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?
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.




Equality: A Vision of..? Part 1

The Olympics: the pinnacle of sporting achievement. This competition receives global attention; is credited with encouraging participation in sport and healthier living; and is fought over by countries and cities desperate to invest in hosting it. The ASP wishes to place surfing in this high profile competition. I’ve written about this before: What Price Progress?

In that piece I criticised the ASP for a lack of equality. In my opinion, women’s surfing has been deliberately trivialised and continues to be disadvantaged in the current setting. I wondered if the ASP was following the lead of the IOC in trying to address the imbalance. After all, paying women a third of the prize money men get, and providing inferior locations and conditions for competition is blatantly sexist.The IOC has guidelines in place that place emphasis on standards of equality. So what has the IOC got to offer for guidance?

The Olympic Games did not focus on equality in the first 50 years of its inception. The London Games in 2012 did however usher in an improvement for the Olympics. 44% of participants were female and for the first time ever, women participated in every Olympic Sport. Traditionally women had not been allowed to compete in boxing but this changed and so the last hurdle to competing in every event was finally crossed.

In July 2013 the IOC Chairman announced in Making Progress: Seeking gender equality in sport that the IOC had to continue to make progress from this achievement. In particular the alliance formed with the United Nations was considered instrumental in improving equality.

The United Nations has an organisation called Sport for Development and Peace. In this organisation, the traditional place of sport in global communities is seen as a low cost and effective way to improve human rights of people worldwide. The importance of sport in fostering development is recognised even as sport itself is openly defined as a complex mirror of society:

The positive potential of sport does not develop automatically. It requires a professional and socially responsible intervention which is tailored to the respective social and cultural context.


In my previous post I contended that a vision for equality would involve environmental and social justice; that surfing could promote education; that surfing needed to be aware of cultural context; that surfing could contribute to local economies and encourage development. This seems to align with the vision of the United Nations Charter and the UN Sport for Development and Peace. In 2007 the UN put out a paper entitled: Women, Gender and Equality in Sport where it contended that women play a vital part in developing goals. It states that the UN believes sport and leisure to be a basic human right. It also states that women’s equality is constrained by sexism in sport, but goes on further to say:

The role of men and boys in challenging and changing unequal power relations is critical.

Thus, the current state of women’s surfing is dependent on men challenging the way that the ASP promotes and organises women in surfing. When I first started this series, I was challenged for my disappointment in the way men on Twitter responded to sexist policies in surfing. I was told my frame of reference was only the online environment but clearly the UN backs up my contentions that the way men respond to inequality is important and that it isn’t just a part of online experience.

I have also complained about the way women in surfing are represented in magazines and media. I believe the athletes are hypersexualised in comparison to men and I believe that this is harmful to the sport. This belief stems in part from the work of Cori Schumacher who has consistently written about this. She recently evaluated the current state of women’s pro surfing and says:

What the surf industry calls “market reality,” female competitive surfers often dub “not being marketed correctly.” 17-year WCT veteran, Rochelle Ballard puts it succinctly: “I just think [women’s professional surfing] hasn’t been approached right.”

It would seem as if the IOC’s move to increase female participation in sport would also need to carefully assess the way that women are marketed but sadly, even sports in the Olympics tend to have preferential treatment for men, even in the way female athletes are dressed. Until recently Volleyball insisted women had to wear bikinis. They were only convinced to change this policy because religious mandates from other countries forbid women from competing in this event. In boxing, the last sport to finally allow women to compete, women were forced to wear skirts instead of shorts so that they looked more feminine. Why does this difference in treatment exist?

Janet Fink in Homophobia and the Marketing of Female Athletes and Women’s Sport wrote:

Homophobia has strong and deep tentacles in the world of women’s sport, and this entrenched notion has an especially meaningful impact on the marketing of
women’s sports and female athletes.

Essentially, the marketing of women in a hypersexualised manner is to do with reinforcing traditional notions of sexuality and male hegemony. The ‘reality’ of commercial marketing is in fact a fear of homosexuality. Given the recent shift in public perception it is reasonable to expect that this will then change the way that sport is marketed, especially for women, but this shift is taking place slowly and with great difficulty. The belief that ‘sex sells’ has been soundly disproven but the myth continues to be used to sell sexualisation in marketing.

To summarise the vision of equality so far:

1. The UN sees sport as an important tool for human rights, including equality and further contends that women play a vital role in development goals.
2. The IOC is committed to improving equality
3. There is criticism of continued hypersexualisation of women and a contention that this is based on male heteronormativity/ a response to homophobic beliefs.
4. Men play a vital role in challenging inequality because of their prominence in sport.

What, then, does the ASP have in place for improving equality and how do sports organisations plan for such a thing? Where will the money come from? And why does female performance lag behind male athletes? Stay tuned: I intend to find out.