via Australia’s Surfing Life Magazine
WOMEN, SURFING AND THE REBIRTH OF THE SEX OBJECT
Tuesday, 09 June 2015
An opinion piece by Scout Fisher.
By putting Imogen as the main image of this article, in no way are we trying to call her out. She rips, and she’s fearless, and that’s why she’s the main image. Photo by Ray Collins from the pages of SL’s annual Hot 100.
A sly glance, or maybe two, at the world of women’s surfing makes it difficult to decipher whether you’re witnessing the rise of girl power or the rebirth of the sex object.
Articles like A Surf Gal We Adore and Anastashia Ashley: The Web’s Favourite Twerker, coupled with the current glut of shots circulating online of most pro surfers’ model girlfriends which feature more than Toledo, Florence and Slater, seem to have successfully whitewashed the collective conscious into thinking that women’s liberation has risen, prospered and gone. All we’re left with is a constant stream of sexy photos that keep male desires satiated and women’s surfing secondary to those desires.
Gurfers are shredding the gnar like never before. Growing respect, admiration and support for the girls is propelling their confidence into trying that air or throwing fins. We can thank the Andersons and the Beachleys, who first shifted the male-dominated gaze from curves to cutbacks, bottoms to barrels and airbrushes to air reverses.
Though how much female progression can we really celebrate when some girls, less attractive than the Coco Hos and Malia Manuels, are reaching the top ten without sponsors? Athletes are supposed to be grizzly, wild, untameable creatures, yet if the surfer’s arms are too muscular or chest too small they are not worth advertising – because there is an image to uphold, right? It goes without saying that the male surfers aren’t expected to sell their sex, being athletes is enough – except for Gabby shaving his chest, which was more disturbing than sexy.
Malia Manuel, throwing spray across her island. Photo by Ryan Miller from the pages of SL 316.
Courtney Conlogue is a great artist, Steph Gilmore loves to play music and Sally Fitzgibbons is a sports fanatic, yet interest in their lives is becoming focused on identifying a favourite body part. The comments section on any Stab photo article is currently polluted with sexism and abuse, as if the girls’ volunteerism absolves misogyny. Freshly liberated, it’s rad that the girls are expressing their beauty in cool shoots, and getting some extra coin on the side, but it’s scary when this eclipses their insane ability to shred waves. Through restoring traditions of sexism, maybe they have become complicit in their own objectification?
Under the guise of exercising the right to “choose”, free from exploitation, women worldwide seem to be embracing their femininity while, simultaneously, their objectification remains unchanged. The idea is that when girls have the ‘power’ to choose actions that repeat gender expectations it is okay because they are aware of the assumptions that shape these choices. Feminist and artist, Ronnie Ritchie, argues that in the debate of sexism and empowerment we must ask “who has the power?” So who holds the power when there is a male director, male advertiser, three male photographers and 3000 internet consumers, all probably men, defining the parameters within which liberation is expressed?
Unless choices are fuelling the vehicle to depart from the idea that “the only female commodity is sex,” they simply reproduce objectification. Despite how much women’s rights have progressed since the suffragettes, inequality still exists, the gender gap is widening, and spreading legs won’t close it.
Nikki van Dijk. She doesn’t need to be in Fiji to show the world she’s got serious skill. Photo by Andrew Shield from the pages of SL 318.
Dita Von Teese said “some people say that what I do isn’t very liberating. I say it’s pretty liberating to get $20,000 for 20 minutes work.” The difference here lies in their occupations; Dita is a burlesque dancer, while professional surfers are presented to a whole generation of girls (and boys), without the ability to deconstruct the maelstrom of feminist debate. They don’t understand the irony of Roxy commercials with bikinis, butts and no surfing, they are simply watching, idolizing, learning and imitating.
Sexual liberation may have gone one nipple too far – the architects of the sexual revolution didn’t plan for commodification. And chronic over-sexualisation isn’t restricted to surfing. Vice, YFH and other ‘alternative’ sites have clued in, each week interviewing another pornstar or prostitute, begging for clicks by manipulating carnalities – trafficking prostitutes for internet traffic. And it works – I’m sure some are only reading this article because “sex” is in the title. So what can we do to prevent sexuality from becoming once again exploited to appeal to male desires, so that we stay on the path to equality?
Maybe we can solve our problem through sexual saturation. Let’s fill up the social dam with sexuality – explicit, mass, overt sexuality – not just sweating from Facebook feeds but an atomic bomb of nudie pics dropped downtown, centrefolds of naked girls pasted over bus shelters, collages of our favourite box gaps on sale at Woolies, wrap your grandma’s birthday present in Sage Erickson, use the raunchy calendars in Dad’s basement as a template for the whole fucking world, let our children be so manifestly overwhelmed by the female naked body that they cease to notice it, desensitized or benumbed, just another McDonald’s billboard with a big pair of black tits bouncing through its golden arches – can we stop for shakes mum.
Or maybe we should use the liberty of choice and our consumer traffic to steer culture away from sex and sexism towards progress, equality and beautiful surfing.
The best part is that we get to decide.