Action sports needs to be more feminist, part 2

Posted: September 9, 2014 in Essays and Musings, Feminism in Action
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

Jamie Anderson.  By Peggy Sirota/ ESPN the Magazine

Jamie Anderson. By Peggy Sirota/ ESPN the Magazine

Coco Ho.  By Morgan Maassen/ ESPN The Magazine

Coco Ho. By Morgan Maassen/ ESPN The Magazine

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.

  1. curiosetta says:

    > When male skaters and riders call each other “pussy” or “bitch”, they are associating femininity with weakness.

    They are simply recognising the same thing as you …. that (in general) women are less inclined towards risky, dangerous, athletic, pursuits that require immense physical prowess and skill than men.

    They are just expressing it in a more matter-of-fact way that’s all. If a male skater calls another skater an ‘insect’ he is calling that person weak. He is recognising that insects are weak compared to humans, hence the analogy. In no way is it an insult to insects who REALLY ARE weaker than humans. Comparing insects to humans is only an insult to humans, not insects. In the same way females REALLY ARE less inclined than men (in general) towards risky, dangerous, athletic, pursuits that require immense physical prowess and skill. So again, it is not an insult to women. It is only an insult to men.

    Watch the viral ‘like a girl’ video/ advert by Always which was directed by a feminist. In the video the feminist director tells the audience that the phrase ‘like a girl’ is an insult to girls. Then near the end of the video the same woman urges the girls and women in the studio to stop running ‘like a girl’ because running like ‘a girl’ is restrictive and running like ‘a person’ is more empowering.

    But that is precisely what ‘like a girl’ means whenever ANYBODY says it to a female. So the feminist director is saying ‘like a girl’ is insulting and demeaning when non-feminists say it to a girl and it is only empowering and positive when a feminist says it to a girl. How conceited is that!?

    You are doing the same thing. You are saying boys who recognise that (in general) girls don’t go for, and aren’t very good at action sports is insulting and ‘misogynistic’….. but when a feminist recognises the exact same thing that’s empowering and positive.

    You’re basically saying when a male remarks on gender differences (based on sexual dimorphism) he is automatically being misogynistic but when a female notices the very same thing she is being positive and progressive. That’s either a case of being irrational and lacking awareness….. or it’s deliberate sexism and misandry.

    • Hibari says:

      There is a difference because of the unequal power dynamics. Throughout history, men have been given more influence and more power; as a result, they’re the ones who determine linguistic connotations. When women point out the problem with the phrase “like a girl”, we are framing it in the context that is accepted by society. At the same time, we can choose to reclaim the term because that is our way of defying the misogynistic standards of today. You see the same thing happening with the word “queer” in the LGBTQIA community and “people of color” with non-whites. The group in power has set a standard, and we’re both critiquing their language and reinventing new meanings to make a positive out of negative.

      Also, I question whether the fact that women appear to be more risk-adverse completely biological. One of the articles I link in part 1 ( points out that women are socialized differently. We’re expected to be more composed, more cautious. Obviously the large number of female action sports athletes have proven that we can take risks and go big.

      • curiosetta says:

        > There is a difference because of the unequal power dynamics. Throughout history, men have been given more influence and more power; as a result, they’re the ones who determine linguistic connotations.

        I assume you are referring to feminism’s ‘patriarchy theory’. (The theory that throughout history men deliberately and successfully oppressed women to create a society which benefited men at the expense of women. A theory which defines men as dominant and all powerful oppressors who are responsible for how society is….. and women as weak, innocent victims with little to no agency and therefore no responsibility for how society is).

        Thanks to feminism ‘patriarchy theory’ is a given in our culture which is why you do not feel the need to qualify your claims about men having more power and influence (I’m not having a go – I’m just saying….). But ‘patriarchy theory’ makes no sense logically, and is not supported by the evidence (historical facts). It is no different to when people used to claim blacks were a threat to society, or jews. It’s just another ‘threat narrative’.

        In reality women have always had (and still have) enormous power and influence over boys/ men and over society as a whole. Women have always had the agency, intelligence and perfectly natural selfish desire to define and negotiate their own gender roles…. and to help define those of males too, in ways that suit women.

        The idea that men are capable of dominating women (as per patriarchy theory) is a male power fantasy. Feminism itself is a male power fantasy.

        The so called ‘patriarchy’ (ie traditional male/ female gender roles) was very much defined BY women and FOR women’s benefit. To argue the opposite is to argue that women throughout history desperately wanted to do men’s dangerous and strenuous manual labour (coal mining, shipyard work, fishing, road building etc) and have men’s responsibilities and obligations (fighting in wars, protecting the opposite sex, enforcing laws, providing resources to the opposite sex etc) but that men prevented them from doing these things, claiming it as their male privilege. But in modern society women STILL choose to avoid manual labour and other traditional male jobs (front line policing, infrastructure maintenance, ocean trawling, refuse collection etc). As a result men die at work at a rate 20 times that of women. Why should we believe women desperately wanted to do these jobs and take on these roles in the past when women show almost desire to do them today (even thought modern technology now makes these jobs far less dangerous and unpleasant than they used to be)? It makes no sense.

        > When women point out the problem with the phrase “like a girl”, we are framing it in the context that is accepted by society.

        But the phrase means *totally different things* depending on whether it is directed towards a male or a female.

        When directed at girls/ women the phrase ‘like a girl’ attacks the female stereotype and NOT the girl herself. It encourages the girl to break free of that stereotype and rise above her restrictive socialisation and be more gender neutral instead. The phrase “stop throwing like a girl” urges girls/ women to break free of the traditional gender role for women as weak, fragile, delicate creatures who require protection from muscular, brave, burly men.

        But when directed at a boys/ men the phrase ‘like a girl’ attacks the boy himself and REINFORCES the restrictive male stereotype of the strong, tough, physically capable, warrior, hunter and provider. The phrase attacks the boy personally for daring to fall outside of the traditional (socialised) male gender role by either being too physically weak or behaving in a weak and wimpy way (or both).

        So directed at a girl the phrase is saying “You can be more than a socialised female” but directed at a boy the phrase is saying “Don’t you dare be any less than a socialised male”. One is positive and the other is negative.

        > At the same time, we can choose to reclaim the term because that is our way of defying the misogynistic standards of today.

        But the term was traditionally only meant to be an insult against boys/ men and was never used to insult or chastise women.

        That the phrase is now being directed at women too just shows that we now live in a less ‘gendered’ society where even women are now encouraged to not behave like a (socialised) ‘girl’. In other words it is no longer encouraged (or even socially acceptable) for women to exaggerate her physical weakness and ineptitude just to provoke males into protecting and providing for her. That’s what ‘don’t throw like a girl’ means *when directed at a woman*. The phrase mocks the stereotype (the socialised gender role), not the girl herself.

        This is also the message of the ‘like a girl’ ad campaign!!!!! The ‘like a girl’ campaign urges women to not act ‘like a girl’ ……… which is also what people mean when they say to a girl “You throw like a girl”. The ad campaign literally urges women/ girls to …. not throw or run or act ‘like a girl’. Yet it complains about people who urge women to …..not throw or run or act ‘like a girl’.

        That’s going beyond hypocrisy and into the realm of mental illness.

        The ‘like a girl’ campaign is not reclaiming the term, it is just using the term the same way that everyone else uses it. The term is ‘liberating’ when directed at females. It is only restrictive or oppressive when directed at males, which is the one group NOT given any sympathy or support by the feminist ‘like a girl’ campaign. In fact the campaign is decidedly anti-male and depicts men as oppressing and victimising women with this phrase. How sick is that?

        That is like white people complaining that black segregation harms their white children and that black people should stop doing it! It’s literally that mad.

        Feminism does not just invent oppression where there is none. It literally turns reality on its head in its never ending quest to portray women as helpless, weak, inept victims. This is called ‘damselling’ (posing as the victim). It is the very opposite of ’empowerment’.

        > I question whether the fact that women appear to be more risk-adverse completely biological. …….women are socialized differently.

        Yes men and women are socialised differently. But again you are (probably unconsciously) stripping women of their agency in this process. Our gender identities are mostly defined in early childhood and women (mothers, carers, nursery staff, female teachers etc) have always had the most influence at this time. Some boys and girls barely get to interact with adult males until they hit their mid teens. And yet according to the feminist narrative the women of history (and women today) had nothing whatsoever to do with how boys/ girls are socialised. It’s all men’s doing!

        Feminism is a Male Power Fantasy. Even though women dominate the raising of children, particularly at their most critical stage of 0 – 5 years old men still control everything apparently.

        The truth is women define male/ female gender roles far more than men do and this socialisation is itself a perfectly natural (biologically driven) phenomena. Feminism claims men define society’s gender roles AND that this is ‘unnatural’, because feminism defines men as unnatural.

        Feminists define men as unnatural because feminists are typically women who grow up in single mother households, who only had contact with women (ie their single mother’s single mother friends) all of whom probably bitched about men. In daycare and school they encountered mostly female staff and they hardly spoke to an adault male until they were teenagers. No wonder these women view men as ‘other’ and as ‘unnatural’! They are an alien species…….. just like blacks are an alien species to white people born and raised in all white neighbourhoods which teach their young a threat narrative about black people.

        > We’re expected to be more composed, more cautious. Obviously the large number of female action sports athletes have proven that we can take risks and go big.

        ‘We’re expected’ is another phrase which strips agency from women. Women (mothers, female teachers etc) expect girls to be more composed and more cautious than boys. It’s not just men who expect this.

        Action sports is NOT a risky activity in the same way that logging, fishing, front line policing, security work, refuse collection, oil rig work, the fire service, construction work and the military is….. of of which are activities men are ‘expected’ to do, by women.

        Feminists can only truly say they are into ‘gender equality’ after they start applying for the same jobs men do, or at least campaigning for other women to address these ‘male dominated’ fields that kill, injure and ruin the health of so many men. But this will never happen.

  2. Hibari says:

    I believe you’re mistaking patriarchy for feminism. Patriarchy is the social structure that harms both men and women. It is what has defined these gender roles. Misogyny is the twisting of this to force both men and women into positions that harm them. Misogynists are the ones who say that men cannot control themselves in the presence of women, thus reducing them into mindless beasts.

    If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m a feminist. My parents are still married, and I have a brother along with many male friends. I’m a biochemist, who has had both male and female bosses. My fellow feminists come from all kinds of backgrounds so you cannot assume that we have not been around as men as much. We are just able to take our experiences and critique the inequality that affects both men and women. We don’t want the men in our lives to feel bad about liking the color pink or staying at home to take care of the kids, as much as we don’t want to be harassed and looked down upon every time we go to our male-dominated jobs and hobbies.

    A lot of women do dangerous work, but guess what? We still get paid less, promoted less frequently, AND there is one more additional danger in a lot of those fields: the threat of rape. Just look at the military. Feminists have been championing for women to be out in the battlefield for years, but we’re not going to do it at the expense of women just because some misogynistic men think it’s okay to assert their dominance by forcing their will upon their fellow soldier.

  3. […] Action sports needs to be more feminist, part 2 […]

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