Sexyism: Industry Standard Sexism in Surfing

Over the past week or so I’ve been pretending to be a pro surfer on Twitter. Not in the way you’d expect, however. I’ve been mocking a sexualised competition promo that seeks to advertise a surfing event through the butt and legs of a competitive surfer.

Roxy released a ‘spot‘ in marketing that critics suggested belongs in the 1970s. The ad shows a woman in bed, in the shower, half naked checking her laptop, but only barely dares to show her on a surfboard. No surfing. This, for a surf comp. Jane Caro described it as dull, and completely missing its target audience. The Huffington Post called the company’s response to backlash “non-committal word salad”. From the Sydney Morning Herald through to the Stuff News website, from Australia to USA to New Zealand and France, people debated sexism in the ad. None more so than female surfers, who also took to the Roxy Facebook page to inform Roxy that its approach wasn’t fooling anyone.

Retired Pro Surfer Cori Schumacher created an online petition that raised over 1000 signatures. She suggested women use the hashtag, #Notbuyingit , to emphasise to advertisers that women consumers did have a voice and there would be an impact. The ad was panned by online male surfers in the Twitter community as well, which in turn prompted a bizzare response on Surfing Life from Mimi LaMontagne, female surf photographer and columnist. In the Surfing Life article, Mimi suggests that the issue of the ad is redundant because the issue of the location is more important. It is suggested that the voice of male commentators is somehow a prudish middle-aged response to vibrant female empowerment.

Arguments have raged about how Roxy is not a surfing entity and is a lifestyle company, but this in turn raises the question: Why is a female lifestyle devoid of clothing, power, a face, or even a voice?  In the case of arguing for empowerment, what then of the women who find the campaign offensive or disempowering? Roxy has nothing. The criticism from women is ignored and silenced, attributed to prudes, or “Butch Lesbos” (See: “Tension Rising Between ASP and Quiksilver”.)

As a woman surfer not noted for actual surfing ability, I was cautious when speaking up. I followed people like Cori and made fun of the campaign to raise awareness of its stupidity without attracting the attention of the usual anti-feminist ire. This changed over the weekend when I criticised the Surfing Life article for its blatant inaccuracy and poorly written opinion piece. I questioned the standard of editing. This resulted in a heated and protracted response from the editor of surfing life, through his online trolling persona on Twitter. Yes, journalists in surf maintain Twitter accounts to insult people who might give negative feedback on their work. For why that might be a problem, Google: Journalism Ethics and Standards.

My criticism involves the fact that women’s voice was important in the issue and that it was completely overlooked. This ommission in the article Mimi wrote is, in turn, inaccurate. Surf journalism is, after all, our surfing news source. We can have higher expectations of it. As females who surf, and who enjoy surf news, we can hold writers and editors accountable for deliberate misinformation.

When told to provide positive input, I suggested asking Cori Schumacher to provide a counter balance. I positively identified an article in Surfing Life as tactfully countering the ideas in the Roxy promo, but was still dismissed as ‘complaining’ or ‘critical’. Some might point out that the editor in question has an ethical duty to accept feedback from the public and correct facts in his magazine. Ok, when I say some, I mean me. I might also suggest the editor himself was complaining vociferously, but apparently his complaints are valid while female complaints are cause for silencing.

The most patronising comment in this debate from the Editor of Surfing Life is the reason for the headline of this blog post:

Surfing Life: there is no such thing as sexyism. To silence your critics you have had to manufacture a word to make an excuse for deliberate sexism in the surf industry. The term is not cute, nor is it clever. Such a lack of imagination in debating the issue perhaps explains why your writers did not have the resources or freedom to adequately discuss it. When asked to prove that you had read alternate opinions and show the awareness of issues in Mimi’s article, you tried to argue that the lack of waves for the contest is the point. Feel free to note that we can argue both the lack of waves and the sexism of the ad are relevant. We can handle both issues as evidence!

The use of pornographic film techniques in advertising and its long term effects has been documented. To turn away from a valid commentary on this, in favour of promoting what only some men consider important, reinforces the idea that the surf industry is out of touch with what modern men and women contend with.

It is not just about lack of waves. It is not just about hypersexualised ad campaigns. It is about the silence. Whether we are on the water or off it, surfing is not solely for men with chauvinist attitudes. Fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, lovers. Modern surfing is more than a rich tapestry. None of us are merely for looking at. It is time we were heard. It is time you stopped and listened. Where are our voices?


HuffPo: Roxy’s Sexy Surfing Ad For Biarritz Competition Rides Wave Of Controversy
The Guardian: Roxy’s anonymous ass is getting female surfing attention for the wrong reasons
Marketing: Roxy ad dumb, embarrassing: Jane Caro on the spot sparking an online firestorm
Stuff News: Outcry over provocative Surfing Video 
Daily Life: We never see her face, we never see her surf
Mimi LaMontagne: No surfing, No Sex, What’s Left
Cori Schumacher: Lesbian Baiting a la Roxy 2013
Cori Schumacher: Who is losing when sex is sold? The future
Journalism Ethics and Standards
Change Petition to Roxy
Cori Schumacher on Twitter
Beauty Redefined: Sex Sells, but we’re not buying it

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