Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tough Questions: The Search For Honesty Within Promotion

After receiving a Facebook message from a woman I greatly admire who alleged that I'm 'asking the tough questions' but who gave me her unequivocal support, I've been pondering over whether or not the questions I'm asking (and the answers I'm demanding) are really all that tough.

Granted, these questions aren't easy; they're not easy for those on the receiving end, but they're not easy for those in between, or even us athletes. They're not easy, but are they hard? Or are they questions we should be asking regardless of difficulty that we've been avoiding just to smooth the path?

Is asking 'how does this reflect my feminity in a positive way' more difficult than 'how does this objectify me' or 'does this create a sexual object of a human being'? Is 'why do I feel the need to post this' supposedly a tougher question than 'do they really like me for me or do they like me because of the way I look'? Are we really asking the hard questions? Am I really demanding something that's impossible?

I don't believe so. I don't think that raising my hand and openly speaking up about a suspension company who uses a shirtless (or near shirtless) female athlete to advertise (or socially promote) a product or a brand in a sexual way while their male athletes are prided on their athletic abilities is tough. That's the easy part, to be honest. I also don't truly believe that asking companies to treat us as humans first and females second is a tough question. I think those are pretty darn reasonable.

The tough part? The questions I get asked, like "How do you think this is going to end for you, professionally?" or "Do you understand how many people you've alienated with your behavior?" or my favorite, "Why can't you just be quiet and ride your bike?" The difficult part for me isn't in the asking, but in surviving the nuclear winter that descends when a newcomer begins asking the easy questions. What happens when I start asking the REALLY hard ones? The ones about "What will all of these model/athletes do after you've built this lie around them and they get too old/too fat/too human to play the part?" or "How are we going to cope with an influx of unskilled workers into the industry workforce who all demand to be paid based on their 'marketability'?" What will we build if no one actually faces facts and and everyone simply slides along the surface, desperately trying to avoid offending any of the 'core' industry players? What will we do when this commercial, bullshit bubble bursts after we create an industry based on a lie of consumption and 'coolness' instead of passion? THOSE are the tough questions.

Another tough part? Talking to the majority of female riders and racers who feel that the portrayal of female athletes is inaccurate, if not demeaning. Talking to them, reasoning with them, explaining that someday this effort will pay off for the generations of women and girls who come after us. The hard part isn't the questions I can't help asking, but looking into the faces of my young skiers who ask me why they're treated differently than the boys or why they can only find pink skis. The difficult part of my job is telling mothers that girls' ski coats have less pockets because apparel companies don't think little girls need to carry things... And that the problem won't change when they're adults, either. Bike shorts made too short, too tight, too lacking in technical features. Jerseys without vents or adequate wicking and coverage, but plenty of flowers. Swimsuits that aren't made to surf or swim in, but to be ogled over and lusted after.

There's nothing wrong with pink skis or flowered jerseys -- everyone likes something, right? But for the majority of women out there, we just want something that doesn't scream "Hey, look at me! They let me out of the kitchen! I'm a girl and I'm OUTSIDE!" What do we want? Well, that's an easy one. We want gear that helps us do our jobs and enables us to have some fun. We want to be treated as fellow athletes, not objects, not women, just people. We want to be valued as individuals with our own sets of skills, strengths, weaknesses and experiences. We don't want affirmative action, we simply want equality. We don't want skin spreads and surface-level, appearance-based equity, we want hard hitting heroes and an actual piece of the communities and industries we help build. We don't want bikes of a certain color, just that they're the best quality you can give us. That's what we want.

We want to stop being ostracized for asking questions and instead, sought out for the answers we can give you about ourselves. Is that really so difficult? At the end of it all, is it really too much to ask to be treated as equals? To be appreciated as individuals? To be valued as the incredible humans we are?

No, I don't think so. I don't think that's a very tough question at all.

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