Oi! Sexist Marketing! On Yer Bike!!
In the run-up to Christmas 2011 I went looking for a bike for my three-year old daughter. My first point of call was my local Raleigh stockist, a company whose tagline is ‘For All Your Biking Needs‘. Unless, it seems, you happen to be female…
Since starting preschool my daughter has developed a love of all things pedal-related, and can’t wait to get there to show off her new pedalling skills in the playground. So a bike was the obvious choice for Christmas. I immediately thought back to my first bike. Red Raleigh Apple, circa 1985. Storming the back lanes with my pals… I loved that bike. Off to our local independent bike shop I went, with that quiet smugness you get when you know exactly what you want and are supporting local business instead of going to an out-of-town superstore. This will be easy, right? WRONG!
I was shocked at what I found. The ‘First Bike’ range was completely gender stereotyped and creatively limited. They had a lousy selection for girls; sporty bmx types, clearly labelled as for boys, and a small selection of pink and glittery accessories, with girls’ bikes buried underneath, passing for a girls range. Girls bikes were almost all pink, tassled and featuring dolly/teddy carriers, whereas the boys bikes were sporty. The choice was horrible, so I decided to look online instead.
I headed to the Raleigh website to see whether my local stockist was just missing some of the range. They weren’t, and what’s more the descriptions of the bikes provided by Raleigh in their online catalogue just compounded matters by giving across a patronising and sexist attitude to children’s ability and perceived aspiration based on gender.
The boys ‘Striker’ bike was described with “training to become the next England no 1 striker” and the MX14 “designed for the up and coming motoX star of the future“. Contrasted with this, the girls descriptions offer no sporting aspiration whatsoever, instead containing reference to the main features being their prettiness “equipped with great features: Molly bag, ribbon streamers with beads that glitter…” (Molly bike) and “your little angel will be exited about her new miss bike with a hot paint finish…“.
It couldn’t have left me with a clearer impression that Raleigh sees a boy’s role to aspire and achieve, and girl’s to simply look pretty. I searched their website, hopeful for something to disprove my impression of this company for whom my lifetime’s respect was rapidly slipping away. But alas, I could find no reference to female cycling success or aspiration at all. The news stories were all about male professional cycling, quoting male product users, and images of male sporting achievement. The team they sponsor ’Team Raleigh’, is a men’s team. No problem with that but do they sponsor women’s cycling too? I couldn’t find it so have to assume not). In fact the only reference to gender was about their recently launched ‘fashion label branded’ bikes for women. It’s important to look fashionable when exercising right ladies? YUCK.
Raleigh have got it so wrong. Any child, boy or girl may like streamers, but that’s not what they like about the bike. They like getting on it and moving themselves faster than they can run. They like the exhilaration of seeing how fast they can go before they get wobbly and panic a bit. They like chasing their friends and siblings around the park and seeing who’s fastest. They, like adults, like the rush of the exercise and adrenaline. That has no gender. A bike requires no gender.
I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that being a pretty princess or caring for dollies (she doesn’t like them) is preferable to just being fit and having fun, and I don’t understand why a bike needs to be so overloaded with sexist stereotype. It’s about being a mobile CHILD, not mobile ornament. Is it really too challenging in the 21st century to offer a sporty alternative to girls, or has Raleigh, as their site and range implies, decided serious cycling is the preserve of boys and men? Perhaps if they did open their minds a little there would BE more women in professional cycling. They may well shift a lot of these bikes. I had to search a while to find a half-decent alternative (or at least one without tassels etc) so there are no doubt parents who are rolling their eyes but purchasing them anyway for convenience or lack of choice. But this doesn’t make it a good product range or an acceptable marketing strategy. I’m sure Raleigh’s kids bikes sell very well, but so did their red Raleigh apple. Without needing streamers or glitter.
I want to support British companies, and I want to buy local; but I don’t want to sell out to sexist stereotypes to do it.