This post is a continuation of the discussion on sexism in action sports. Click here for part 1.
When I first got into action sports, I adopted some of the culture’s misogynistic attitudes without being fully aware of it. After all, I vehemently supported the idea that a female FMX rider could rise among the ranks of the best. However, I still joined in the shaming of girls who seemed to be into the sport for the guys. It’s much like the “fake geek girl” attitude I’ve seen in nerd culture, where attractive women are judged automatically. Even though no one wants disingenuity, it’s not up to us to determine who is “real” without getting to know them. Plus action sports wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without the casual fans. I was lucky to have joined FMX forums run by women in the industry; plus I gave off the little sister vibe. How we look (or are perceived to appear) shouldn’t matter, but it does.
This brings me to Kim Woozy’s TED Talk:
She made me think about the mixed reactions female action sports athletes have gotten for posing nude for ESPN the Magazine‘s Body Issue. I am all for anyone embracing their bodies, and nudity shouldn’t be a big deal. Plus the Body Issue does a great job of highlighting different sizes, shapes, and skin tones, as well as “imperfections” like tan lines and scars. Nevertheless, Kim and Jen Hudak make good points in their criticisms of sexy shoots. Why do those get more attention than actual achievements?
One of my friends posted a link on Facebook about the Body Issue, praising the use of Prince Fielder on the cover. Someone had commented that women don’t seem to get the same treatment, citing Jamie Anderson’s cover. While the photo of Jamie perfectly captures her spirit and personality, I had to partly agree with the comment. Jamie’s looks are irrelevant, but the artistic choice for the photo is something to question. She’s posing (in kind of a stereotypical modeling way too), not snowboarding. Contrast that with the shot of Coco Ho. It’s dynamic and more inspiring.
Now I don’t fault Jamie since she was not in charge of the shoot, but I hope ESPN the Magazine will consider how they depict their cover models (it’s worth noting that the other female cover model, Venus Williams, was also posing and didn’t even have a racket).
Another thing that bothered me about the Body Issue was the behind-the-scenes footage of Travis Pastrana and Lyn-Z Adams Pastrana. First, I wish Lyn-Z was skateboarding instead of riding in the back. I know the artistic director probably wanted a fun couple’s shot, but it sends the message that Lyn-Z’s career takes a backseat. On top of that, they captured Travis joking about how he got to see his “wife’s tits all day”. Although I’m sure Lyn-Z was not offended by the comment, it’s still derogatory and inappropriate to air. It reinforces the idea that looks are the most important thing for a girl and disregards the struggles Lyn-Z has faced as a female skateboarder. I’m very disappointed in both ESPN and Travis Pastrana.
These are little things that have a major impact. They contribute to the misogyny that women in action sports (whether they are athletes, industry folks, or fans) face. When male skaters and riders call each other “pussy” or “bitch”, they are associating femininity with weakness. That, in turn, alienates the women who are already fighting this double standard of having to be attractive to get attention but not too pretty to where they won’t be taken seriously. One thing I disagree with Jen on her critique of sexy shoots is how much it will injure a female athlete’s career. It’s less about the photos themselves (because after all, we remember the achivements of Danica Patrick and Elena Hight) and more about that ridiculous double standard and the constant objectification of women by the media and even by their peers. Who cares if some of us wear no make-up and have grease stains on our clothes while others of us wear heels on weekends and are willing to pose nude? Our love of actions sports should be what matters, and until that is the case, I will not stop fighting for more feminism in the culture.