The postponed Roxy Pro has been held off the French Coast; in long overdue decent conditions with, for once, occasional good commentary. Congratulations to Sally Fitzgibbons and all the women for putting on some excellent displays of women’s surfing. May they eventually receive better locations and opportunities to display their surfing prowess.
I couldn’t help but notice how many people commented on their gratitude for proper competitive waves and it got me thinking about how the teaser, while a catalyst for activism, is the tip of the iceberg in terms of surfing’s attitude to women. While Cori Schumacher has visited Roxy headquarters and delivered a packet outlining the issues with constantly sexualising women in marketing, we wait for a second meeting to determine what Roxy are going to do about it. Perhaps they will decide to lead the way in promoting the sport in an affirming fashion but based on my observations there is still a long way to go in surfing.
Women in surfing face a number of barriers in having a voice. First, the myth that sex sells is pervasive and constantly rehashed to women debunking it in spite of the evidence.
The Inertia has posted articles that promote a more critical viewpoint but in each case a few men respond by repeating the mantra that sex sells even when research shows it doesn’t. The cliche has become fact in spite of it being mere advertising rhetoric. Seriously. Sex doesn’t sell.
Also alarming is the notion that sexism in surfing is irrelevant. While the Roxy Pro eventually took place in decent conditions, athletes weren’t reimbursed expenses for the cancelled episode earlier this year and still earn less on the circuit, meaning they have to find alternative financing to remain competitive. If women have to fight for every penny and never make a living on the circuit, that has to have an impact on surfing performance.
This leads to women having to fight for attention of sponsors. Alana Blanchard put it best when she mentioned ( at Huntington Beach ) that ‘you have to eat’ . For anyone not understanding why that has ramifications, she is openly telling you that she can’t easily balance modelling with the nutritional demands of being a surfing athlete. Women constantly having to prove they are sexy as well as athletic has an impact on performance. They have to make allowances for energy put into appearance that should really be channelled into surfing itself.
Adding to this pressure, surfing is apparently better now that it is sexier. Leading the charge is Stab Magazine, a supposedly innovative publication that seems to be edgy in every way except when it comes to women.
Women’s surfing ain’t what it was and, in recent years, we’ve grown fond of portraying exquisite surfer gals as seen through our lonesome eyes. …
Stab feels that women’s surfing, electric and aggressive as it’s ever been, is also sexier than it’s ever been.
Clearly this is not innovative representation of women in sports. In fact it’s text book male gaze and objectification. Popular culture has been normalising pornography for the past decade. It’s not like guys can’t buy pornography, so why is women’s surfing seen as a viable source for it? Can surf mags not sell content without sex? If so, they’re doomed to irrelevance.
Meanwhile, pushing positive agendas for women results in the same tired reaction. A lot of people don’t realise sexism exists. It’s the silent enemy. Raise the issue, only to find yourself dismissed as having ‘agendas’ or being ‘jealous’. Watch a surf personality dismiss your ideas as a mere ‘troll’ or ‘kook’. What results is a vacuum, an absence of an opposition voice that only exists if amplified by men who take the time to validate it. Men face the same negative consequences speaking up against industry silence. Women have to be courageous, polite, humorous enough to face consequences if they do stand up to it.
Girls like to be intelligent. We like to have opinions. We want equality. And yes, women fighting for equality in surfing have an ‘agenda’. We like sports, too. Stab Mag’s tagline I think puts it best, when it says, “We like to surf.” That speaks to a potential that has yet to be realised. Because the point of women’s surfing is not male approval, nor is it popularity or sex or successful advertising. The point of women’s surfing is, girls also like to surf.
“We like to surf” includes girls. Don’t set women apart when we’re part of it.