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."



2 comments:

  1. well.. I was waiting for bikinis and stuff and I had to read you to understand what was wrong. I didn't even read the names.
    I think that's it's a good exercise to point this out, but.. I don't know..

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  2. Yeah, got it.

    I really, really appreciate your focus here on your blog. Our new semi or pseudo or yikes, maybe truly one-world culture is so complex. Thinking of feminism... there was a time when male sexism was SO outrageous and in-your-face, and there was SO much consciousness-raising to do in SO many spheres, that the dysfunctions were really apparent and delineated.
    2015... we've come a long, long way (ironically a cynical 1970s ad line for cigarettes targeted at women!), but in so many ways, the cultural gains have made critiquing sexism much more complex.

    Which is a long way of saying, again, thanks for taking on that task.

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