According to the New York Times, NFL cheerleaders were required to pose nude and act as escorts for male sponsors.
Photo: Patrick Smith, Getty Images
In a calendar shoot in 2013, cheerleaders had been required to pose topless or only in body paint while a group of male sponsors and FedExField suite holders watched.
At the completion of the calendar photoshoot, nine of the women were told they had been “chosen” by men to be their escorts to a nightclub and to get ready. Some of the women reportedly began to cry.
While they were not instructed to have sex with the sponsors, some women said they felt they were being “pimped out”.
“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go. We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”
“It’s just not right to send cheerleaders out with strange men when some of the girls clearly don’t want to go.
“But unfortunately, I feel like it won’t change until something terrible happens, like a girl is assaulted in some way, or raped. I think teams will start paying attention to this only when it’s too late.”
This disturbing culture of sexism and discrimination with the NFL includes a “hot or not” game on the Washington NFL team’s website, where players can rate and evaluate the women’s physical appearance. Cheerleaders barely earn minimum wage, and are not permitted to socialise with team players:
Cheerleaders are told not to dine in the same restaurant as players, or speak to them in any detail. If a Saints cheerleader enters a restaurant and a player is already there, she must leave. If a cheerleader is in a restaurant and a player arrives afterward, she must leave. There are nearly 2,000 players in the N.F.L., and many of them use pseudonyms on social media. Cheerleaders must find a way to block each one, while players have no limits on who can follow them.
A screengrab of the Redskins website, with the “hot or not” game.
See also: Washington Redskins Cheerleaders Describe Topless Photo Shoot and Uneasy Night Out- New York Times
It was in 2013 that women’s surf brand Roxy was slammed for their sexist “all sex no surf” Pro Biarritz trailer. The video, a promotion for the upcoming women’s surf competition, featured a faceless and half-naked woman writhing around on a bed, stripping off and entering the shower and catching zero waves.
Three time women’s world longboard champion Cori Schumacher started a petition that attracted over 22,000 signatures, calling on the brand to stop sexualising women in their marketing and advertising:
Recently, Roxy released a trailer for the 2013 Roxy Biarritz Pro contest that showcases a style of marketing women’s surfing that is not conducive to a healthy, empowered vision of women. Instead of women surfers being presented as an alternative to the sexualisation and objectification of women in the culture-at-large, this campaign succumbs to the lazy marketing that is already so prevalent.
As the most visible and well-known women’s surf brand, Roxy has a unique opportunity to truly make a difference in how women and girls are represented in the world.
We ask that you stop the sexualisation 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.
Five years later, Roxy have launched a new global campaign, entitled ‘Make Wave, Move Mountains’ to “promote a message of strength and support to young women of any age, sport, or dream.”
Roxy is not the only brand making major changes. In 2016 Unilever, the company that owns Lynx, a brand of men’s deodorant with a long history of sexist advertising, released the following statement from Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed:
“The time is right for us as an industry to challenge and change how we portray gender in our advertising. Our industry spends billions of dollars annually shaping perceptions and we have a responsibility to use this power in a positive manner.”
Photo: A compilation of sexist Lynx ads over the years.
Just last year, burger joint Carl’s Jr, with a reputation for sexually exploiting women in their porn-inspired commercials, claimed they were changing their ways, ditching the sexualisation of women and instead focusing on ingredients and taste.
This change of direction in advertising from a range of brands is evidence of a greater cultural shift that is underway, one in which sexism and the exploitation of women to sell products and services is no longer tolerated. Corporates are starting to recognise that sexual exploitation does not necessarily sell.
These changes are in large part because of those of us who have consistently challenged the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls in media, advertising and popular culture. As always, thank you for your ongoing support and let’s continue keeping up the pressure!
Formula One has announced plans to end the long-standing tradition of using so-called ‘grid girls’.
F1’s managing director of commercial operations, Sean Bratches, said in a statement,
“While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 grand prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms.”
Essentially, Formula One has recognised that the use of women as props or accessories for men is sexist and outdated, and incompatible with gender equality.
Photo credit: Reuters, Ralph Orlowski
The move to discontinue the use of ‘grid girls’ has attracted praise from Women’s Sport Trust, which aims to raise the visibility and increase the impact of women’s sports. In a response on their website, the organisation supported the decision and encouraged cycling, boxing and UFC to follow suit. “These changes are taking place because global businesses are making a considered choice about how women should be valued and portrayed in their sports in 2018,” they concluded.
The practice of using ‘grid girls’ (who are not girls, but adult women) sends a message that women’s most valuable contribution to the sporting arena is their sexual appeal. Women remain on the side lines in a supportive role for the real athletes and drivers, who are men, while playing the part of eye candy. Formula One’s decision to end the sexist practice is a welcome step forward in challenging sexism and in encouraging female participation in sport.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, exposing the epidemic of men’s sexual exploitation of women, the casual sexism and objectification of women must be recognised as a significant contributing factor. We applaud Formula One’s leadership and hope these changes lead to a cultural shift.
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