Flying Bikes For Feminist Friday

Loretta Mcgraw

At this semesters final week of Feminist Friday, Jeremy Withers, associate professor of English led a discussion on “Gender and Bicycles in 1980’s-Nostalgia Science Fiction”.

This talk was a very unique one and for those with an interest in Science Fiction an opportunity to take a closer look at different 80s based productions like “ET”, “Paper Girls”, “Stranger Things” and “Super 8”.

An avid bike user himself Withers used the opportunity to dissect the utter lack of representation of females and their direct conflict of mobility in this week’s discussion.

For example in the Netflix original series known as “Stranger Things” we see characters Will, Mike, Dustin and Lucas each on bikes to get around but what we do not see is Eleven being afforded the same opportunities as her male counterparts. Despite her upbringing in captivity she is taught how to dress as a female and yet no one teaches her how to ride a bike instead opting to have her ride the bicycles pegs on the back of the others. However, when they do eventually depict a female with transportation in this case a skateboard during the later seasons they depict Max as a tomboy or outside of the norms a self declared shredder leading viewers to assume that it’s still a masculine act and as a female it’s not appropriate.

Although these works are nostalgic of all the good moments and fashions of the 80s, their creators neglect all the movements of the time including making entrance to the rise of the new right and Ronald Reagan’s presidency following the earlier ongoing race politics, an initiative started by the war on drugs and the so called satanic panic.

The way these works are formatted send highly problematic messages to society that proclaim mobility and freedom of movement belong mainly to males, not females and that bikes are for boys, not girls.

“What I think is going on a lot in this 80s nostalgia sci-fi is they’re sorting of drawing upon 80s culture in a very prominent way through one of the texts that looms particularly large in this phenomenon, “ET”,” said Withers. “In their slavish adherence to 80s culture and ET their problematically importing some of the transportation stuff of the film too, [in terms of] bikes and gender.”

As the highest grossing movie of the 1980’s after its box office release in 1982, up until 1993 it remained the top selling movie in history. Hence why it is clear to see why so many take inspiration from it and incorporate the many themes for which Steven Spielberg the well renowned famous American filmmaker is responsible for. The most iconic scene of ET occurs when Elliot and alien ET take off in flight through the air on a bicycle a possible reality that could regularly be seen in technology one day that Withers would not be on board with or have an interest in.

For further information on 80s revival and the impact the portrayal has on gender check out Withers novel “The War of the Wheels: H.G. Wells and the Bicycle” available on Amazon and “Futuristic Cars and Space Bicycles: Contesting the Road in American Science Fiction” which will be released in July 2020.