Ok, so first off this is not just another blog post about how women are physically portrayed in the sports media, but that element will form part of the post – as the title suggests. The other element of this post is that today I learnt two surprising facts which made me so angry that I had to step away from my computer.
Fact 1: until 2016 (that’s last year people) women were banned from taking part in the Mount Everest of surf competitions the Mavericks in California. Yes BANNED.
Fact 2: women are still not allowed to take part in the Tour de France. http://www.marieclaire.com/culture/news/a21667/women-tour-de-france/
Yes, you read that right. In 2017 women are BANNED from taking part in arguably the biggest cycling event in the world. BANNED. Not allowed. Stopped from competing. Persona non grata.
Are you fucking well kidding me?! (I will swear again).
When I read about the surf competition it made my heard hurt as I was so angry. I genuinely thought about learning to surf just so I could go and kick up some merry hell. And I’m 4 months pregnant! And shit at surfing. Honestly, I have tried it several times (one of those times was on a 3 hours’ lesson) and I couldn’t stay on the board, let alone stand up. It’s clearly one of those sports that I am just appalling at which is galling really as I grew up on an island surrounded by some lovely sea with waves. If anyone’s keeping count, I’m also crap at snowboarding and slack lining. My husband is good at all these activities………………………… which is fine.
Anyway, I read the article and I wanted to go grab a surf board just so I could feel some solidarity with the ladies fighting for equality. See the article here (I suggest you do not read this if you are a feminist and in a bad mood or, if you do, read it on someone else’s computer in case you accidentally put your fist through the screen). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-39634590
Apart from the obvious issue I had with the women being banned from taking part until recently, there were a few key things in the article which stuck out.
Valenti (phenomenal female surfer) says:
“I realised in college that unless you were a model, you weren’t going to get sponsorship,” says Valenti, who works as a wine expert in her family restaurant to support herself.
“There are people like me who are past the point of being angry… But it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting and it gives you body-image issues.”
A woman who’s incredibly capable in her field (surfing), is a regular at The Mavrick’s, won the women’s big-wave event at the Dive N’Surf Pro Nelscott Reef and the 2012 SeaHawaii Women’s Pipeline Pro is cannot get sponsorship as she doesn’t look like a model………………… what kind of message does that send out to all the budding female surfers out there? Don’t bother unless you look like Lara Croft in a bikini? How awful. How degrading. How terrible. What a truly vile, horrible and nasty message to send out to the young women out there. “you are only relevant and worth anything if you are pretty”?! What about clever, intelligent, passionate, driven, good at something, leader in their field or just driven. Why are those things not valued?
Why are women so frequently valued on the way they look rather than what they do? You only need to turn on the TV to see that the average age of women being represented is 25 while men seem to be able to work until they are 70. Or maybe you open a newspaper or magazine and each woman is listed with her age while each man is not. Or the wonderful sports presenter Helen Skelton creating a media frenzy for wearing a short skirt while her male colleague wore shorts and nothing was said.
The slurs thrown at women on various platforms are often also associated with their looks. Just look at Serena Williams – very successful in her field, dedicated, driven, exceptionally talented, clearly very hard working and clearly someone who trains hard and yet she’s called manly and other truly vile insults. Why does it matter if she has muscles? She has them due to being a sports professional. Why does her having muscles equal her being manly? It’s not only men who have muscles, although the media would lead you to believe otherwise.
So what do we do? How do we help the sports women being denied access to compete in the same completions or similar competitions to men. How do we stop women only being valued by their looks? How do we support the next generation of women to take up sports?
I don’t have all the answers, but I know that one of the ways I can make a difference is by challenging sexism, challenging ideas, challenging expectations and supporting other women. I also stop myself from judging other women and act as their champion instead. I honestly believe that women need to stick together, support each other and help each other.
Since writing this blog I have had women reach out to me and that’s been one of the biggest compliments. I hope I am helping with my waffle. I hope that I am helping.