Thursday, September 27, 2012

putting the 20th anniversary of critical mass to the bikey bechdel test

to follow up our conversation from last week where i talked about the bikey bechdel test, i thought i'd put the 20th anniversary of critical mass to the test. crtical mass turns 20 tomorrow, which is the last friday of september 2012.

there are several ways to put CM to the bikey bechdel test. their promotion has been on FB, on local radio stations, local weeklies, art posters for sale, and a popup store on valencia street. let's take a look and see how CM fares with the bikey bechdel test.

to refresh your memory, here are the rules that will be applied:

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?)

FB page:
their logo is of a person wearing a skirt with pigtails holding a bike upside down.

1. yes. we can assume this is a woman, albeit a silhouette. there is no one else in the image.
2. active: i would say holding a bike is a pretty active thing to be doing.
3. i thought about this silhouette being a man (wearing a dress and pigtails) and didn't think the meaning would change at all.

the FB icon passes.

much of the rest of their FB talks about various articles. the SFCM persona is most likely a lot of people, females included, but things being shared are not women's voices.
local radio station interview on KQED.
1. no. the people talking about critical mass on the radio were all men.
2. there were no women representing CM on the interview. there were 4 men. a few emails written by women, and a few female callers.
3. if the gender was reversed, the meaning would change because it means women have a say.

the radio station interview fails.

local weeklies (in this case sf bay guardian)
1. yes. the first (and only) woman to say anything of substance is buried on page three. the other woman is the "girlfriend" of someone.
2. yes and no. lisaruth is an active participant, having co-edit a book called shift happens and talked about various critical mass rides around the world. she is the only female voice talking about the event and belonging to a community. there are only two women mentioned in this article and many more men mentioned. i would say the girlfriend mention alone (after all, her boyfriend was not called "boyfriend of marie"), makes her representation, unfortunately, passive.
3. if gender was reversed, would be no women represented, so the meaning would be CHANGED.

the local weekly mention fails due to gender disparity represented in the article.
art posters for sale
there are three posters for sale to help out CM. let's take a look.
mona caron's 20th anniversary poster

1. yes, women are an angel. bonus points for the genderless child in the front.
2. unclear. the woman is engaging the viewer by staring directly out to catch the gaze. however, she's twisting her body in a pose that is slightly suggestive towards being more sexual in nature. she's not on her bike but rather holding it by the handlebars. she also has wings, so might not need a bike?
3. i believe if the gender was reversed the image would look ridiculous.

hard to say if this passes the bikey bechdel test or not. on one hand, this is created by a woman, but the woman/angel represented is sort of sexually suggestive. i'm inclined to say this image does NOT pass.
hugh d'andrade's 20th anniversary poster
1. yes, there are women silhouettes present.
2. they are being active participants riding their silhouetted bikes.
3. unclear. both genders are represented pretty equally. well, 3 men, 2 women, and a child. if the gender was reversed on the mother, in particular, it would be changed for the "awesomer", because that would be a father riding his child around on a bike.

hugh d'andrade's poster PASSES.
Jim Swanson 20th anniversary poster
1. yes, there are women represented.
2. they are being active participants riding their bikes.
3. no, the meaning would be unchanged. these are just regular people riding their bikes. the genders seem to be evenly represented.

jim swanson's poster PASSES.

so there you go! seems like after 20 years, there's still some gender stuff to figure out. but i do like that lisaruth and mona are well-represented. just need more females doing things for CM for it to pass the bikey bechdel test.

thanks, and see you at the 20th anniversary on friday! mixed feelings about the ride myself, but i do have mad respect for them and all they do.


  1. Replies
    1. thanks you! can't wait to see things change, and i know you are on board! or on bored!

  2. Viewing cultural phenomena through the Bechdel lens is an interesting exercise. Not all my favorite things pass the test, but still it pushes my brain in new directions. Thanks for bringing it up.

    1. not all of my favorite things pass either, but it's always good to look at the world through a critical lens. this one is the feminist filter. or gender disparity filter if the F word is too 70s or second wave.

  3. =v= The pose in Mona's is identical to the one in her 10th anniversary poster:

    I take this to be the same woman, 10 years later, a tad more stylish. The only difference in the pose is that she's not carrying xerocracy around (perhaps she switched to blogging).

  4. I have thought about this, I respectfully disagree with one point about the Mona Caron poster, i.e. if the gender were reversed, I don't see it being ridiculous at all. Actually I see it as a gender reversal of the Arcangel Michael imagery that artists have portrayed for centuries, and with a bike instead of a sword. The female form is not exaggerated. I don't see the look as overly sexual, just strong and direct, right in the eyes. Just thoughts. But, I am a dude, and undoubtedly biased because the poster overall is just so gorgeous. Thanks!

    1. i completely admit this poster was hard for me and i'm not totally sure it DOESN'T pass the test, but i put it out there. it is undeniably a beautiful poster, that's for sure :)