Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sexism: It can happen on a beach, it can happen in the air, it can happen anywhere :)

One of my favourite things about New Zealand is their national airline, which has these great safety videos that take a totally different and engaging approach to seat-belts, emergency lighting and the brace position. Honestly, they're clever and funny and engaging and you actually want to watch them. Let me repeat that: You want to watch the safety video the whole way through. If you don't believe me, you can visit their YouTube channel, where they have all of these safety videos for public consumption.Think about that for a second.

A couple of months ago, there was on that made me feel pretty uncomfortable. It was all Swimsuit Illustrated girls and women in bikinis. They played on the bimbo stereotype, twirling their hair and doing their makeup, all in bikinis. I suppose that's okay on paper. I mean it's sexist, but pretty standard. But the experience of sitting next to people watching sexualised images of women for our entertainment and consumption - on a safety video that you HAVE to watch because it's in front of your face - made me squirm in my seat.

I wanted to write to them and say something and I guess I should have, because their latest offering is pretty bad as well.

Their latest offering makes me feel less uncomfortable than it does cranky. Because it's sexist in a way that is embarrassing and silly and easy to fix. It's sexist in a way that it didn't need to be. Come! Play along! Look carefully and see if you can pick the sexism in this clip:

Did you see it? Actually, did you see the multiple incidents? Did you notice how everyone is a Surfer except for two people who are Surfers and Models, as though their being a model is somehow relevant to this video. Because it's not. Did you see the practised longing looks Alana Blanchard and Anastasia Ashley throw over their shoulders. Tee hee hee, boys. The inclusion of Paige Hareb as 'NZ's #1 Female Surfer' shows that women who surf don't need additional qualifiers. I mean, they don't mention there that Paige is also a competitive boxer, so why do they need to mention the other day jobs of Alana and Anastasia? What did it change, impact or effect except to make me wonder why they bothered mentioning it.

The thing is, Alana Blanchard and Anastasia Ashley are really good surfers and deserve to be recognised for their achievements in the water. They both surf so well and Anastasia Ashley charges in heavy surf. But according to the internet this is not the part of their identity that they choose to emphasise nor the one they're best known for - Alana's surfing is not the reason she has 1.2 million Instagram followers - so AirNZ got itself in a bit of a trap by using them. Because they are not currently on the women's tour and they have not been world champions, but there are plenty of women who are and have been. The reminder that they're models is more of a reminder to me of why AirNZ chose them to be involved at all.

One plus though was the lack of bikinis featured, which was surprising. I wonder if there was enough criticism of the Swimsuit Illustrated video and all of its attendant cleavage that AirNZ made sure the women were wearing wetsuits in this one. The lack of swimwear really stood out to me, so on that, nicely played AirNZ. So close. And yet... not quite.

Of course, critics of this criticism will argue that the men are sexualised in a way that the wetsuit clad women weren't - the men's bodies are on display and caressed by the camera, and that's not so cool either. It's hard to film surfing without filming folk in their swimmers and boardshorts, especially on the Gold Coast or Malibu, but there's a difference between something or someone being inherently sexy and being explicitly sexualised. And also, isn't Mick Fanning a model too? He seems to be in a LOT of advertising campaigns for clothes, sunglasses, headphones, boardshorts, wetsuits, surfboards and so one, so doesn't that make him '3 x World Champion and Model'? Why leave it out?

And this is the point. Because it seems like a small thing leaving that word in there, but really it's not. And it's going to irritate the hell out of me every AirNZ flight I take for the next few months.

In the future, maybe, just let a woman be a surfer without having to be represented as a slashie.

"These ain't no slashies folks. These are the pure breeds."

Friday, May 08, 2015

I would want to go, but... I'm not sure I could.

So I know I talk a lot about the inherent sexism in surfing, especially in surf media. I know I also talk a lot about how social media offers a way for individual surfers to make their own decisions about the kinds of images they post and promote in relation to surfing and life more generally. I've been pretty stoked on how social media has contributed loads of new representations of women and women's surfing - @babesonwaves is a great example of this. Of course, it can also be used to sing the same song of butt shots etc, so don't think I'm saying it's all rosy, but still, there is lots of potential and lots of cool things happening. So when I see images like the one below being used to promote a really great cause, and being re-posted by people who want to sincerely want to promote that event, I get bummed out.

I found this image on Kassia Meador's Instagram site, which she uses in part to promote her new wetsuit range (which is pretty great, by the way). I don't know what Kassia Meador thinks about this image beyond it promoting this event, but I feel like the links to past objectification and sexualisation of women in surfing culture is pretty strong. For example, for a while in surf magazine advertising women lost their heads and faces with images focusing squarely on their bodies in the way this image does. There is some really well known research on this by Margaret Henderson, but I thought we'd largely got past that. Yeah, women wear bikinis on the beach, so I get that such images will continue and that's totally fine. But this image is more the kind of angle you would see in a wildlife documentary, and that's totally not okay. Because I feel like these women should be able to pick up rubbish on the beach and not have some guy imagine it as a possibility for something more. Seriously, how creepy is that guy!! Maybe he can look while walking, maybe, but to stop and stand and stare? Creep.

It's an illustration, okay. I know. But honestly, doesn't it make your stomach turn a bit? I feel gross re-posting it here and thus allowing it more airplay.

The event sounds great and I hope it's successful. But maybe they could make their promotions a little less sexist in the future.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April chill

It's not summer here anymore. The days are getting shorter, the mornings are crisp and tonight... tonight, I turned on the heater in my bedroom. 

To be honest, I've been looking forward to hunkering down in these colder months. I'm on of those people who feels guilty sleeping any time that it's not dark, so the long, relentless, sunny days have left me feeling very tired. Also, summer is always so busy, which is wonderful but I'm ready to stop. I'm ready to spend a lot of time on my couch, listening to tunes, slowly cooking my dinner, which has the added bonus of warming my little house.*

Of course, the cold brings other benefits too, the first one being 'waves', the second being 'fewer people'. 

(Photo by the very clever Kath Bicknell)


*And with that in mind, all hail soup!

Monday, April 13, 2015

In my dream

So, I had the weirdest dream the other night.

I know that is about the creepiest way that anyone can start a story, but, well, I did.

I'm not going to go into details - listening to other peoples' dream is usually pretty irritating - but the crux of it is that I came upon a group exercise class, but it was really, really fit people who were training really hard. And then I looked and noticed that one of the people working out was Kelly Slater. But, because he is so fit and wanted to work out so hard, instead of shoes he was wearing mini, round balance boards on his feet. Not shoes with inflated, rounded soles, but actual small balance boards with inflated, rounded balls underneath.

Not surprisingly, he seemed pretty intense about his training, so I avoided talking to him. But he really was impressively fit! I guess if you're at a point where you're wearing balance balls for shoes, you're a fair bit further along the fitness spectrum than I am.

Balance board shoes. They were pretty weird looking.

But the weirdest thing about that dream is that I usually dream about everyday, mundane things like doing my grocery shopping, going to the beach, or having a disagreement - it's always made me worried that I don't have much of an imagination. I rarely have surreal or fantastical dreams so this moment in whatever the rest of this dream was is really up there.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The future is here and.... nooooooooo!

So, today, for the first time ever, I saw someone out in the lineup PULL THEIR iPHONE OUT OF THEIR BOARDSHORTS AND CHECK THEIR MESSAGES! Not voicemail, but texts or emails or social media or the swell report or something.

Say what now?

He never took a photo, never took a call, but while I was out there I saw him check his phone a few times and it totally bummed me out.

I'm guessing that people using their mobiles in the water is going to increasingly become a thing, and I've been sadly trying to comes to some kind of terms with it for a while because one of the things that I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really love about surfing is that it's forced time away from that stuff. Like flying where you can could just sit back and do other things because you can't couldn't check your emails. It's like when I go for an after-work walk and don't take my phone unless I want to take pictures. I have a separate iPod so I can have tunes without my phone for that very reason.

I love that when I paddle out it's just people and the sea (and Go-pros now I guess). People sitting quietly alone or with others. Or (if I'm around) people talking and laughing with friend with no distractions other than waves or a turtle or a bird or (again, if I'm around) a cool-looking cloud. The idea that folk will have their heads down checking messages or posting to Instagram or doing anything that isn't paying attention to the incredible beauty and thrill of being in the sea and under the sky is so heinous that it makes me feel SAD IN MY HEART.

When I saw this guy, head down, scrolling through his screen I wanted to paddle over and say, 'Sir, I'm judging you right now. Judging. You.' Because I was. But I didn't. I just silently judged him, emitted one of those internal, existential screams that tear at your soul every now and again, and took a deep breath.

And then I caught a bunch of really long, fun waves and got caught on the inside by a massive set and was wrenched around by the ocean and felt awesome!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Women who run with the tides

When it comes to talking about improving the visibility, representation and opportunities for women in surfing, one of the common points made is that 'Women need more role models'. And it's a fair point. Until recently, only the most high-performance, most successful and/or prettiest female surfers were given media coverage, with others left out because they're 'not good enough' or 'too butch'. Of course, historically the people making those comments and value judgements (How does being 'butch' impact a woman's surfing abilities or value? And what does it matter if someone is 'butch' anyway?) have largely been male magazine editors and marketing directors. These days we have a lot more women in all sorts of roles in surf media and representations of women have improved, all of which is awesome, but there is still an alarming emphasis on youth, beauty and sex appeal.

For younger women I think the high-performance, everyone's-gorgeous, role-model issue remains an especially important area of concern, so those conversations and changes need to continue. But for women who are older the whole role model thing is interesting in a different way because there is an assumption that most people find role models in high-performance or competitive surfing, which isn't always true.When I talk to my friends about surfing aspirations or improvements, they rarely refer to professional surfers. In fact, almost never. Instead, they refer to women from their own community, who manage to surf as well as have a career, a relationship and/or kids. Body image and fashion tend to make way for other issues, and often it is the older, more experienced women that get mentioned as models (or not) of how things can be done - of what to aspire to. 

All of this is (as ever) a long way of coming to a film I have been wanting to share here for a long time, 'Women Who Run With the Tides', by Michelle Shearer. And I apologise for not posting it earlier because it's an important film and a really great one as well.  

This short film was shot in Lennox Head, Australia, just down the road from my home digs in Suffolk Park. It focuses on three women - Marg, 64, Sally, 58 and Carol, 50 - who have different surfing histories, ability levels and life situations, but who all share a passion for being in the sea as often as possible. These are the kinds of stories that are common when it comes to tales about men. These stories are important in local, regional and national understandings of surfing, because they contribute to how we remember what happened, who was participating, and what things were like at any one time, but they also have resonance in representing what is possible for various people. As men from surfing's boom period of the 1950s and 60s have aged, their stories have continued to be represented, thus showing it is possible to surf past youth, into middle-age and beyond. But as women struggle to have their most successful surfers make it into the media, older, less skilled women have had no space at all! And this does have repercussions. One friend of mine who is in her 50s told me that she worries about getting older because she becomes increasingly invisible in the surf. The older guys get positioned as 'local legends' with space made for them to get waves. Not always, but it certainly happens. Yet women don't seem to be treated the same way. This friend has been surfing her home break for over 20 years, but these days she's yelled at and dropped in on by young men just arrived to town - men who surf with far less skill and grace, and with much less knowledge of the break itself. 

Michelle's film is a beautiful example of how significant ordinary, everyday role models are for people and for our culture, and after this film was release I know many women had conversations about the women in their community who they look up to. In my own surfing life, I'm really lucky because I have many women I can look up to in the surf. Some of them are friends of mine, some of them I just know them from the surf, but they all provide an example of what it might look like for me to keep surfing as I age. Not only that it is possible to do so, but the compromises I might make, the ways I might be able to continue contributing to my surfing community, and how I might be able to continue doing that in my own style and on my own terms. 


The 'Women Who Run With the Tides' Fcebook page has info on upcoming screenings as well as a way to contact Michelle if you would like.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

This girl surfs

My clever friend, Holly, showed me this short film yesterday. From the Youtube post:
Oumaima Erhali is a 17-year-old Moroccan woman determined to surf. She’s part of a generation pushing boundaries in a country where many believe a surfboard is no place for a young Muslim woman. But Oumaima won’t let stereotypes hold her back from the sport she loves or the life she wants to lead.