I’ve never been one to back off from something I feel strongly about, and I suppose feminism is one of those things. Go figure, I feel I’m a human being as equal in intelligence, ability, and the right to do what I want just as much as any other human being who happens to have a penis. I’m not afraid to confront people for acting like sexist pigs, and I’m way past caring if that ruffles any feathers. After all, they don’t care if they ruffle mine by acting that way, do they? I rarely hold back, but I get the feeling that a lot of people do. One of the reasons I get that feeling is that I get a lot of email feedback about some of these issues. It comes in many forms – dignified support, gleeful egging on, and, most moving of all, quiet thanks for saying what few people will come out and say.
A recent example of this was the online discussion about the “cute girls out front” policy* at Outdoor Retailer and the events leading up to my general annoyance with seeing that kind of stuff from, and at, Outdoor Retailer. I got on Outdoor Retailer’s (the business) case about promoting pics of pretty girls and only pretty girls on its Facebook page, most annoyingly a picture of a booth girl clad in tight clothes (super original, I know). One of the pretty girls took umbrage and thought I was calling her stupid (the odious idea that “pretty” and “smart” are mutually exclusive is a whole other subject) and it sparked a bunch of comments from dudes calling ME stupid. One of them told me I was just jealous. Another of them said I was “ruining all the fun” for them (this was, by the way, Salomon rep who said that. Nice! Way to represent your brand, buddy) by objecting to using women as sex-sells props at professional trade shows. Another comment (might have been the same dude) fell back on the idea that “it’s better at OR than other shows” so I shouldn’t have a problem with it at OR. I got a bunch of emails from women, supporting my stance on that issue, but few were as willing to speak up online as the dudes were in asserting their right to leer. What gives?
It happens in person, too. Even after years of attending OR and seeing the frat-boy behavior steadily increasing both online and in person, focusing on the “free beer and hot women” ** available to the men of the industry (heavy sarcasm here), I was unprepared for OR Winter Market 2012. Thongs, ass, and spandex-clad “booth staff” in heavy attendance; a new development. I made a disbelieving face at the platform-heel-and micro-mini-wearing staff at one of those booths and was immediately pulled into a between-booths alley by a senior executive of a national outdoors organization. She had witnessed me throwing the stinkeye at the booth babe schtick and launched on her own splendid rant about how she was tired of it, too. Worst of all, she said, was the way such displays seemed to validate the inner (or are they like this all the time?) lech in male attendees. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff these guys were saying just now,” she told me. “They were walking behind me making sexual comments about every single woman they saw. Finally I just turned around and confronted them, and they seemed utterly shocked when they realized they weren’t at a Vegas nightclub. I’m so sick of this good old boy shit.”
A woman after my own heart. Yeah, sister! But why pull me into an alley to say it?
I suppose she doesn’t say anything in public because of her job. Few people like to make waves; waves can be costly. But isn’t that exactly the opposite of what should be happening? If you’ve got a position of influence, shouldn’t you be saying something publicly? Do we still live in a world where if even the boss lady doesn’t want to look at some chick’s butt crack at work, she’s got to keep it quiet or get fired?
Well, I’ve got no boss to throw me shade, so I’ll say what I want. To this day I get emails from people wishing I would make another Head Geargal post about some issue or another (got one yesterday as a matter of fact), and it all made me start wondering why few of these people will post their thoughts online or say them out loud. It can’t be my job and my job only! I need backup, people. It can’t just be that they are afraid for their jobs – many of these people don’t even work in the outdoor industry. It occurs to me that the nasty backlash (didn’t we cover this in the sixties?) from men could be what keeps them quiet. In this article about Bike Portland’s promotion of a “Bikini Bike Wash”(they have since changed the picture to be less sex oriented) one commenter opined that the “continued harassment” keeps complaints to a minimum, citing “round one: the pictures, round two: the comments” when referring to the gauntlet of bullying one must endure to read an article and then express an opinion that threatens to interfere with the “fun.”
Well, here is your handy guide to Piggy Behavior – the personal attacks you’ll inevitably get hit with when you speak up. It’s not you, it’s them, and they’re so threatened by you – just the fact that you exist, and you’re female, and you have an opinion and a voice – that they’ll try their hardest to verbally and emotionally smack you back down so their entire worldview of themselves as superior beings is not threatened. Here is a short reference list of the most common personal attacks these people will throw at you:
1. You must be fat and ugly and therefore jealous. This one is my favorite. These guys can’t come up with anything intelligent to fall back on, so they lash out in fear in an attempt to cash in on yours, and try to squash you by calling you ugly. Now, I know a lot of people have body image issues or whatever, but I don’t, and I know I’m not ugly. I’m not fat. I’m not jealous and I feel no need to tear anyone else down for looking good. I laugh and laugh when a dude tries this schtick on me. But what gets me about this stance is – what if I WERE ugly? What if I WERE fat? Would I be less human, with an opinion less valid? Because we all know that the dudes displaying this attitude double checked their body fat percentage, body hair/odor, hairstyle, and general appeal before clicking “send.” Right.
2. It’s better now than it was before, so shut up. I have been hearing this one since college, twenty years ago. A dude in one of my English classes flipped out at me for saying something feminist, snapping “Well what do you want? It’s better than before, do you want to just go back to the way it WAS?” His rancor surprised even the professor, though to this day I’m rankled that s/he (I can’t even remember, can you dig that?) didn’t smack that punk down. Anyway, so this is nothing new. Evidently the fact that we still have injustice in the world is just fine because it’s slightly better than the injustice we had a hundred years ago. I suspect this argument comes from the same type of person who will claim that it’s hard for white males to get jobs.
3.You’re judging her based on her appearance, so you’re part of the problem. This is a good one, too, because it’s probably the hardest to spot. It goes something like this:
You: Wow, I’d really prefer to look at these new sunglasses without some girl’s boobs in my face.
Them: Why do you assume she’s not a valued employee with brains and education? Just because she looks good? You’re the sexist one!
You: I didn’t say that, I just don’t like to see women turned into objects just to sell stuff, it’s degrading to me.
Them: You’re just jealous! You wish you looked like that!
Note the beautiful full-circle nature? They segue right back into argument #1. Listen up, Piggies, I didn’t say anything about said boob-bearer being dumb, useless, or uneducated. YOU did. Your brain tells you that cute girl cannot equal smart girl, so you assume that any objection to all that T & A must mean that the objector has the same disconnect. This, kids, is the very basis of objectification.
4. It’s her choice, you want people to have choices, don’t you? Insidiously clever! Wearing a bikini to sell camp stoves is indeed just as valid a lifestyle choice as any other. You’ll never hear otherwise from me. However, there’s a reason that not every office building has a strip club in the lunch room. Some things don’t mix. Trying to mix them creates what the law calls a “hostile environment,” preventing ordinary workers from just doing their jobs. If you want to take this into a stupid place and start ranting about how that’s why you won’t hire gay people or people with tattoos or Jewish people or Italians and that it’s their lifestyle choices you don’t agree with so you should be able to fire all of them, you may want to acquaint yourself with Federal law, which bars you from discriminating against certain groups of people. “Girls in thong underwear” are not on the list. This is the way it is. Take it up with SCOTUS. Or go ahead and fire all the Jews, and someone might take it up for you.
5. You “could actually be cute if you’d just [wear more makeup] [dress like her] [not be so angry] [not hate men so much][insert lame line here].” When all else fails for them, here it is. The bottom line. They honestly can’t make the connection that you’re a person. They can’t make sense of you having a brain and using it to think for yourself, so they hope like hell you’ll just make out with them so they can win at SOMETHING. They hope you’re desperately lonely and will be flattered by their inane leering, and that they can stop trying to have a conversation with you (because they’re clearly losing). They really think that all you’re looking for is a good dose of male attention and you’ll forget all that bothersome intelligence. Good luck with that, Piggies.
So go forth and express your opinion, secure in knowing that when anyone uses any of the above tactics to shame and bully you into shutting up, it’s just Piggy Behavior and can readily be ignored for the schoolyard-level idiocy that it is. If you need some backup, drop me a line. One thing I don’t think we have yet is My Bodyguard remade with girls in the main roles (wait, wasn’t that Heathers? No, not quite…), so maybe we can get that done here pretty soon.
And, outdoor industry – grow the fuck up. I realize it’s easy to make more money if you can populate your office with people who will work for minimum wage because twice a year they get to go to parties for “work,” but trust me, it’s not getting any work done. If you’ve got a girl in the front of your booth trying to sell your product to men using her boobs, I’m just going to walk on by, appointment or no. Bike industry – you better just torch Interbike and start over; you’re disgusting. Moto industry: you’re next. Someone make a product that doesn’t need some chick’s ass in front of it for it to sell. Please.
*not really a policy(I hope). It’s just something someone said in response to a picture of a pretty girl in tight clothes in an OR booth, promoted on OR’s own Facebook page.
** This is a quote from the highly popular blog of a very, very large online retailer. Yes, someone got paid a decent salary (I know what it is as a matter of fact) to write this. I wrote to the company to express that I thought such stuff was unprofessional, and ended up in a long discussion with the content manager about how frustrated he was with the industry and that type of behavior. He told me some very personal stuff that really went a long way in shaping my opinions about how the industry addresses things like gender equality, orientation, race, and the like. I can speak most genuinely about women’s issues, because I experience them firsthand, but there is a lot of buried resentment out there regarding other societal groups as well. That particular man, though frustrated with the industry, was gratified to know he wasn’t alone in his annoyance with the sophomoric behavior. Hopefully he’s found a way to speak up. Hopefully we all can.