There’s a strange thread on the Bangalore Bikers Club forum. An otherwise sane and thinking human being has asked for pictures of “Bangalore Biking Cuties” to add to a presentation about cycling in Bangalore. (In his defense, he did not invent the… well, cute phrase, but just ill-advisedly used something that was said elsewhere.) Naturally, it has led to some of the said cuties protesting the term. Yet others have defended it saying, among other things, that “the men in this group have always been respectful towards women”. What one has to do with the other is hard to work out.
A friend of mine has responded with well-worded reasoning, so I should just provide the link to it and shut up, but in my self-appointed role of Last Word of/in Wisdom, it’s really hard to keep quiet.
My first reaction was blank horror on behalf of Joshine Anthony who cycled all 919 km of the Tour of Nilgiris in 2008, including a 7000-foot climb. I’ve talked elsewhere on this blog about gender condescension in a sports context. No matter how good the intention, referring to women cyclists like this just implies that it’s a secondary wing, introduced at best as a concession, and at worst to add a bit of colour to the proceedings. It’s an injustice to serious cyclists.
Purely from a communications point of view, how much more effective would that message have been if it was something like: “Need representation from the women cyclists”? Well, you may only be asking for photographs, but you probably would have also got involvement – perhaps new ideas, women willing to participate more actively, to go with you to make that presentation to corporates, to use their networks too for the common good. Now you’ll have enough photographs, sure, from the cuties and from those who will be big enough to rise above the pettiness, but that seems so meagre compared to what it could have been. There will be women who will get involved anyway, some because insensitivity is not a solely male prerogative and some because of, again, rising above. But it will not start the transformation that it could have.
And surely concepts like respect need to be approached with circumspection, not bandied about carelessly? In my experience, those who feel it tend not to feel the need to state it. Not one of the 20-odd men that completed the same distance in TFN ’08 gave the slightest indication that they thought of Joshine in any terms other than, simply, a fellow cyclist. This is very different from telling her, for example, “I respect you Joshine for being a woman cyclist who completed the tour”.
If the male cyclists were referred to as Bangalore Biking Hotties, then calling the other half cuties would have probably been okay. If it was used ironically, that would have been fine too. But I think this is another of those things that you either get or don’t. It cannot be taught, be we never so strident.
Just checked the thread again, and saw that several women are now pointedly supporting the cause, and drawing their skirts away from the protesters. Perhaps one person's sensitivity is another's needless political correctness. I still stick to my point, though.
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