In this post I tackle the question of whether this bicycle ad is sexist.
The ad in question, from Pinarello hawking their new Nytro electric-motor-assisted racing bike, caused quite a stir on social media. In case you’re viewing this on a smart watch, or hastily while driving (that was a joke, please don’t), the caption on the ad says, “I’ve always wanted to go cycling with my [dickhead] boyfriend, but it seemed impossible. Soon everything will become possible.”
(I added “dickhead” because even if this boyfriend is stronger, he should be happy to slow down a bit to ride with his girlfriend. I am a former and occasional racer but I love riding with my wife and daughters no matter what kind of workout this gives me.)
Christine Majerus, a female pro cyclist, responded (via Twitter), “The only thing highly possible is that I am going to drop every single Pinarello rider from now on, even @chrisfroome if needed #PinarellNO.” The husband of the women’s WorldTour champ Megan Guarnier tweeted, “I’ve always wanted to cycle with my wife, @MeganGuarnier , but she drops me like a rock so I follow in the car. Soon everything will be possible. #pinarellNO.” Another pro, a Frenchwoman, wrote, “C’est quoi ce bordel?!” which I roughly translate, “What the hell is this?!”
I was particularly tickled by this suggested improvement on the ad campaign:
So, is the ad sexist?
To start off, I think it’s dangerous to position myself as an authority on sexism, particularly since I’m a guy. It’s a little easier to brush off somebody’s misconduct when you’re not the victim of it. The results of a Metro magazine poll about the above ad support this idea:
Granted, this is just one poll, but its conclusion is dramatic: women are twice as likely as men to think the ad was sexist. Clearly, women are still the hysterical, emotionally fragile drama queens they’ve always been. KIDDING! Fear not, I’m as grossed out by this statistic as you ought to be. In fact, the visceral reaction I had to the poll made it difficult not to reduce this post to a single word: “yes.”
Obviously, that wouldn’t be a very persuasive blog post, and moreover, there were lots of comments below the cyclingnews article that ought to be addressed. Not because they’re thoughtful statements made by reasonable people, of course; most of them, needless to say, are not. But in this modern era where all kinds of people automatically take umbrage at the very idea of political correctness, those of us who had to look up the terms “snowflake” and “SJW” ought to stick up for ourselves.
(What is a “snowflake?” Urbandictionary defines it as either “A hypersensitive, irrational person who can’t stand to have their world views challenged, or be offended in any perceived or even slightest of ways,” or “Referring to someone, usually the Alt-Right, Yiannopoulos, and Nazi Sympathizers (A.K.A. ARYANS), whose immense white fragility causes a meltdown when confronted with the most minute deviation from orthodox White Supremacy.” Meanwhile, “SJW” stands for “social justice warrior” and is used pejoratively. Both these terms seem to be favorites among the Internet whiners who whine about other people’s whining.)
Some other opinions
Since I don’t feel I can be a standalone authority on whether the ad is sexist, I asked my teenage daughters and my wife. My wife replied, “What? Huh? Oh ... I haven’t been listening.” (I made the mistake of starting my question with a little background, which included the word “bicycle.” It’s been a long marriage. Especially for her.) My younger daughter replied, “Seriously? Uh ... yeah!” (She did not actually use the word “duh,” but it was strongly implied by her tone.) My older daughter said, “Give me a second. I’m deciding whether the ad is heteronormative. I don’t think it is. Definitely sexist, though.”
To get the perspective of an older generation, I showed the ad to my mom and asked what she thought. Mom didn’t have an automatic problem with the idea that the electric bike could help a slower woman keep up, but she bristled at the wording of the ad: “I’ve always wanted to go cycling with my boyfriend but it seemed impossible.” The word “impossible” she took particular issue with—it struck her as defeatist that a woman would assume there was no way she could ever match the fitness of her boyfriend. Men may tend, on average, to have greater God-given strength, but surely the gap isn’t insurmountable. (I have personal experience with this as an assistant coach of my daughter’s high school mountain bike team. Lots of girls routinely drop lots of guys, and the guys have been very cool about not roaring a terrible macho roar, making stupid BS excuses, or quitting in a huff.)
What’s particularly interesting is that both the ad agency that created the ad, and Pinarello, who paid for it and ran it, didn’t seem to think this ad was sexist—until this was pointed out to them all over the place and they issued an apology.
I don’t buy the idea, suggested by numerous Internet commentators, that this flap was all contrived in advance for free publicity. These wannabe pundits cited the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Yeah, right. Just ask the guys who promoted the Ford Edsel, or, more recently, the ignoramuses behind the racist Dove ad that backfired. I can’t imagine any company runs an ad that it hopes to have to apologize for.
So how did Pinarello get this so completely wrong? Probably a lot of men at the ad agency thought there was nothing wrong with implying that a man might need an electric motor because he has “no time to work out during the week” (the text from their ad featuring a male) whereas a woman needs a motor just because she’s a woman. And when a bunch of men at Pinarello looked at the ad they didn’t see anything wrong with this disparity either. Why? Because they’re men. Stupid ones. (Okay, it’s possible that sexist women were involved, but the poll I cited earlier suggests this is only half as likely.)
There’s a big difference between these clueless types and the angry males making comments such as “Never apologize! That’s when the feminazis think they’ve won,” and “I doubt if the young gals can afford the 6,000 euros without the help of their boyfriends.” But the non-aggressive, passively clueless types are a big part of the problem. They’re controlling budgets and influencing public perception (not to mention creating situations that inflame outspoken misogynists) without realizing that they’re harboring antiquated, unfair attitudes toward women. They apparently never got the memo that women don’t want to be patronized or coddled.
Why none of this matters
Of course sexism matters. It should be fought on every front. But the Pinarello Nytro doesn’t matter whatsoever. It’s a completely stupid bike, and here’s why.
First of all, the Nytro is not going to help riders of differing abilities to enjoy riding together. Its motor puts out up to 400 watts, which is enough to drop a pretty decent club racer on a long climb without even pedaling. But the motor cuts out when the bike reaches 25 km per hour (about 15.5 mph), which is a lower speed than the club racer can easily sustain on the flats. So on climbs, the weaker rider on the Nytro will crush the stronger one on the regular bike, and then on the flats the stronger rider on the regular bike will exact revenge. In the case of a couple, this looks like a recipe for disaster. (I’d love to watch this play out, actually.)
Second, almost anybody serious enough about cycling to drop $7,000 on a racing bike is going to want to earn the glory of dropping people, rather than claim the empty victory of “beating” somebody through a totally unfair equipment advantage. (The existing differences from a basic bike to a top-end bike are not anywhere in the ballpark of 400 watts.) Real cyclists want to improve, not outsource their ability to a motor. Naturally there are filthy rich douchebags who might love the idea of this bike, but they’ll surely sour on it when real cyclists crush them on the flats.
Where Pinarello ought to put their R&D money is into motor-assisted commuting bikes. Think of all the people who don’t commute by bicycle because they don’t want to get to work all hot and sweaty, and/or don’t want to tackle that one big hill on the way home. Giving an electric boost to a basic bicycle—or, if you prefer, putting out a new kind of electric scooter that you can easily carry up the stairs to your apartment, and/or bring on the train—is a great way to get more people commuting by bike. According to this article, there are already 200 million e-bikes in China. Why would Pinarello go after the impossibly small niche of shameless rich douchebags who want electric racing bikes, instead of serving a legitimate societal need?
More food for thought
I hope that I’ve made a strong case for Pinarello and their ad agency being sexist. But here’s a thornier question: is it sexist if a guy on a bike team, upon seeing his male teammate roll up on a Nytro, calls him a “little bitch”? I will leave this question for the reader to ponder.
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