advertising · cycling · stereotypes

Respect the ponytail? How about just respect girls and women?

I don’t know very much about this Trek ad except it keeps appearing in my Facebook newsfeed and some of my women cycling friends aren’t fond of it. On the one hand, it is an image  of women on bikes rather than men on bikes and women on podiums. (See Is it time to kiss the podium girls goodbye?) But on the other, it’s not a particularly diverse image of female fitness. The women are not racers. They aren’t wearing team kit. And not all women who ride bikes have ponytails. (Though at times I’ve been tempted to stick on a fake one! See Women cyclists, implicit bias, and helmet pigtails.)

I’m not particularly bothered or offended by the ad. It’s better than lots of the stuff one sees in the media about women cyclists.

What do you think? I’d like a more diverse range of images of women on bikes, some racing, others not. I’d also like respect on the road, whether or not I’ve got a ponytail. I’m curious to know what you think about this Trek ad campaign.

13 thoughts on “Respect the ponytail? How about just respect girls and women?

  1. I really don’t have a problem with this ad. There are women, they are on bikes, they are being shown to be active. What I find much more galling every Sunday when I open the paper is the fitness column by Australian Biggest Loser coach Michelle Bridges. It’s not so much her advice, some of it good, some of it questionable. It’s her picture. Here’s a woman who is a trainer and an athlete. She’s fit and strong. And how does she choose to be shown? Sitting in a sexualised pose with crotch shot, naked legs and come hither eyes. Apparently the public doesn’t want to take advice from a woman who is shown to be sweating, lifting weights or actually doing anything sporty. Not even if that’s her job.

    1. How odd. Not an image I’d associate with personal training and fitness!

    2. I really don’t have a problem either, and I agree that I prefer images showing women being active to the one you linked to. That is an odd photo for a fitness professional. More importantly, her article I found a bit ridiculous, her advice: “Any comment about weight should be given thoughtfully, not in front of others, and with an offer of support and encouragement.”

      Personally, I would be (and have been) mortified by unsolicited advice about my weight. Someone in my husband’s family thought she would give me advice on working out. Apparently she assumed by my outward appearance that I needed the advice. At that point in my life I was working out a minimum of an hour a day. She advised me to try a local half hour Aquafit class, because she did that 3 times a week and had lost 5 pounds! Pahleese!

      Sorry, guess I went off topic but that article struck a nerve.

  2. “But on the other, it’s not a particularly diverse image of female fitness. The women are not racers. They aren’t wearing team kit.”

    Not sure how showing racers in team kit would be a more diverse image. Showing athletes that “everyday” women (not just professionals or those in organized sports) can relate to is an important part of an ad campaign.

    As for the ponytail, I don’t think this meant to be a literal message. I think they are trying to make a point about respecting female athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Maybe they should have come straight out and said that, but I don’t have a problem with this attempt.

  3. I wonder about target audience. For example, I can see a number of the men I rode with in France last weekend appreciating this ad and recognising its message as ‘respect the female riders in front of you and stop trying to pass them just because they are women’ (though possibly not consciously). That said the ad bothers me because it genders female cyclists as girlish: respect them by respecting this thing about them that signals femininity and (typically) heterosexuality while they are on the bike. I have really short hair and am not especially feminine, and don’t recognise myself or my needs as a rider in this ad. Though I do appreciate the attempt, hoping its not Trek’s last word on this!

    1. Really well-put, Kim. I totally agree. There’s nothing wrong with the women pictured, but there is something very fishy about the fact that the ponytail tends to evoke a certain type of woman– feminine, heterosexual, “sexy”, etc. Long hair is extremely gendered and gendered means in this case “must be maintained in order to be beautiful or, by extension, valued.” Sure, there are women who are considered beautiful who have short hair, but they are the exception and long hair still represents femininity (rapunzel, anyone?).

      I don’t mind Trek having ads with white women and their hair taking center stage, because I am happy any time women take center stage in a generally positive manner. But I would hope that women– even women without white-people hair that falls in a perfect shiny ponytail and represents by extension a beauty standard pitched to white heterosexual perfection– could be shown as well in the future. There is room for all of us in cycling and in these ads, I should think.

  4. Did you see Jeopardy last night (6/27)? The final clue (in category Transportation) was:

    Susan B. Anthony said this new fad had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

    and the answer was… bicycling!

    Thought of you guys immediately.

  5. Wadjda uses the bicycle to symbolize at least somewhat greater freedom for women in the middle east. This ad uses the bicycle as a demand from men and women for respect for women serious about their sport, as long as you are able to put them on the pedestal of sexiness.

  6. The ad’s using the literary technique of synecdoche (using a part to symbolize the whole). Not all women cyclists have ponytails, and ponytails are not women, and not all ponytails are worn by women (my male partner has a rather nice one, in point of fact), but ponytails are common among female athletes, and therefor can serve as a symbol.

    It’s like the bathroom signs: people wearing triangles, and people not wearing triangles. Even when I’m not in a skirt, I understand what the triangle symbolizes.

    So I can see why some women might have a problem with it, though I myself do not. Actually, I rather like it: the women it pictures aren’t sexualized, and the ad even goes out of its way to run some lettering across the spandex-clad butt of the lead cyclist, rather than using the page design to highlight it. I’d prefer an ad with a little more diversity, but this one isn’t bad.

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