I am Woman
Notes on being female.
Images by Mariah Main, Vanuatu.
I have always thought that the best way to overcome the gender divide was to be excellent. Train, study, practise, be better. “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” I heard a red-carpet celebrity comment once. I chanted this mantra over and over again, personally discrediting those who spoke outright about gender issues. Grouping outspoken feminists in with vegans – recognising the value of practising rather than preaching so eventually men would acknowledge that society is in fact elevated by the excellence of women and the glass ceiling would eventually crack and finally shatter.
Until recently, when I got angry.
Before I continue I must acknowledge that I am white. That from the beginning this places me in privilege when compared to intersectional women within the social structure of the western world.
Last year I went to Mexico with my former boyfriend of African descent. It raised the question in me of which was worse – to be female or black. This changed dramatically based on social geography – as we entered the United States he was corralled into a separate area of LAX until I drew attention to the fact that he was traveling with me and they brought him back into the ‘normal’ line. He was also put in handcuffs for jaywalking in downtown Los Angeles and interrogated by officials when he was traveling separately through the same airport he’d been herded through.
But when we were in Mexico the roles were changed. Men asked his permission to sit near me, people in the street spoke to him – waiters talked over my head and in the three weeks we were in the southern province of Oaxaca not a single person chatted to me without applying my context of being with a man.
Being involved in the surf industry has always highlighted just how severe the asymmetry of gender relations is. Women surfing in tiny bikinis then criticised for doing so – yet advertising skipping the action in female surfing and cutting straight to the body, sponsorship requiring modelling not just surf talent or contest results all pointing to the only way to be recognised or acknowledged is for your physical assets. This is changing slowly – the WSL photographers being directed to zoom out when women are duck diving, highlight reels being equally women and men, but still the industry is so strewed. Still the events are called ‘The Margaret River Pro’ and the “Margaret River Pro – Women’s” like the men’s is the main event and the women remain a footnote.
It is also noted that Rosy Hodge – former Championship Tour surfer and commentator is allowed in the booth only during the women’s contest – relegated to beach interviews when the men come on, like somehow a woman’s voice is not qualified to comment on the surfing of men. Or maybe it is not her gender, maybe it is inexperience that keeps her booth time limited, but still then the less experienced standard of commentary is perfectly acceptable for the women’s event.
An editor recently requested I rework a piece I wrote for online publication about how people seem to overlook the fact that the women’s World Tour is half the size of the men. He asked me to make a case for why the tour is better because it is smaller. When I pointed out that it’s not necessarily true and in fact shows a double standard he ignored the comment and didn’t publish the article. Another editor for an online publication once told me that he didn’t want to publish too much work from Lauren L. Hill because her voice was too feminist, something I agreed with at the time because the patriarchal structure of society told me to get my voice heard I needed to first speak softly.
But now I am not sorry if my desire to cancel social exclusion is annoying. Now I will not agree and I will not apologise.
This lop-sidedness in surfing is not reserved for the top tiers. I recently went to a longboard contest in New Zealand in which I watched photographers swim in the water all morning during the men’s event and come out for a rest when the women went on. It was the same at an event the week previous in Vanuatu and the clips and photos and the stories that come out of surf contests always depict men with maybe just a tiny sliver of the women. Again, and again.
I cannot see myself in Joel Parkinson. Little Sally ripping on her 4’10” with dreams of being World Champ cannot see herself in John Florence. I see myself in Steph Gilmore, Sally sees herself in Carissa Moore yet all we seem to be fed by the authoritative voices in surfing is that men in surfing are more important. More interesting. That commenting on this is too repetitive. Nagging is just fulfilling your gender stereotype as a woman and that if you want to get anywhere in life soften your voice and fall in line.
Female photographers with more talent and knowledge in their middle finger than everyone standing on the beach with an oversized lens combined, shifting into photographing things other than surfing because they’re not deemed qualified to photograph men and no one buys shots of women. The Ripcurl store in Coolangatta is plastered with images of Gabe Medina and Owen Wright, in fact it has an image of each male Championship Tour team rider on the front window and not a single image of two-time World Champ Tyler Wright. Not a single image of a female surfer. Yet the majority of consumers in Ripcurl retail outlets are women. Again, this tells us that women are less important. Less interesting.
And it seems that no one is prepared to be brave. The men with voices don’t want to speak out because the status quo is comfortable. The women with voices cannot speak out because they’ll be thrown into the corner of annoying, cold or a bitch. Someone will remind you that this is not the place or time. That your time will come, just not now.
The list continues into infinity, it saddens me how slow things are moving – the patriarchy dawdling in grasping the fact that everything will grow if women had a free run at it. That majority buyers are men because everything is marketed toward men – if it was sold to women too then we can finally join the party.
So, if you are a woman and you also find feminism annoying or you find yourself saying “I’m not a feminist but...” remember that is not how you truly feel, it is the patriarchal structure of society telling you that you cannot be successful if people find you annoying, cold or a bitch. It is fear of being unattractive if you are too full on, but what has been deemed attractive has been done so by the very same patriarchy that tells you to quiet your voice. There were women that didn’t think women should have the vote based on the very same principle.
And if you are a man, think about how many times you see yourself in media. Think carefully about what you consider normal and picture the challenges faced if you were to fall outside of this. Women don’t want your piece of the pie, they want their piece of the pie back.
If you see injustice comment. If you feel excluded say something.
Be brave, use your voice.