At Collective Shout, we have a long history of calling out sexploitation of women in sport. Sexploitation, in this context, refers to marketing and promotion which focuses on the sexual attributes of female athletes, and judges their value primarily based on their body type and sexual attractiveness rather than athletic performance.
Bikini Track Sprint
In a 2010 piece published on ABC, Movement Director Melinda Tankard Reist slammed the proposed Bikini Track Sprint, writing:
The Gold Coast Turf Club is planning a special summer carnival in which women in bikinis take the place of horses. Herded into horse barrier stalls, they will be released to sprint down the straight for a prize.
The entry form calls entrants “mares and fillies”. The club takes no responsibility for “injury or death”. Women must wear a bikini and “acceptable running shoes”. Of course, her feet must be supported but her breasts need be free to bounce around for the entertainment of male punters.
Soon after, Collective Shout supporters took to the Bikini Sprint Race Facebook page calling on the organisers to bin the sexist event prompting widespread media coverage. Jamie Orchard, Director of Integrity Operations at Racing Qld responded stating:
RQL has refused permission for such a race to take place as we do not consider it consistent with the image of our sport.
I can assure you that the proposed bikini race will not be proceeding. We hope that what people will be admiring on track on race day will be the performance of the horses and the skill and courage of the (female and male) jockeys. Read more.
In 2011 we published a guest post by Collective Shout supporter and PhD candidate Ryl Harrison, who appealed to sailing company Zhik to stop sexualising female sailors after coming across a sexy centrefold depicting a young woman in nothing but a jacket sitting on the floor in one their catalogues.
In an email to the company, she wrote:
Surely you can think of something a little more clever – something that doesn't reduce women to an object to be gawked at, and treats women as fully human sailors.
Perhaps sailing can differentiate itself from other sports where women are overtly sexualised, such as tennis, by pitching itself as being about equality and performance without then qualifying that by, 'but if you're are a woman you must also be a sexual decoration'. Using sexualised women in advertising imagery isn't a compromise, it's a cop-out.
Lingerie Football League
We first exposed the Lingerie Football League in 2012 – a “sport” featuring lingerie-clad women playing football. The players were contractually obliged to accept “accidental nudity” and fined $500 if they wore anything underneath their lingerie.
Collective Shout activist and athlete Talitha Stone (who headed the #letthemwearshorts petition) went undercover and infiltrated the LFL tryouts, exposing the emphasis on looking hot and sexy over and above athleticism. Collective Shout campaigner Deborah Malcolm reported on a Sydney game, where a player losing her underwear was replayed on the big screens, a sex doll was passed around in the crowd and men were permitted to tackle players during half time. After our petition calling on Channel Seven (7Mate) not to broadcast Lingerie Football League games, in 2016 a Channel 7 spokesperson announced it would no longer be televised.
Roxy ‘all sex no surf’ promo
In 2013, we supported a change.org petition by world longboard champion Cori Shumacher calling on Roxy to pull their sexist ‘all sex no surf’ promo for that year’s Pro Biarritz women’s surf comp. The trailer featured a faceless woman writhing around semi-naked in bed and showering, many long, lingering shots of her breasts and backside – and no surfing whatsoever.
In the petition to Roxy, Cori wrote:
We ask that you stop the sexualization of women in your marketing and advertising and instead, help to present women surfers in a light that women can be proud to be associated with and young girls can truly admire.
Topless women at Women’s Health Australia “I support women in sport awards”
After Women’s Health Australia hired semi-naked female models wearing body paint for the 2014 “I support women in sport awards”, held to recognise the achievements of Australia’s female athletes, we wrote about how sexploitation of women in sport harms women and girls and encouraged our supporters to speak out.
Women’s Health magazine was forced to issue an apology – “we got it wrong and we wholeheartedly apologise.”
Honey Birdette porn-themed tennis upskirting ads
This year we exposed Playboy-owned sex store Honey Birdette for the sexist ad campaign with models portraying lingerie-clad tennis players and depicting upskirting, a criminal violation of women. We noted that there was significant demand by men for degrading and sexually exploitative imagery – specifically upskirting photos – of women in sport, and found countless porn sites dedicated to this non-consensual violation of female tennis players.
We also shared the text below, an excerpt from a complaint made to Ad Standards over Honey Birdette pornifying female athletes:
The ads sexualise and demean female athletes, reducing them to a male sexual fantasy. The "sexploitation" of women in sport is a well-documented phenomenon, one that has been found to negatively impact women's sports in a range of ways. It determines the value of female athletes primarily in terms of their body type and attractiveness, and detracts from their sporting abilities. Intentionally sexualising female athletes harms their credibility, reinforces gender stereotyping, excludes women who do not fit the ‘appropriate’ body type, and undermines the credibility of female athletes and women’s sport as a whole. This same sexist and sexualising treatment is not typically extended to male athletes.
Essentially, sexist and misogynistic Honey Birdette portrayals of female athletes as existing for men's sexual entertainment and use does significant harm to the status of female athletes, as well as women more generally.
#letthemwearshorts petition win
In July, after the Norwegian Women’s Handball was fined for wearing shorts rather than bikini bottoms, we backed a petition started by Talitha Stone calling for the fine to be dropped and to let the players wear shorts.
After more than 61,000 signatures, we were pleased to announce this week that the International Handball Federation [IHF] has changed its rules governing women’s uniforms, now allowing tank tops and shorts instead of bikini bottoms and crop tops.
The victory has attracted global media attention, from BBC, the Daily Mail and Good Morning America
A paper on sexploitation of women in sport originally published at www.ausport.gov.au examined the negative impacts of sexualising female athletes:
[It is] crucial that athletes and sports understand the possible ramifications of using sex to promote women’s sport. They need to ask the key questions, ‘what are we actually promoting and what are we really trying to achieve?’
Sexploitation judges the value of the female athlete primarily in terms of her body type and attractiveness, rather than for the qualities that define her as an athlete.
Viewing female athletes primarily in terms of their sexual attributes rather than their athletic endeavours has the potential to denigrate the individual both as an athlete and as a woman.
[Sexploitation] undermines the efforts to achieve equal credibility for all women athletes.”
Using sexploitation as a promotional strategy may limit the potential of a sport to attract a diverse range of talented girls and women.”
Focusing on the sexual attributes of [women] at the expense of their achievements is demeaning and is a trend that should be eradicated from sport promotion and media coverage of athletic endeavour. Read more.
We will continue to fight for a world free of sexploitation for all women and girls. Thank you for your support – we couldn’t do it without you.
The ugly truth is rules are different for girls in sport - Melinda Tankard Reist