For the second year in a row, a close friend of mine came over to visit Europe’s largest motorbike exhibition, the EICMA in Milan. He’s in a long process of buying a motorbike. I gave him company and advice for his stroll over the exhibition. After all, I might understand a bit about motorbike technology myself. He’s been a good trainer over the past year to give me some interest in the sport. Still, I attended EICMA with the eyes of a cyclist.
This year, I observed that e-bikes took a much larger share of the fair than last time (but there was no outdoor try-out track anymore). Last year, there were maybe three booths on that topic. This year, they had a rather spacious section in one of the halls and there was a number of other vendors dispersed over the entire fair. On display was also Bianchi’s new electronic road bike. This fall, it was praised for being one of the first to build an e-bike that maintains the sportive look of a road bike (and the first to bring it to the market).
It was far from being the only one.
Said friend of mine gave me lots of explanations. He’s interested in naked bikes, i.e. sportive oriented motorbikes that leave the engine visible to the viewer.
He complained a bit about the retro/hipster/lifestyle trend that apparently had had a bigger impact on this year’s new announcements. At least we observed that there was a large number of “modern cafe racers” that got much of the spotlight attention. Bikes with a sportive appeal that nonetheless are mostly made for people who just take them to the cafe around the corner. For those who’d ride fixed bikes if they were cyclists. And as with fixies, this description of a cafe racer is as far away from what the purpose of a cafe racer originally was defined to be.
But I have to say: I liked the more modern design language that some of them came along with.
No motorbike fair comes without sexy hostesses. And this is where Harvey Weinstein comes into play. All the girls in short and tight leather on their bikes, and all the boys asking them for selfies to show off to their friends at home how they had this big achievement of standing right next to a girl that’s being paid for that. It couldn’t be more obviously sexist with that. I understand that this contrast of big bad guys and sexy bad girls is part of a specific subculture within the subculture of motorcyclists. And that it has developed over decades. It’s not my thing, but I can accept that easily if it occurs within their meetings and gatherings. At EICMA, almost every company made references to this subculture.
Yet I had a breaking point during the exhibition. At some point, we walked past by a booth of some random company (forgot the name) where they had put two girls on an elevated spot. They were wearing the typical costume: hot-pants from leather, and basically just something like a leather bra. They danced tantalizingly. The guys around them where shouting and whistling like you know it from the typical movie scene in a red-light district night club.
So, here we are, and agree that Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly and Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. and all of them are bad people, because they have sexually abused people. We go through two, three weeks of #metoo and realize that basically every woman that we know – including our own girlfriends, mothers, wives, and daughters – at some point have been victims of sexual offense. And we let companies get away with displaying women as nothing but sexual objects, and with no other motivation than to have people watch and connect their products with erotic imaginations.
Here’s the point: It’s not necessary anyways. BMW and Triumph took a very different approach.
BMW used two types of hostesses. Some were sitting on key-featured motor bikes, and some were walking around and providing advice and assistance to visitors of their exhibition space. The latter were dressed like you’d meet young girls also in the street. Leggings and a t-shirt. The former were dressed up as well, but there was no lack-and-leather. Rather, there were two guys in jeans and cardigans, and two girls in very fine and elegant cocktail dresses. That kind of dress that the girl would wear for office even. No plunging neckline, notably, and a very normal make-up. Sure, the purpose is the same, and the mechanism is not much different (it’s still attractive girls and guys). And yet it respects the dignity of their hostesses and delivers a statement for gender equality (it’s girls AND guys).
Triumph went even further. No models on any motorbike. Only supporting staff walking around. One dress code. Both guys and girls, and both hostesses and actual Triumph employees were simply wearing black trousers and a white long-sleeve shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbow and the top button left opened. It had a nice side effect, as it made them more approachable. Any Triumph booth employee was a potential person of contact, and a potential source of information. We actually asked two hostesses a rather specific technical question. They then brought us to the right guy (or so they thought), who then walked with us to the actual right guy.
Sexy hostesses are not normal. They are ubiquitous (not only at EICMA), but they are an ubiquitous display of our own sexism. They are selected for body characteristics. They get comments. They get touched indecently. And, yes, it’s not a new thing. We’ve had these debates for many years.
But now we have #metoo. And companies talk in much detail about how they take care of their employees and assure sexism-free workplaces. So shouldn’t the time have come for the very same companies to take a stand in support of their trade show staff?
They are not helping business anyways.