The use of barely dressed models to sell sporting goods or represent a “Hockey Lifestyle” is both degrading and completely diminishes the heroic efforts and achievements of today’s Women of Sport. It creates an unrealistic image of how an athlete should look and act; it sexualizes pro sports and leads to higher female dropout rates and a decimated self-body image that can affect young girls for the rest of their lives.
Empowering young girls and women through education and awareness can be an effective way of combating social stereotypes. But further to that, there must be education and awareness to these types of companies and the young men who appear to be their target audience. It is not ‘ok’ to sell hockey sticks using sex, and it is certainly not ‘ok’ to use the money that young women invest in sport to further imply that these same women are nothing more than ‘available’ for the men of sport.
Whether they are playing for their Country, City or even just for themselves, each and every female athlete needs to be given absolute respect for their tireless dedication and desire to promote personal strength both physically and mentally. Yet when it comes to social respect, young female athletes are often ridiculed or bullied for both their sport choices and/or the effect their training has on their body.
Using non female athletes for promotion further confuses young women on how they should perceive themselves physically and how they believe their global community views them, and ultimately it removes badly needed funds from Women’s sports and funnels it back to the men. During the 2012 Olympics in London, Women in Canada and the United States accounted for 60% of the medals the two countries won and 67% of the gold medals. Not only are women heavily invested in athletics, they are achieving remarkable success.
However mainstream media has other ideas regarding Women in Sports, just watch any 24 hour sports show. Women for the most part are shown in spectator roles, they are used to appeal to the average male viewer by showing the prettiest, and questionably dressed rabid female hockey (or and sport) fan whose main goal is a marriage proposal on cardboard sign to top performing (and top earning) male athletes. The women are used as scandalous currency for loyal viewership.
As much as I fear using examples to expose companies, who are selling sex for sport, may inadvertently add promotion for them, it is important to make female consumers aware. For me personally Warrior (under parent company New Balance) has certainly stepped up their efforts to be offensive. With a recent promotional calendar featuring young, attractive and barely dressed women flaunting a new equipment line for NHL player Nail Yakupov.
Any casual glance of the Warrior Hockey website will ‘expose’ a pretty lengthy portfolio of very questionable advertising. Having given both Warrior and New Balance a chance to respond to their advertising goals and target markets, only New Balance responded, and only to return my email; without comment. It would appear that they wish to ignore the negative impact on women they are directly responsible for, in order to continue moving product to overly eager teen age and pre-pubescent boys.
This type of irresponsible advertising not only isolates 20% of the market, it can also be considered bullying. They are creating an environment that dictates how women should act, and the manner in which they should be seen, and then they sell that ‘lifestyle’ to our impressionable youth. Shame on them and shame on all of us for letting it continue. If you take the same ad and place an active female hockey player using the product as it is intended you change the way women are regarded when it comes to respect in sport.
If the distasteful behaviour continues unobstructed in the media, we as society and global community only condone its existence if we don’t confront it. We allow these companies to teach our children and the children of others that women are not an active or valuable participant in all the physical and mental greatness of athleticism. This is so far from the truth that either the marketing companies are out of touch in 2013, or they are ignorant. Judging by the male dominated board of directors for New Balance, I would suggest it is both.
However offering a solution to this challenge is not as easy once exposed. There is always the option of not buying the products that are promoted this way, but the company does not even flinch at this suggestion. Educating our children as best we can will only go so far, and we have to anticipate that they are not affected by these images, yet they are. This means collectively there needs to be a very visible change in culture and attitude. When images such as these exist, it means the malicious intent and deplorable ignorance do to, and it needs to be removed.
Exposure, awareness, education and vocal reproach are the best way to get a point across, we have become so desensitized to things we see in the media due to sheer volume, but imagine young girls being exposed to this for the first time, how does that make them feel about themselves? About their future, and about where they belong. How many preteen female athletes do we need to discourage and degrade before we take responsibility for aiding in the destruction of their self-esteem? I wish the answer was none.