Is this thing sexist? Introducing the “Bike Test” [Taking the lane]

This post is drawn from a presentation I developed for the first-ever National Women’s Bicycling Summit in September, 2012.
As the influence of women grows across all types of bicycling, there has beenquite a bit of debate about the representation of gender in everything from ads to advocacy campaigns, race tracks to board meetings. Is that photo of a sexy woman on a bike sexist, or is it empowering? Objectifying, or compelling? Tokenizing, or inclusive? Is it different if the photo was taken by a woman? What if the woman depicted is an avowed feminist? Does this mean we are never allowed to depict women wearing skirts and heels? These discussions tend to get frustrating, in part, I think, because we don’t always have a shared idea of what these terms mean.
I saw the need for an analytical tool that could be used by both media creators and consumers to evaluate images of women in bicycling. So, inspired by theBechdel Test for women in movies (still as relevant today as it was in 1985), I created…

The Bike Test:

Here are the criteria:

1. Are women present or represented at all?
2. Are the women presented as active subjects rather than passive objects?
3. If the gender were reversed, would the meaning stay more or less unchanged? (Or would the image become hilarious?)
Going down this list is a surprisingly effective way to evaluate inclusiveness of a wide range of representations and entities, including advertisements, movies, news coverage, organizations, corporate or nonprofit boards, events, conference lineups, curricula…whatever happens to be in front of you. And needless to say, this all applies well beyond bicycling.