Objectification

[7/21, 11:15 p.m. - I want to thank everyone who has participated in this discussion, especially the creator of the cut-out himself. I did not expect that so many people would have so many different reactions to the image - and to my reaction to the image - and I've learned a lot by reading everyone's opinions. My feeling about the image remains the same, but I understand and respect that others feel differently. No matter where you stand on the issue, I hope you agree that open discourse on challenging subjects is a good thing.]

Photo by John Greenfield

As I read Grid Chicago’s recent post about event bike parking this morning, I came across the photo on the right. It depicts the Chicago Reader’s bike parking for Pitchfork music festival. As you can see, the Reader chose to mark its bike parking lot with a naked, faceless woman stuck between two Reader banners.

If I were looking for bike parking at Pitchfork and saw this, I would have turned around and kept looking, feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome. Something as relatively minor as this is like a punch in the gut when it catches me off guard.

This sign showcases the sexism that exists in bicycling. And music. And the world.

Of course, not all depictions of the female form are sexist. If a cutout like this had been created as a personal project by a woman to represent the power she felt on her bike, that would be cool. But for someone to create it as a public sign, slap a Reader logo on it, and prop it against a fence on a street corner to draw attention to bike parking is icky and, I’ll say it again, sexist.

This is a classic case of objectification and the fact that it was done by hip, bike-riding, indie music-listening people does not make it okay.

If any women would like to enjoy guaranteed sexism-free zones, feel free to join the women-who-bike happy hour tonight (6-ish, Blue Line Lounge) and the Critical Lass ride tomorrow (6:00, Polish Triangle).

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101 thoughts on “Objectification

  1. Thom says:

    Dottie –
    You’re right.
    Naked people hawking parking seems pretty desperate and pathetic.
    I would say the “model” is actually Axl Rose, however.
    Does that make a difference?
    Am I missing something? What’s on the other side??

    • Dottie says:

      Ha. I was thinking that at least the woman’s figure is a realistic, athletic body, not an exaggerated hourglass type. That certainly doesn’t make it a man!

      Fun fact: as kids, my sister named her turtle Axl Rose after the man she loved.

  2. Luke says:

    I look past stuff like this more often than I should. Having people point it out when they see it helps, so thank you.

  3. Adam says:

    It looks like someone though this was a clever take on “bike culture” where “bike culture” is thought to be fully represented by Critical Mass and the World Naked Bike Ride. I guess it cold be a dude…

  4. David says:

    I’m sorry but I guess I don’t really see the sexism here.
    to me it represents “freedom”, the free feeling of riding a bike.
    It’s artistic, arguably.

    Now, if it was a real picture of a model in skimpy clothes, that would be different. Sexier too.

    • CJ says:

      I agree that this image can mean different things to different people, and it does have the potential to represent the power and strength that one feels while riding. However, context is important. Without knowing anything more about the art my first reaction is similar to Dottie’s. When I ride my bike, it’s impossible to avoid media images of scantily clad women used to sell products – particularly on billboards and painted on the sides of buses. These images serve to remind me that I’m not just a person riding my bike – I am a body first, and my female body is the object of attention whether I like it or not. For me personally, it would be different if I knew more about the artist. Or if there were a similar image of a naked man. But I respect that people have different reactions, and I appreciate that LGRAB (and similar blogs) are working to create safe spaces for all cyclists.

  5. Julia says:

    Hi Dottie, I totally agree. I totally speak for myself here but, the fact that this is using a woman’s naked body as if it were a sign, a bike rack, an arbitrary if titillating object would make me feel degraded and unwelcome too. My experience is that women, to a much greater degree than men, are used as props in advertising and marketing. Well, not women as much as women’s bodies. It takes the “person” out of the individual and given the pervasiveness of this, it creates this entitlement for people (men AND women) to see women’s bodies as objects, not as part of that person. IOW, people feel entitled to stare, ogle and comment on womens bodies more than men. It’s one thing to portray people engaging in “people” activities (riding a bike, involved in conversation) and something starkly different to see a naked body, without a face, inviting gaze and interest simply to manipulate or consume. It reinforces the idea that our bodies are more important than us!

  6. Maven says:

    This “art” is ripe for some protest alteration. Someone needs to go back at night and paint clothes on her, and maybe a good slogan on the back of her t-shirt.

  7. Yvann says:

    Ewww sorry – why? why is nakedness necessary? Regardless of the objectification of women (see below) – what is a parent going to say taking their child past that? I’d be embarassed to walk past that with anyone (or even, really, by myself) and as you said – I’d go look elsewhere for bike parking! For me it embodies the bad side of urban cycling – major risk-takers who run red lights and generally give people a bad impression of cyclists. Somehow I align this tasteless, aggressive sign with that!

    Re objectification – my first thought was “naked woman” – even if it is supposed to be a guy. I’m all for some of Maven’s creative protesting! I’d prefer a cartoonish, bikini-clad “Jessica Rabbit” style to this – JR is obviously stylised and cartoonish and a bit silly, whereas this is just a bit too close to the truth? If it’s supposed to be freedom and escape etc – have 10 of them, both sexes, at least partly clothed, at intervals along the fence?

    Just my two cents!

  8. Cecily says:

    I hope you’ll send this to the Reader as well.

  9. Kristen says:

    I think there are some details that may be helpful to give this argument some context. Pitchfork worked with Chicago artist Ray Noland this year, who curated a collection of free standing pieces throughout the festival, and this was his piece for the Biker Village. So, it was not in fact created or conceptualized by the Reader. However, as a bike riding gal myself, as is my co-producer on the Biker Village, we didn’t experience this as objectification as the woman’s body appears healthy and strong and she’s not standing in a suggestive manor nor are her breasts exposed. Also, carrying the bike over her head, I feel, is a symbol of empowerment and independence. Though the Reader “R” is in the wheel of the bike, I’d hardly say this was a cutout with a logo slapped on it. I can’t speak for the artist, but I bet he’d agree.

    As someone involved in getting this production of keeping over 3,000 bikes safe over the weekend when many were getting stolen outside the Village, our goal was to empower bikers and make their festival trip easier and safer. I think we accomplished that and we’re really glad to have the opportunity to support the cycling community again. We provided cold water, air & lube for bikes, bathrooms & sinks, and a cold bandana to cool down bikers when it was pushing 100 degrees. We worked with local bike shop The Bike Lane to help boost exposure to their awesome store, and bike community website The Chainlink to draw people to their network. We’re all about bikes at the Reader and I’m personally a fan of your blog. I hope these thoughts help give some context to the situation.

    • Dottie says:

      Thank you for contributing to the discussion, Kristen. It is helpful to hear the context of this and understand how it came to be. I appreciate the work the Reader performed to help cyclists park at Pitchfork and I respect that some people view this differently from me. None of that changes how I personally feel when looking at the image, which is a mix of many emotions, all of them negative.

    • Thom says:

      So, if art is supposed to make you feel…….something, then Ray Noland is apparently a pretty good artist! If he only worked with cats……………………………………….!

      Separate from the Kitch / Sexism, thanks for the Village and your very positive activism.
      We should all appreciate efforts to make cycling better for the cyclers.
      You helped keep 3,000 bikes safe and helped their owners have an enjoyable day.
      Seems like the people most upset by this would be the bike thieves – and screw them, HA!

    • Amy says:

      ” we didn’t experience this as objectification as the woman’s body appears healthy and strong and she’s not standing in a suggestive manor nor are her breasts exposed. Also, carrying the bike over her head, I feel, is a symbol of empowerment and independence.”

      Spot on! That’s exactly what I was going to comment, and I’m glad that were able to say that here.

  10. Dottie, I can see your point of view on this as well as that explained by Kristen. Personally, I am not offended by the cutout. I think there is a difference between nudity that is intentionally sexualized and nudity that is representative of the reality of the human body, which is natural and beautiful. My tendency is to see this cutout through the lens of the latter point of view.

    I hear the question of why make the woman nude if the intention is to show her strength and independence. Couldn’t that have been communicated through a woman with her clothes on, too? On the other hand, I ask the question of what’s wrong with her being naked? There is nothing to be ashamed of in that.

    Interesting piece. I appreciate it and the discussion it has sparked.

  11. I cannot decide whether this particular cut-out in this particular context bothers me. But speaking generally, it disturbs me to see how many ‘hipsterish’ bicycle events, websites, posters, etc., use images of naked or suggestively posed women for promotional purposes, apparently thinking this is cool if couched in irony. It’s really prevalent in Boston and NYC and bothers the heck out of me. In no way am I tempted to participate in anything that is promoted in this manner.

    • Dottie says:

      That’s a really good point. The pattern you describe is partly what bothers me in this situation.

    • cycler says:

      I’m not sure how I feel about the use of the image,, but I think we can all agree that it is not a provocative or overtly sexualized pose.

      I know exactly the kind of pose that Velouria is talking about and it makes me so angry when people conflate soft core bike porn with “cycle chic”

  12. kristin says:

    I think it’s the faceless thing that bothers me the most. There’s a big difference between a woman who is in control of her sexuality (an empowered naked woman cheering for the joy of cycling) versus a sexual object. Good for you Dottie for pointing this out!!!

  13. Ash says:

    Thank you for posting on this! When i saw this cut out on Sunday I was pretty surprised. Pitchfork as a music e-zine has a ton of female writers and has always read as really progressive. I didn’t see anything like this at Tour de Fat, thankfully.

    I’ll try to keep my drunken handsy tendencies to a minimum tonight. ;)

  14. Bradley G says:

    Really not seeing it. Every opportunity the artist had to sex this image up (slanting the hips, exposing the breasts, hyper-sexualizing the figure) was passed up. It’s almost self-conciously un-sexual. The overall image strikes me as one of feminine strength more than anything.

    It strongly evokes the traditional Atlas figure ala Rockefeller Center (a hyper-masculinized objectification of men if ever there was one!) To turn that almost farcically testosterone-laden image of male power on it’s head and put a woman in the position of strength strikes me as a pretty powerful pro-feminist statement.

    Either of our interpretations could be valid, but the work itself is ambiguous enough that I think it’s safe to assume that most interpretations will say more about the person looking at it than the person who created it. It’s pretty dangerous then, to accuse anyone who doesn’t share your interpretation of being sexist.

    • Dottie says:

      I understand what you’re saying about your interepretation and I see where you’re coming from. My personal reaction is that the image in this context is sexist. As a woman, I do not feel empowered by looking at it, I feel the opposite, which must count for something.

      • Bradley G says:

        Well sure, it counts for something, but it doesn’t count for enough to declare the art somehow inherently sexist as though that was the only interpretation. Reasonable groups of people (your commenters for instance) come to a variety of conclusions about this work. Your interpretation does not suddenly convey sexist status in absolute terms upon a work of art by fiat.

        I would hope that before declaring a work (and unavoidably, by extension, the artist) sexist (which is, or should be, just as serious as calling somebody a racist), you would want there to be precious little room for any other interpretation by reasonable people. To assume your own interpretation of the work renders it sexist in absolute terms despite clear indications of artist intent to the contrary seems to me to be actively trying to be offended by a work by reading into it a narrative not intended by the artist or exhibitor.

        Sometimes a butt is just a butt.

        • Amy says:

          I think you’re accusing Dottie of things that she has not done. When Dottie says “this sign is sexist” it’s clear to me that what she means is that she thinks that sign is sexist. I assume this because I was not present when she declared herself the supreme arbiter or what is and what is not sexist like you seem to have been. To my knowledge, she never said that her opinion is absolutely true. It may seem like she said this because by holding her opinion: that the sign is sexist, she necessarily denies that truth of the contradicting belief: that the sign is not sexist. Obviously she can’t really think both without a good amount of cognitive dissonance. Thinking that the your opinion is true (which equals thinking that contradicting opinions are not true) does not mean that you think you know ALL.

          Look at it like this. When you say “it’s self consciously un-sexual” do you mean to say that that’s an absolute truth that because you’re the all knowing of what is or is not sexual? Or can we assume that that’s your personal opinion?

          The other other accusation you make is that she accuses people who disagree with her of being sexist and also accuses the artist of being sexist which she certainly did not do. There is a difference between saying “that thing you said was sexist” and “you’re a sexist.” You’re right that accusing a person of being racist or sexist are both very serious things. Because you’re essentially saying that you know something about a person’s fundamental character and you likely don’t have enough information about a person’s internal life to say this. Certainly not artists or people you’ve never known at all. You can however look at something a person said or did and say that what they said or did is racist or sexist according to your definition of racism or sexism. If racism is: the belief that there are inherent traits that depending on race, then “black people are not as smart as white people” is a racist statement.

          You’re accusations are unfounded but are no less unkind because of it.

  15. Amy says:

    Before learning that this is the work of Ray Noland, my first thought was “what if this was created by a woman?” Would it still be objectification and sexist if it was? What if it were the image of a man and it was created by a woman? Honestly, in my opinion, we need more tasteful nude images like this one of both genders in our advertising. It’s about time we got past this particular taboo.

    • Dottie says:

      I do not think this image in this context is tasteful. It’s a giant naked woman up against a barbed wire fence to denote bike parking. In my opinion, any statement of strength or empowerment is destroyed by the context.

      If it were created by a woman but used in this same context, I would still find it objectifying and sexist. If the image were a man, I would still find it distasteful and objectifying, but that’s not an equal comparision, given the society we live in.

      This is simply my personal reaction to it. It’s interesting to read about others’ reactions.

      • Amy says:

        See, I didn’t even notice the barbed wire and fence until you pointed it out just now. I was looking at the artwork alone, and drawing my conclusions about it in itself, not the location it happened to be placed in. Even still, I don’t necessarily find the image of a nude person, be they male or female, standing in front of a fence with barbed wire to be offensive. Looking at the photo on the whole, I would then see a nude person attempting to hurl their bike over a fence.

      • I can see what you are saying about the context of the art making a difference in what the piece communicates. But I’m curious whether the artist knew that the woman would be placed against barbed wire or if he was just told to create a series of cutouts without a plan for where each particular one would end up. We don’t have that information from just looking at the cutout.

        Again, though, I’m not particularly offended by the naked woman holding up her bike in a rough environment – even if it was intentional. It kind of adds to the ruggedness of the image. I actually feel more concerned that she would hurt herself on the barbed wire than anything else (if she were a real person, right?).

  16. Tom says:

    Are you sure it’s a woman?

    At first glance I thought is was a viking that was having trouble adjusting to the weather in Chicago. It’s a men’s bicycle he’s holding over his head.

    I wouldn’t be offended. Just a little creeped out.

    • Amy says:

      Ha! Poor Viking of indeterminate gender…

      The Viking Queen, intoxicated with freedom from her furs, single handedly conquered the pack of rogue bicycles that had terrorized her village for decades. And holding aloft their defeated leader cried out unto them “From this day forward you will carry on your backs my sons and daughters! They will come for you when the sun rises. You have no chance to survive, make your time. All your base are belong to us!”

  17. Trisha says:

    It’s true that this particular form isn’t hyper-sexualized, and I don’t have anything against nudity in art/expression. But like LB I am personally sick of the “we can still use naked women to draw attention to things if we don’t really mean it” meme going around. Also, maybe I’m too literal-minded, but what does a naked woman have to do with bike parking, again?

    It’s not something that would have kept me from parking my bike there but it’s also not an image that would have drawn me in. Maybe if there were a male figure as counterpoint it would feel less objectionable.

  18. Clare says:

    “She is not standing in a suggestive manner”

    Um, I’m not sure how to say this delicately, but look to see how she is standing, and what this might suggest about where to park your bicycle.
    Yes, she’s holding the bicycle above her head, but that’s more to advertise that she is bicycle parking rather than an “symbol of empowerment and independence”, which is merely to advertise it to those further away.

    And yes, I did the double takes too but she is most definitely a she.

  19. Kathy says:

    There’s also something vaguely disturbing to me about a naked (and shoeless!) figure among the barbed wire, chain-link fence, and sidewalk debris.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I saw it and thought, “Naked and barbed wire? Ouch!”

  20. Monica says:

    Hi all, I’m gonna weigh in with the “not offended” camp. I have also interpreted it as an artsy “I’m a freekin WOMAN WITH A BIKE, RAWR!” and hence think it’s actually pretty cool. The coolness for me also lies in the fact that she’s got lovely regular-shaped thighs (unlike so many photoshopped images) and is pretty much how I’d expect a naked woman to look from behind.

    Context helps – but art in galleries is often delivered without an explanation or context, and hung/presented with the express intention of pulling the attention of the viewer and challenging them to stop, absorb, reflect. For me, it feels like a piece with a bit of a sense of fun, and the context that I see it in – a scabby, weed-overgrown, littered corner, is what diminishes it.

    However, I’m really glad that there are plenty of people who have put forward their thoughts on why this image is offensive for them – as Luke pointed out in the comments above, I often miss this stuff until it’s pointed out, too, which in itself is an indication of how saturated our world is with images which are quite offensive. One’s sensitivity to this stuff gets worn down after a lifetime of exposure (no pun intended, but way too funny to re-word!) Thanks for an insightful and challenging piece, Dottie :)

    • Dottie says:

      RAWR! I can see that the way you describe it. :) I would be more inclined to feel that way if I were not constantly bombarded with images of near-naked or naked women to sell stuff or just because. So part of my problem with this image, when I think of it that way, is not simply the image itself, but how it fits with society and my own personal experiences as a woman in this society. Thank you for helping me make that connection and for sharing your own point of view.

  21. AJ says:

    Female nudity does not and should not automatically equal sex. There is nothing about this cut out that screams out sexism and the fact that it seems to be invoking that showcases the twisted views about sex, sexuality, and the human form in America.

    For those that see this as sexist, if it were blatantly a man who’s backside was being shown would you have the same reaction?

    • Dottie says:

      I said in my post that depictions of the female form are not automatically sexist. But this context – a gratuitously naked woman shown from behind, propped on a barbed wire fence, with a logo, denoting bike parking – is sexist to me. That does NOT mean I must have “twisted views about sex, sexuality, and the human form.”

      • AJ says:

        Not to be rude, but it kind of does feed into America’s perversion of sexuality and nudity since that was your immediate reaction. Why is it gratuitously naked? Why is it sexist? Everything you’ve inferred seems to come from what you’re “reading into” as oppose to what is actually there.

    • One thing to consider though, is that such images are rarely men. A group of people will always present the argument “but what if it were a man?” and yet it almost never is.

      Again, I say this as someone who is not necessarily offended by this particular image. But the idea that this could have been any gender and the female body is incidental does not ring true to me.

      • Bradley G says:

        Such images are very frequently images of men. Oiled up shirtless ludicrously over-muscled male objectification images are used to sell clothes, cosmetics, movies, sporting events, music, and anything else under the sun.

        Do a google image search for “Calvin Klein Ad” then “abercrombie and fitch ad” for a few examples just in the fashion industry. Many of these images are made into billboards. How is a billboard of an oiled up dudes’ pecks with a giant bulge in his tighty-whiteys any LESS objectifying than something like this?

        Even public art featuring males is almost invariably hyper-sexualized with exaggerated height, impossibly broad shoulders and ludicrous muscle development; male figures are very seldom portrayed any other way.

        • Flora says:

          “How is a billboard of an oiled up dudes’ pecks with a giant bulge in his tighty-whiteys any LESS objectifying than something like this?”

          That’s an underwear ad. It’s promoting a specific way of looking when you take your clothes off. There are lots of images of women in their panties for every one of a guy in boxer briefs.

          But you don’t often see a guy’s faceless naked torso in an ad for or cars or, in this case, bike parking–that role is left to the naked ladies. See what I’m saying?

          • Bradley G says:

            This is not an underwear ad. It’s an add for a clothier, which has no clothes in it. It has a guy’s faceless naked torso.

            Similarly their fragrance “FIERCE” has packaging and branding which is, in fact, a guy’s faceless naked torso.

            Hollister has tons of ads which consist entirely of guys naked faceless torsos.

            I recently saw a bottle of Sephora mascara with a picture of a man, which when the bottle was inverted, his clothes fell off.

            Brian Atwood has become infamous for using images of naked men literally and figuratively restrained underfoot to sell ladies designer shoes.

            Adidas likes to sell sneakers with pictures of Tym Roders wearing nothing but their products, though his face usually makes the cut.

            Not too long ago there was an ad for SCRABBLE (!) which featured a miniature magnetic scrabble board barely covering the genitals of an otherwise naked male figure reclined on a beach (most of his face was deemed too unimportant to include in the crop)

            How many tickets to Casino Royale were sold by the studio releasing publicity stills of Daniel Craig tied up and naked?

            How many examples would you like before it’s not “rarely” anymore?

            The argument that men rarely receive objectifying treatment in advertising (let alone art) is just not sustainable in the face of even a cursory look across a rack of magazines.

          • Flora says:

            Bradley G, you’ve really done your homework. You’re still talking about clothing brands, plus one movie marketing campaign that objectified a man (as opposed, to, like, ALL OF THEM that objectify women), and then one random Scrabble ad with man-parts in it. Even if the objectification of men were routine the way it is with women, and not some edgy technique used in maybe 1% of ads, that doesn’t solve anything anymore than an eye for an eye helps the whole country to see.

      • Flora says:

        “such images are rarely men”

        Exactly. This image doesn’t have an immediate shocking impact. At first glance, I thought the woman was clothed, maybe in a t-shirt and khakis, because the lines around the waist and hips read to me as clothing; plus, her lack of discernible curves doesn’t say “sex object” right off the bat. Next I thought “that’s not a very well-chosen outfit for a model on a sign–how does a woman in nondescript clothes say ‘bike parking’?” It just didn’t make sense to me. Then I realized it was that all-purpose decoration for anything and everything in certain corners of the hipster world: a naked lady. Like, instead of putting a bird on it (because who ever saw a bird carrying a bicycle?), they decorated their parking stand with a naked lady. But it’s OK, you know, because she’s all strong-like. She doesn’t have a face. She’s an object.

        • Dottie says:

          “But it’s OK, you know, because she’s all strong-like.”

          Ha. You really put your finger on what bothers me about some of the counter-arguments here. Like I am supposed to accept the image without quesiton because “she’s all strong-like.”

    • Maven says:

      But the thing is, female nudity DOES equal sex in US culture. Whenever people excuse naked women in advertising (where the product has exactly zero to do with a naked woman), they say “sex sells.” But it’s not sex that’s being shown–it’s a naked woman, which has come to be a stand-in for sex. Men’s bodies are neither viewed the same way nor used the same way. That context is important too.

  22. Sam says:

    I share many of the same thoughts as many who’ve already written in. On one hand I don’t mind it, but personally, I would feel uncomfortable parking there…assuming a vacuum. In other words, assuming no one else was around and some guy was leerily looking at me (undressing me with his eyes, so to speak) as I wheeled my bike in – I’d feel V. uncomfortable. But, guys typically don’t do that (unless they are from a Philly ghetto), so I can’t imagine me feeling that sort of discomfort here. I’m imagining a very positive vibe and maybe a few 10 year old boys pointing and giggling.

    I do feel that idea of nudity is very stigmatized in this country. I cannot explain why.

    I also don’t have a problem with the soft-corn porn images Lovely Bicycle mentioned…because I think the women posing have clearly no problem with it, and it is titilating which I don’t think is a bad thing – depending on context. Maybe looking at it in the work place it is crossing certain workplace codes, but in the privacy of my own home, I’m not sure it is all that bad. Also, I don’t really care to oogle at those images of women, so maybe that’s why I’m not so bothered by it? Granted part of the time I have a problem with some of these images is because I lack the confidence in my own body and am envious that I’m not so confident with myself. My view is that women have been given the short stick and I’m not sure that using their own body to get what they want is really all that bad. I think it is very easy to point a finger and claim this sort of soft core porn is bad, but I’m not convinced it really is.

    But getting back to the image at hand…in a vacuum it seems like I’d be uncomfortable. In a public space filled with people having a good time utilizing the facility…completely different feeling.

    At any rate, clearly a well done piece based on the discussion here!

    • The reason I have a problem with the images I mentioned, is that I often sense that the women (both those posing for the pictures and those hanging out with the male hipsters and looking at the pictures) are to some extent pressured into it. The pressure is of course implicit, but it is pressure nonetheless. They want to be good sports, to be cool, to hang with the boys, to be part of the culture. In the days of the heavy metal scene it was “show your tits, babe.” Now it’s “show your tits ironically while wearing these retro knee socks, wouldn’t that be funny!” But the implicit message is still the same. That’s how it comes across to me at least.

      • beany says:

        Women titillate men to attract their attention – that is true. However, I don’t see why that is wrong. I know some of these women, and they enjoy all the male attention they get. It is just one method they have employed to assert control or indicate their comfort of their own body. If we’re going to start talking about sex and dominance, dominating is not the only method that can be used. I think a lot of these women are really quite self aware and in complete control. Now granted, there are women who are indeed unable to assert their choices or have no access to speak their points of view – I am not talking about them. But for purposes of this discussion, I’m limiting my discussion to those who are aware, are in control and enjoy displaying their bodies to be admired.

        • It is not inherently ‘wrong’ and I am not even sure I view it as a right or wrong issue. There are certainly many women who feel as you describe, which is great. But there are also those who go along with it for other reasons, and I see quite a lot of that in the context of this particular culture: young women going along with things that make them uncomfortable, because they want to be accepted. In the end it is about personal choice, including the choice for each person to express what makes them uncomfortable.

          • Sam says:

            I honestly have not met women who are uncomfortable with posing for titilating pictures on bike mags/blogs/etc. What I have met are a lot of women very aware of their sexuality and very confident in using their sexuality to get what they want which includes posing very sexually on bikes. Am I wrong in thinking that this is an assumption you’re making – i.e. you assume some of these women are uncomfortable and thus pose in such a manner to fit in? I think everyone definitely is entitled to state what makes them comfortable or uncomfortable. For example, I am not crazy about strip clubs, they make me uncomfortable. So I avoid them. But I do have female friends who visit them, and I don’t have a problem with that.

            Last weekend at an art show, there were a lot of women doing subtle and overt acts to indicate…well, lesbianism which I thought was done more or less to antagonize guys or frustrate them. It should have been called the Blue Ball Art Gallery or something. But, I also thought it was extremely funny for various reasons.. There was no need for these women to do what they did. No one pressured them. If anything, I was annoyed because they kept stepping on my toes and tossing their hair all over the place in attempts to…I have no idea.

            At the end of the day, I think women’s bodies are used because they’re more attractive. Some naked guy’s body and his hairy balls is not going to spark as much interest or attention as a woman’s. A woman’s body ellicits interest from the entire spectrum and since the goal is to garner interest, it always succeeds.

          • Dottie says:

            I’m really enjoying your side discussion going on here. You both make really good points. I lean more toward your point-of-view, LB, when it comes to the soft-core girl-on-bike imagery that saturates the internet. But as you mentioned, Sam, I must admit that my viewpoint is based on a lot of assumptions about the women posing for the photos, which I should not make without real knowledge. I also feel like I’m not according those women the respect they deserve with my assumptions and judgments regarding how they choose to express their sexuality. But I can’t help feeling a lot of the stuff out there is not quite cool.

            Sam, I just love that you said “hairy balls.” I’d say that’s an LGRAB first. :)

    • Amy says:

      Hey, Sam. I think your posts bring up opinions that other seem to share.

      Yes, there are women who use their sexualized bodies for favorable attention. Some of them may not feel pressured or uncomfortable while doing it and may even call it empowering. You’re right also to note that there are women who seem to get something out of going to strip clubs and objectifying other women–being “like the guys.” There are lots of women who really do think that they’re better for it. The problem with calling this empowering, though, is that if you think you’re better for being like a guy rather than than like a girl, you’re subscribing to the idea that men and manly behavior are superior to women and womanly behavior. As long as this idea holds true, you will not be thought of as equal. Every sycophantic word or action confirms the inferior position of the sycophant. Which I think applies too for the women who are active participants in the objectification of their bodies. They may not feel hurt or demeaned while doing it, but they are deluding themselves if they think they are elevating themselves as women.

      (Ideas taken from Female Chauvanist Pigs by Ariel Levy. Very good reading.)

  23. Cameron says:

    As a guy, I’m repelled by such sexist poor taste. Who would want to be or to meet her? Add the barbed wire and the tone turns creepy indeed. You are right, Dottie, for calling this what it is and thanks for the delightful antidote shown by the ladies of TyK. Any one of them could park more bikes than that monstrosity ever will.

    • Megleg says:

      Cameron,
      You are welcome to invite the beautiful ladies of TyK to stand in their heels for 14 hours in the sweltering Pitchfork heat and park 3000 bicycles. The barbed wire exists to protect bicycles overnight. Additionally, that ‘monstrosity’ wasn’t the one parking bikes. It was dedicated volunteers that work for and care about Chicago’s cycling community.

      • Dottie says:

        Not to speak for someone else, but I think Cameron may have meant that, if the goal is to bring attention to bike riding in a cheeky way, a concept like TyK would be more effective than the naked and faceless image used, with no disrespect meant to the hard-working volunteers who actually parked the bikes.

        • Cameron says:

          No disrespect intended to the hardworking volunteers. After all, it’s warm here, too. Let me recast that sentence, please. Any one of them could compel more bike parking with a knowing look than that faceless monstrosity ever will.

  24. adam says:

    The artist is known for a comic book and stencil works style that purposely exaggerates two-dimensional depictions of reality. They are flat, but in clever ways. Interesting to see that this piece was quite coyly not presented on a billboard, page, or building, but was in itself a stencil. I pay more attention to the form and all the “reversals” going on–that it creates a “Y”, of all the intermingling triangles and melding geometries (including the legs and arms), and that the whole sign almost creates a visage to an assumed faceless persona. Makes me wonder: what was on the other side? Was it blank? Could you see the other side? Did seeing the art in person make you want to see more, but were you prevented viewing?

    Interesting sign. I like its wittiness.

    • Dottie says:

      I had not thought of it from that perspective. Thank you for sharing the information about the “two-dimensional depictions of reality” stencil work style and your own thoughts on the work.

  25. Jenn. says:

    oh I just found this post! Thank you Dottie!! This was just what I was thinking every time I had to see this thing posted everywhere. I’m just guessing that there were no naked guy cut outs. Why are there never any icky guy cut outs.

  26. Stephen says:

    I’m not sure a deep discussion about Art is really warranted here. This piece is clearly designed to attract attention through a provocative image. If I were a woman, I’d probably consider it sexist, given its location and purpose. (Living in a house with a highly educated professional woman, a spirited, extremely intelligent young daughter, and a female cat that lived on the street for a while has sensitized me to women’s issues.) Duh.

    What’s interesting to me is the message(s) it sends. Freedom? Bicycling is sexy? Bicycles and women are objects to straddle and control? Why not a naked man? Why not a professionally dressed woman in sensible shoes like Dottie? That looks like a single-speed bike too. Is it meant to attract hipsters?

    I suggest sending it along to Bike Snob NYC. He’ll dissect it finely…;-)

    • Dottie says:

      Love this comment. :)

      Re: BSNYC, I would be terrified for him to turn his attention this way in any manner. Did you see the take-down he did yesterday of the guy who blogged about the benefits of custom road bikes and fixed gears? Deliciously cutting and hilarious, but only if you’re not on the receiving end!

  27. Ky says:

    It is easy to insult each other and react to ideas presented on a cyber-forum and it is often done in a distasteful way. However, I think this entire thread is mature, respectful, compelling and safe. As much as I want to comment on the greater conversation here, I also think it’s important to remark on this unsullied, civil example of how we can challenge ideas and each other over the Internet. Thanks for that, all contributors!

    Though it is impossible to assume the mindset of the artist and inappropriate to devalue the response of a viewer, I think we can all agree that art is meant to be interpreted and, in the best cases, to solicit an emotional response. From that perspective, neither the artist or the viewer can be automatically considered sexists, insensitive (or too sensitive) – we can only consider the art itself. One thing I love about art is that it often embodies a larger conversation. Artists are commonly responding to other artists or commenting on a moment that came before them, or reacting to an event, emotion, feeling or relationship that they’ve experienced and need to make permanent. Though I know Ray and consider him to be a compelling, grounded artist– I do not know his motivation for this piece. However, I will say that a few years ago, after the naked bike ride, there was a woman who held her bike over her head in a jubilant, full bodied gust of triumph. There was a Polaroid picture snapped of that woman, and the picture was considered by many to be simply iconic. I’ve seen this photo recreated at other cyclist events, and the multitude of images in this vein, have come to embody a catalog of memories, shared by critical mass and naked bike ride cyclists in Chicago. I wonder if this photo, might have been the piece that Ray was responding to in creating this piece. If so, I find this image relevant and brilliant, in terms of adding to the greater artistic conversation of memory, emotion, ephemeral beauty and power.

    I’d also like to add that I know the Marketing Director of The Reader on a personal level. She a fierce advocate of equality and mutual respect. She is a forward thinking, queer-centric, culturally engaged feminist and wouldn’t purposefully invoke (or leave standing) an image that she felt blatantly insulted others. That said, people are justified to feel what they feel from art. The beauty of community is that we need all of our varying contemplations to continuing moving forward.

    • Dottie says:

      Yes, I have the readers and commenters to thank for maintaining such an intelligent and civil discourse, which can be a challenge when dealing with internet communication. I appreciate your substantial contribution to this civility and openness. I am very interested to hear about the photo from the Naked Bike Ride and I certainly agree that it sounds like that woman in that moment was making a powerful statement about strength, independence and freedom.

      Unfortunately, when that idea was translated to the specific context here (if that was the case) with the image used as a Chicago Reader branding sign and bike parking indicator, a lot of the meaning was lost and it became, to me, simply another objectification of the female body.

    • Trina says:

      “I will say that a few years ago, after the naked bike ride, there was a woman who held her bike over her head in a jubilant, full bodied gust of triumph. There was a Polaroid picture snapped of that woman, and the picture was considered by many to be simply iconic. I’ve seen this photo recreated at other cyclist events, and the multitude of images in this vein, have come to embody a catalog of memories, shared by critical mass and naked bike ride cyclists in Chicago. I wonder if this photo, might have been the piece that Ray was responding to in creating this piece. If so, I find this image relevant and brilliant, in terms of adding to the greater artistic conversation of memory, emotion, ephemeral beauty and power.”

      that was the very first thing i thought of when i saw this, “i bet this was from a photo from a naked bike ride.” Also, this struck me as a woman in triumph, freedom, joy and power, clothes or no clothes, though i feel the image is more impacting as a nude.

      My thought is that clothes would automatically make the image more specific, give her life context or a group she belonged to, etc and that then it would make the art less applicable to anyone viewing it. If i saw this and she was in a suit/skinny jeans/racing gear/etc, i potentially wouldn’t feel as much connection to the emotion or feelings that i see in it as it would read to me as being meant for a specific group.

      I also am not surprised by or offended by the placement or use of art as signage in events, specifically that it’s next to barbed wire. Lots of major events commission artists to make pieces that they will place around and use in place of traditional commonplace signage. It’s not uncommon to have pieces be riffs on existing iconic images relating to the sub-culture/group the even is for. (So to me i see this and my assumption is that this is probably some iconic naked bike ride thing or something of that nature.) The fence looked to me like it was there for the bike storage safety and that the sign was most likely moved in after the coral was set up, not the fence set up as part of the art.

      i guess to me, when having a strong feeling about something before making a judgement (especially a public one), doing a little research into what the meaning behind it would have been a good thing for the initial post and ensuing discussion, as you yourself said that knowing the meaning/artist would have given you a different take on it.

      “If a cutout like this had been created as a personal project by a woman to represent the power she felt on her bike, that would be cool.”

      Nothing at all said sexist to me and nothing offended me. It was actually the tone of the original post that ruffled my feathers when i read it. To me, the way it was worded, came off angry and very strongly as ‘this IS sexist, and that is that, no other possibilities could exist. This is horrible, tasteless and a sexist man is exploiting women. we should all be angered.’ To me, the initial post made me feel defensive and like i was being told that if i didn’t find this offensive that i was totally wrong.

      “But for someone to create it as a public sign, slap a Reader logo on it, and prop it against a fence on a street corner to draw attention to bike parking is icky and, I’ll say it again, sexist.”

      But that was just my gut feeling and reaction to the perceived tone as it came across to me. Much like yours was a gut feeling and reaction to the sign/art in the first place.

      And as this is your blog, i will support you both having the freedom to say whatever you want, however you want, even if it rubs me the wrong way. I only point this out as it seems to me that you strive to make this blog a place where many people cam come and engage in discussion and debate and community, so i thought having one more view on the whole things could be useful.

      Whew, all done now! :D

  28. His Royal Excellency King Fahd says:

    Thirded. Put a burkha on her! Womens’ bodies are shameful!

    • Flora says:

      King Fahd, not all of us have petroleum flowing from every pore to ensure that we’ll never know want. Some of us have to make an honest living by selling things, and how do you expect us to do that if we can’t hang or paste naked ladies all over them? Please, a little consideration.

    • Amy says:

      You know who will get behind you? Feminists!! That’s totally what they’re all about.

  29. Karen says:

    In my former life as an art student and later as an art therapist most of the art I created depicted nude female and male figures, some of which offended some people despite the fact that none of the images were particularly suggestive. My parents requested that I consider putting clothes on the figures because a future employer might think that the nudity meant there was “something wrong with you” (I won’t even go into the obvious inference here) but I explained that I felt clothing the figures distracted from the personal meaning behind the paintings and because the clothes themselves could contribute to serious misinterpretations on the part of the viewer.

    I think I agree with most of Bradley G’s comments. I’m just don’t see this image as objectification of the female body. As a therapist I worked with both adult and child victims of sexual abuse so I can definitely be offended but usually it is in relation to images that depict others in humiliating, crude, and hurtful ways. The tying of violence and with sexual imagry in film, TV and print truly appalls me. Women, children and men, for that matter, can be objectified in numerous way with or without nudity. I once posed nude for a couple of bronze casting artists while I was working on my art degree and never felt objectified by that experience, despite the fact that the task required that they put their hands on me in order to apply plaster and in order to pose me and later move he around. If anything, the experience was extremely empowering for me in the process of body acceptance. The final pieces were beautiful, despite my body being not up to Victoria Secrets standards, but in no way meant to titilate or objectify.

    • Dottie says:

      Karen, I never knew you had such an art background! Interesting! I totally get what you’re saying about art and the human body. My favorite piece of art is Matisse’s Dance and I actually like that the cut-out at issue here depicts a healthy and realistic body shape.

      I guess where my perspective differs from yours is that I do not view the cut-out in the context of the photo above as an issue of art, but as an issue of branding and sign-marking (hey, Chicago Reader bike parking over here, where the giant naked lady is!). That is where my feeling that it’s objectification comes from.

      It’s really eye-opening to read about how others view the image, especially from people like you whose opinions I especially value, so thank you for taking the time to contribute so much to this discussion.

  30. stephen says:

    I don’t read NYBS on a regular basis precisely because he is so wickedly cutting, and I would consider myself a Phredly target. But he is usually spot-on.

    Thanks for the kind reply.

  31. Ray says:

    Thanks Bradley G and Ky for your perspective with this discussion. As the creator of the image I just thought I would chime in. First, I’d like to say I love looking a naked women. Naked women on bikes is also Super! I do have quite a few lady friends in the bike community who enjoy the World Naked Bike Ride from time to time. It was a bit of a nod to the freedom of this community. Luv Ya! Second, I’d like to point out there was also a wood cut-out of Anthony Wiener in briefs (pelvic thrust and all) located inside the Pitchfork grounds that is arguably more sexualized than the biker village girl. No discussion? I was very conscious this may be a concern and I wanted to be at least equally sexist. (joke) Third, there was no metaphor behind the location on the fence with barbed wire. That just happens to be the best visible spot for signage and also the safest location to park bikes. I used this concept in part because I hoped it would stir conversation. That’s what I do. My work holds a mirror up to ourselves. It says more about you than me. What exactly is sexual about this image? Is it ‘just’ that it is a woman that makes it sexual? Why is there no discussion or insult regarding the Anthony Wiener naked cut-out? Am I objectifying Wiener?… Wait that sounded weird. Anyway, I am not sexist. Some of my best… just kidding. I at least tried to balance my ‘usage’ of the naked human body. So please take it as a whole. I do think this is a great exercise in how different people see different things. Some people see this image as a man, some see it as a strong woman and some as a weak woman. At the end of the day this was simply not that complicated. There is no there, there. I was simply trying to get you to notice.

    • Dottie says:

      Thank you for weighing in on this discussion, especially with humor. Hearing about your approach to the cut-out helps to put the issue in context. Please know that my post addresses how I feel when looking at the picture I posted, which is not the same as calling you or even the cut-out on its own sexist.

  32. Amy says:

    Hi Dottie. I’ve already posted some thoughts under others’ comments (under purple logo-ed Amy–I think there are three?!) Just a note to say that I was very encouraged by your thoughtful post and as well as your patient responses to counter arguments and argument stoppers. I’m thrilled that you brought attention to this the powerful way you did: through your personal response to it. I think I would have been turned off and disheartened seeing the sign too.

  33. Courtney says:

    I am going to be brutally frank here, and not start off with a polite “this is a very interesting, intellectual discussion,” because it simply isn’t. Although some points made pose very important questions about our society, this article is grotesquely inarticulate and is based on an ignorant view of women, sexuality, art, and humor. I find this discussion boring and ignorant.
    Dottie, you seem to illude that if a woman had created the artwork, the exact same artwork, it would have a different meaning. Did you, in fact, know that the artist was male when you first saw the piece- at the same moment you cite as being offended? Or did you simply assume it was done by a male? What if it was done by a gay male? A gay woman? A bisexual? Would that have made this less offensive for you? These are rhetorical questions, of course, and I just urge you to ask yourself.
    I also would like to point out the fact that you only invites women to your women-who-bike event, and gaurenteed a sexist-free environment. This seems hypocritical.
    Let’s take a look at the body language of the cutout- she is triumphant and dignified. Glorious and confident. Nothing about her posture says sexual. This is a reflection of the stigmatization existing on our society that equates nakedness with sex, as stated in a comment previous to this.
    I am actually disgused, Dottie, with your eagerness to defend and bandwagon with “Cameron,” who labeled the art as a “faceless monstrosity.” That statement is sexist, demoralizing, and outright disrespectful. The women in the cut out isn’t supermodel-out-of-this-world hottttt but actually normal. To infer that this woman, if she did exist, is so ugly that no one would want to see her naked- well holy hell we all really do need burkas.
    Next, I would like to address the hilariousness of the comment suggesting that the single speed bike is somehow purposefully parrelled by the artist to a womans role in the world. The style of the art calls for minimal detail with maximum impact. Why would the artist waste his time with those details if it had nothing to contribute to the meaning of the image?
    Speaking of bicycles, a simple google search of the artist would reveal a plethora of articles attributing his success as an artist with the fact he was in a near-fatal accident several years ago when he was hit by a car on his bike. It was after he was recovering from this event that he pursued his art full throttle. Perhaps the artist feels a certain triumph over death that correlates to bicycles, (and what better way to celebrate life than with nakedness) that inspired him to create such a powerful piece.
    Lastly, who, in their right mind, uses the word icky in a publication?
    In sum, the artwork being questioned is certainly not sexist. If anything. It’s feminist.

    • Dottie says:

      Thank you for your input. While I respect the fact that you took the time to express your thoughts by writing all of this, I am not going to respond further to such antagonizing and disrespectful language. We here at LGRAB value civilized discourse.

  34. Dottie says:

    I want to thank everyone who has participated in this discussion, especially the creator of the image himself. I did not expect that so many people would have so many different reactions to the image – and to my reaction to the image – and I’ve learned a lot by reading everyone’s opinions. My feeling about the image remains the same, but I understand and respect that others feel differently.

  35. Eric says:

    Hi Dottie,

    I wanted to chime in to say that while I generally enjoy this blog, reading this post (and the subsequent comments) was not enjoyable. In fact, I felt a little agitated and was tempted to post a comment with my own views but managed to refrain. I read this blog to read about bicycles, not gender, race, socioeconomic or other inflammatory issues. I spent two years at Eugene Lang College in NYC and got my fill then.

    Most people already have well formed opinions on these matters and from my experience, discussing those opinions accomplishes little more than to reinforce preexisting views, establish a sense of moral superiority and to create even more divisions between people, all of which can exacerbate any existing problem.

    While certainly you are free to use your blog as you wish (I am also aware that I can skip over content that doesn’t appeal to me), I just thought I’d throw in my two cents about what type of content I enjoy, and enjoy less.

    Eric

    • Trisha says:

      Hi Eric,

      As the civil comment thread above shows, we welcome any respectfully expressed viewpoint here. Over the three years we have been blogging, Dottie and I have occasionally covered controversial topics. While we by no means intend to alienate readers — even those with whom we might disagree — in the end this is our personal blog and we believe that fostering discourse is the only way to discourage divisions between people. So we will continue to post about issues that interest or concern us, regardless of whether others view them as controversial.

  36. Shaina says:

    I’m pretty irate too. In slightly more tasteful depiction, there is also this century-old charmer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16nine/5353736017/in/set-72157625820728252/ .

  37. hippiebrian says:

    I don’t feel one way or the other about this. It is a rather pathetic way to try to get attention to the parking area, but we live in the land of cheesy, so I kind of expect these things.

    One thing did bother me about your post, however. You stated that if this had been created by a woman to represent bicycling freedom, or the freedom of riding, it would be o.k., but the fact that it was created by a man made it sexist. I find that statement sexist myself. Would you say the same thing if it was created by a lesbian? Or is it just sex and not sexual preference that makes it sexist to you? Would a naked dude be better in your opinion?

    Just things I think you should ask yourself…

    I do love your blog and have been reading it regularly for a couple of years. Keep up the good work!

    • Dottie says:

      That is not what I said. Here is the relevant portion you are referencing:

      “Of course, not all depictions of the female form are sexist. If a cutout like this had been created as a personal project by a woman to represent the power she felt on her bike, that would be cool. But for someone to create it as a public sign, slap a Reader logo on it, and prop it against a fence on a street corner to draw attention to bike parking is icky and, I’ll say it again, sexist.”

      As you can see, my problem is with the fact that it was created as a public sign with a logo and put on a street corner to draw attention to bike parking. The point I was making with my hypothetical was meant to be only one example of a situation where the cutout itself would not feel sexist to me. I did not say that was the only situation where I would feel that way and certainly did not say that it is sexist because a man created it, because in fact I did not know at the time the gender of the creator. Again, my issue is with the context in which the cut-out was used, which in my opinion is a text book case of objectification (woman’s body as logo’d sign to mark bike parking).

  38. cycler says:

    I have to say this particular image doesn’t upset me. To me, it doesn’t feel sexualized or exploitative.

    What is bothering me is the Public Ad that keeps following me around (have seen on several websites) with a shot of a woman from the waist down, riding a bike wearing over the knee socks and short shorts, with the caption “put something exciting between your legs” I mean, c’mon!

    That kind of overtly sexualized marketing (like the american Apparel ads) annoy me more than an artist’s rendering of a naked woman.

  39. Molly says:

    I’m with you, Dottie. I just re-found this comic (with some curse words in it), which is a reminder that things here in the comments could have gotten a lot worse, and also, you’re not alone. BoingBoing describes it as “Sexism flamewars explained in webcomic form.”

  40. Thinker says:

    Isn’t it interesting how we assume that this is a female, simply because the figure has long hair?

  41. Adrienne says:

    I am late to the game here, but I see so many naked people on bikes in SF that this isn’t even a blip on the radar. I frequently think we are all too ready to interpret the worst of something when we see it. I can not remember the last time I looked at something and thought “objectification”. It is a concept I avoid, along with “hegemony” and “slimming”.

    Mostly, I see that sign and think “Oh good! I’ll remember where I parked!”. The conversation goes a bit like this

    “Where did you park?”

    “Naked Lady. You?”

    “Bunny Hugging Bacon. I tried to get into Squiggly Wall Tag but they were full.”

  42. Robin C. says:

    I read the New City article and had to add my two cents. I understand “exploited” or “degraded” or “inappropriate” but I don’t understand “objectified” as a concept. What does it mean that’s different from these terms? Does it mean “I was offended by this in some way by this depiction of a woman?” It sounds like a lazy concept meant to shame others into backing away from artistic impression (or any other idea) because to defend it would offend the critic.

    When do we ever hear “objectified” outside of the context of a woman’s body or image being used inappropriately in someone’s opinion? The fact that we never hear about any other living being “objectified” should really tell you something. Are pets objectified? Plants? How about Men?

    Am I supposed to look at the bare-chested pictures of President Obama vacationing in Hawaii and say he is being objectified as similar, far less revealing pictures of female politicians have been reviled by critics? If the model in this art was a man would it still be as offensive (to anyone)? If not, then I think the argument really falls apart.

  43. … [Trackback]…

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