

Before I start to ramble, I'll cite a better feminist blogger who gets to the point succintly:

"Fashion is one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.

And I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain.

It is the height of irony that women are valued for our looks, encouraged to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so. And it’s a subtle but definite form of sexism to take one of the few forms of expression where women have more freedom, and treat it as a form of expression that’s inherently superficial and trivial. Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial."

Some of us just wear clothes and some of us strive to put together a look. Not everyone expresses herself in the same way so it's not mandatory that female cyclists fly the cycle chic banner. But it's not okay to exhort other female cyclists to be real cyclists who ride a certain kind of bike and the expert-approved shoes. It's not okay to say that a certain bike will be bought by people who just want it to look good in their apartments because the bike company was founded by a fashion industry insider. Catherine Baba obviously rides hers.


Dottie said...

"The problem is the belief that womanhood is monolithic and that there's only one kind of real woman: If you're not conventionally feminine, you're not enough of a woman and if you are, you're not your own woman, you're brainwashed."

Yes, so well said!!

Anonymous said...

While I agree with your points for the most part, Cycle Chic leaves a bad aftertaste in my mouth for two reasons. First, and the lessor, it is most famously advocated by a white man. Second, and the most important, it continually upholds the standard "fashionable" narrative of thin, conventionally "pretty" women, the majority of whom are white and young. This despite the assertion that fashion provides a valid artistic outlet for women. I don't argue the validity of fashion. I just wish that we as a community could 1. take ownership as women and 2. show something other than the young, thin, white narrative that overwhelms the idea.

Mister Ed said...

Fashionable? Shaming? To many of the lycra crowd if I'm wearing my usual fashionable T shirt and shorts while riding my spiffy touring bike I'm an eccentric old guy out for a training ride. If I'm astride my quarter century old, scratched and faded (but well maintained), daily rider Schwinn High Sierra I'm homeless or a drunk without a drivers' license.

The nose is for breathing, not for looking down or holding high in the air.

Wear what ya want, make whatever statement ya want, but ride and be joyful.

Jason Marshall said...

Stumbled upon this via a link on Twitter...

I really enjoyed reading this. I completely agree that 'normalizing' the act of bike riding is critical. Sure a certain amount of functionality is necessary but that comes with anything and mostly pertains to being prepared for the weather.

I live in Chicago, a city that rolled out a major bike-share program this past summer. I think that the mindset and approach that the author advocates will naturally prosper as these programs gain popularity.

Be yourself, no need to put on a costume to ride a bike unless you are really into wearing costumes. In that case, more power to ya!

Erik Sandblom said...

Well said. Do your own thing.

I wrote about why I love cycle chic and linked back here:

Why I Love Cycle Chic said...

Absolutely amazing post about cycling and also your comments about women more specifically... really enjoyed reading this and completely agree!

© courtnee cycles chic
Maira Gall