Zhik sailing and the sexualisation of women in sport

Today a special guest post by Collective Shout supporter Ryl Harrison. Ryl writes about her correspondence with Zhik regarding their depiction of women in sailing gear catalogues. She challenges them not to treat women as sexual decorations, but to recognise women as equal participants in the sport. Read on to see how Ryl went about challenging Zhik and what you can do to help.

ryl1.jpgMy name is Ryl Harrison, I am a busy mum of two school aged kids living in North Queensland.  I am currently doing a PhD looking at women’s experiences of mothering girls aged between 9 to 13 years with a focus on sexuality.  

I often contact corporations about sexist advertising practices – I think it’s worth the effort!

It's worth speaking up

Zhik sailing gear is well known for being top quality stuff.  So when I picked up their catalogue (Volume Six) from the merchandise display at the local sailing club and flicked through I was really disappointed to see the way they had decided to sexualise women.

The catalogue had pages of fantastic action shots of both men and women sailing, looking athletic and professional.  This is an example of one of those photos: a young woman sailing a Flying Moth.


Fantastic, but then why in the middle of the catalogue (the centrefold no less) did we have to have this:
It is as though it is there to remind women that, yes, you can be world class sailors but don’t forget your place!

So I wrote to Zhik:

Subject: advertising in Volume Six brochure

Dear Zhik
disappointed to flick through your catalogue of quality sailing gear
to find that your corporation decides to represent women as sexual
decorations through the use of that 'so last year' centrefold imagery.

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.

Ryl Harrison

And this is the reply I got:

Dear Ryl,

Thank you for your comments.

At Zhik we take pride in listening to our customer base, and we
understand objections, and we don't shrug them off.

We also take great pride in our support for women in the sailing
world.  We sponsor more women than any other sailing brand on the planet. While these women endorse our technical innovation, we also talk to them about style. This includes photography and the catalogue itself.

We are inspired by the whole customer base, and we do our best to
represent the brand to suit. We try to bring more style and character
to the sailing world, and we are inspired by fashion as much as we are inspired by new materials and technologies. We consider our catalogue as very conservative compared to mainstream fashion. We understand it is easy to get surprised by our imagery, because in the context of the sailing world, we are pushing the boundaries. To a big extent, this is because the sailing world is many years behind other sports. Take the sport of Tennis, for example. In this world, new apparel for women is celebrated. Some of this same apparel would shock in the sailing sport, and this has a lot to about context and expectations.

Again, we do thank you for your comments, and they have not gone
unnoticed. Our challenge is to embrace our wonderful sailing team more in our imagery, and show how well we portray women in our design and our sport. If we can do this and also make customers like yourself happy, then we are making the right compromises.


And so I replied back with this:

Dear Zhik

thanks for your quick response.  I encourage you to think more about
corporate leadership and responsibility;  the sexualisation of women in sport doesn't mean being cutting edge but rather is one way to ensure that sportswomen will never be taken as seriously as sportsmen.

I wasn't surprised by the imagery you put in your catalogue - it is
everywhere, that's why I don't think it's cutting edge.  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.

regards Ryl

And they replied:

Hi Ryl,

Again, be very sure that your comments are listened to.

I can already tell you that we are planning to put a lot more effort
into our volume 7 catalogue to make our representation of women in poses that make more sense to sailing. We are very proud of the women in our Sailing team. They are nothing short of brilliant.
We also aim to make both the men and women look good. The sailing world needs a style-boost.

As we gain in popularity, particularly by the youth, we find we can
afford to sponsor and give back more to the industry. We are also very proud of that.


So I replied:

Dear Zhik

excellent to hear!  Yeah, and the sponsorship and support you give to clubs and regattas is much appreciated - the zhik gear is always a real popular prize for sailors who win their events up here in North Queensland.

regards, Ryl

So it will be interesting to see what Zhik does decide to do with its Volume 7 catalogue.   It would be great if you could send them a quick email at [email protected] to let them know what you think!

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