Bun day Funday: spoiling it for everyone

Dear Everyone,

Regarding  Anastasia Ashley’s Thick Burgers

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This started off as an angry response to an Inertia post. It then became a remorseful remark on my own misconceptions. And finally here it is, just an opinion on why advertising burgers in a bikini is not what I, or others necessarily think it is.

First, I want to advocate for women advertising burgers. There is evidence to suggest that women are sexualised and shamed with food. The act of putting food in our mouths has even been filmed without consent and put on websites. Women are constantly controlled with food- we are shamed, we are exhorted to diet, we are told that we find joy in salads. It is not in the least surprising that we are used to sexualise food. We are used to sexualise anything, and in the process, we are controlled and dehumanised to the point where people think the burger is the problem, not the blatant sexism of the advertising. Go ahead, advertise the burger. At least we don’t have to pretend we enjoy salads:

Women Laughing Alone With Salad- A Website of Women Laughing, with Salad

Burgers are just a food item. Maybe we can’t eat them all the time. Sadly, there are myths prevalent in society around obesity that cause more harm than good and mainly those myths centre on the idea of  ‘calories in, calories out.’ There is strong evidence to suggest that reasons for obesity are more complex. If food choice and exercise, such as surfing, was the sole issue iI doubt it would be such a problem. Obesity and its health issues are actually exacerbated by the fat shaming, eat less/exercise more ethos promoted by the fitness industry (an industry found to be incredibly ineffective at helping the very people it is supposedly keen to serve.)

This leads to my next point. The “Surf Industry” such as magazines, the ASP and clothing outlets, have consciously chosen surfing to present a ‘fit, healthy’ lifestyle in order to promote their brands as fitting that ideal. This is why you will find alcohol brands aligning themselves with the ASP competitions- because they want the youth market that surfing appeals to, and they want to be considered healthy rather than a rampant cause of harmful societal problems.

Surfing is then sold as ‘sexy’, and surfers like Anastasia Ashley are in demand to promote ‘thin, beautiful, fit’ ideals even when advertising a burger. It is a juxtaposition, and it is blatantly using sex to sell which has been proven NOT to work. Sex sells is a very persistent myth, and the fact that it isn’t challenged at all goes a long way to explaining why we continue to see this happening. (Please check out Cori Schumacher‘s blog  for further reference.) Please don’t be offended by Anastasia Ashley wearing a bikini to promote a burger. Please do be offended that this advertising is still considered legitimate in the face of contradictory evidence.

When I first wrote about this advertisement I took the position that the current surf industry is hypersexualising women and the individual women themselves are not to be blamed for this situation. Putting it simply, the industry is misogynistic and then women are blamed for responding to that pressure, rather than examining the pressures and circumstances that both lead to and encourage itFor example Stab Magazine and this excellent article, where models have been described as crying in shoots. Many women follow this path because that is the industry and fighting it isn’t necessarily easy. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed constantly fighting everything and it hasn’t really got me what I wanted.

What I failed to mention or acknowledge is that there is a problem around this approach: women who choose to do this anyway are not necessarily contributing to inequality because feminism embraces sexuality. Some women subvert the hypersexualising process, mocking the idea that men require them to be modest or restrained, and flaunting what they’ve got regardless. It’s not as simple as putting clothes on and refusing to be photographed in that fashion.

What needs to change is our reaction to these situations. What I’ve seen on Twitter and online is a bunch of people behaving in a way that is demeaning towards women who are sexy. People, both men and women, behave disrespectfully towards a woman in a vulnerable sexy outfit. They think she deserves to be treated that way because she is agreeing to be posed in that fashion.

This attitude is referred to as contributing to ‘rape culture’, where aggressive or inappropriate statements towards women are justified by what the woman is wearing or how she is portrayed, rather than holding the perpetrator responsible.

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Check out that poster. It turns around our common culture of telling women how to avoid rape. That’s what rape culture means- that women are to blame for their poor treatment. If we look into violence against women it is clear that actually it doesn’t matter what women wear or do- abusive behaviour is the responsibility of the perpetrator, not the victim.

Now we get to the bit about why rape culture and the attitudes that contribute to it, is part of this: sending a creepy note to Anastasia about how you’d like her as a happy meal is not justified. Nor is being a creepy Facebook commentator about how you’d hit it. Yes, we get that it’s sexy. Yes, she’s in a bikini but that’s not your invitation to hit it. She may be dressed in a bathing suit but how about you learn to look beyond what she wears to who she really is? How about we all learn to do that? How about we all learn that in spite of advertising, we are all human beings? Or just continue being a douchebag thinking you’re edgy for perpetuating the stupidity- trust me, it’s not the women who look bad while you’re doing it.

The problem isn’t that surfers advertise burgers. The problem is that sex doesn’t sell surfing, and it probably doesn’t sell burgers either.  But the biggest problem is this:

We, the status quo, accept the culture that abuses and denigrates women. We hold women responsible for inequality and we hold women responsible for fighting for their rights. We tell women they’re to blame for accepting this, for being complicit, for looking that way, for not producing ‘facts‘, for speaking out of place or for not saying no. This isn’t a women only problem, but a problem of society, and of humanity. We do this not just to women, but to ethnic minorities, to cultures we don’t value, to people and religions we don’t understand.

We are the problem, not the burgers, not the advertising, not the rampant inequalities of the surf industry, but the way in which we respond to it. How can we do better? How can we buck the system when we continue to operate within its paradigms?

 

Abuse 101

Trigger warning: Contains reference to physical and emotional abuse. 

Is it okay to troll public figures on the internet? What makes it appropriate?

What is your definition of trolling? Is it abusive messages? Harassing the individual on any post, any tweet, any photograph? Continuing to harass someone after they have stopped responding? Inciting people to ridicule and humiliate? To hate? Photographing people and uploading them to sites? Creating a public spectacle of someone who is otherwise unknown?

What is your line? Your line between reality and what you do online? And when do you know you have crossed it?

I ask because the world has a body of evidence not necessarily in online abuse and violence, although that is developing, but in the actual world we live in. 1 in 3 women in the world will have experienced physical or sexual violence either from a partner or non partner according to the World Health Organisation. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women states:

In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, intimate partner violence accounts for between 40 and 70 per cent of female murder victims .

 

Further statistics are available here. I want to, if you can, step through the internet into these bleak statistical references. Cross the line between the detachment of a social media community and really see what it is going on in our global community. And think:

What does this mean for women online?

What does this mean for women in surfing?

I ask you to think about it because so often, I am confronted with people who tell me what they cannot see. Surrounded by women: sons of mothers; brothers of sisters; fathers of daughters; audience members of the ASP tour; women who are privileged; they are surrounded by women and they do not see sexism. They do not see violence. They can not see the world that one in every three women are victim to.

I don’t want you to quiz the women around you in the water, online, in your life about their experience. Whether you are male or female, it is not your position to judge, deny or expose their vulnerabilities or humiliation. Victims of violence or abuse should not have to justify their experiences to anyone. But I would like people to be aware that surfing does involve women, not just in the lineup and in the ASP tour, but in the online community. These women are publicly marginalised at least in surf media, the ASP World tour and perhaps also in the way they are discussed online. I am not just talking about Steph Gilmore or Cori Schumacher, although Wok openly discussing violence has been the subject of this blog before. I am talking about women who are ordinary, like me. Or women who are far less outspoken than I am, who look up to the women surfers in the ASP.

The pro surfing females who perhaps have the highest profile and are considered successful are often considered targets for trolling and ridicule. It seems a tenuous idea to suggest compassion and act as an advocate for women who might be millionaires living the surfing dream. Some are young. Some are privileged. You might consider them annoying or partially responsible for perpetuating inequality. How does their surfing career and self objectifying behaviour link to the pain and suffering of victims of violence?

Objectified, paid less and given less opportunity, the women in the ASP tour are in a competitive environment that encourages self objectification; they compete in an environment that is decidedly misogynistic. First, a definition of misogyny:

Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women

Next, let me qualify that misogyny can be perpetrated by anyone regardless of gender. I repeat: misogyny is not only perpetrated by men. Women can also treat other women in a misogynistic fashion. As far as the online experience is concerned, a woman is just as likely to troll and abuse online as a man but not as likely to physically abuse or kill in real life.

Paying women less; denigrating their performance because it is different to men; objectifying them is all a symptom of a misogynistic system. Violence against women is also a manifestation of misogyny.

There is a smaller body of evidence pointing to misandry, the mistreatment of men. Some feminist theories insist that the level of disadvantage against women is so outrageous, misandry cannot possibly exist. Regardless, the majority of the victims of violence are women. We are told not to walk the streets alone; not to wear that kind of outfit; not to get too drunk; not to put ourselves in the line of fire and speak out. It is as if we are responsible for the violence and the abuse. But we are not.

We are responsible for being aware of these statistics. For doing what we can to address inequality and advocate for women who are being discriminated against. It says something truly staggering that we have to advocate for successful women; in our sport as well as women in a suburb; in our local towns or cities. It says something that the highest profile athletes regularly fall into situations where they are exploited or considered worthy of abuse. It says something that your abuser is not just a stranger. It could be anybody, even your sporting association.

And this is where I get to my point. It is never okay to advocate for inequality. Nor is it ever okay to advocate abuse- online or in real life. It is never okay.

Parody and satire are one thing, if done well, but even the most experienced social commentators will trip up. The rest of us are even more likely to do more harm than good. Maybe you want to make a point in an argument, or you consider trolling to be a marker of status. Trolling is never an indication of equality. It is never an indication of a public figure’s importance or achievements.

It is never okay to perpetuate misogyny, whether you are male or female. To do so is a form of abuse.

I realise this is a heavy opinion. Usually ‘trolls’ in the surfing community are people erroneously labeled by the industry simply for showing a critical interest in the affairs of commercial surfing. Being called a troll is often an inside joke. But once in a while people cross the line. It would do us all a world of good to think about the fact that online behaviour can be a complex mirror of society, just as sport is a complex mirror of society.

We all have our different opinions and sometime arguments can get out of hand. However, we need to realise that among us are people who have seen what we do not ordinarily notice. One in three women around us have suffered, are suffering, or will suffer violence. We need to stop trivialising women. We need to stop trivialising abuse. We need to stop the violence.

If you need help for abuse, New Zealand has the following sites:
Are You Okay?
Shine
If you are outside New Zealand, please seek confidential information here
Please, if you have committed violence or feel like you could, seek help through the same avenues of assistance.