“My butt is big and if you don’t like it you are invited to kiss it…”

Since the phenomenon of the Hunky Dory ads the question of women in sport has been in the forefront of my mind. A number of commenters on this site have made the statement that women’s sport is not watchable, and that it should never be afforded the same kind of respect and support that male sport does. Fabulous. I always try to pretend that most people are generally in favour of equality but some may just be not bothered enough to go after it. There’s nothing like the kick in the guts that is the reminder that some people will oppose it at all costs.

As a sportswoman myself (albeit a little rusty these days) I find these subjective statements about sport really fucking ridiculous. It amazes me that some people interpret the world around them on such a shallow level as to not bother considering it in any way beyond that which reaches their senses and resonates with their own experience. If we can step back from our own subjectivity for a minute we will quickly see why we aren’t particularly primed to find women’s sport as engaging as male. Little girls are delicate, they play with dolls, little boys are rough and run and love competition. If they’re lucky, the school hockey or camogie team get a round of applause in assembly when they win the school’s final while the rugby or football lads are the pride of the whole community. But here’s the kicker… research shows that boys and girls show equal interest and participation in sport until puberty and then the gap begins to grow. Traditional gender stereotypes that we become conscious of at that age still dominate our understanding of our physicality and our sense of how we should behave in order to be attractive. We shouldn’t be aggressive, we shouldn’t be bruised and scraped from tumbles on astroturf pitches, we should be thin but not muscular. That’s manly, unfeminine. We should be soft and curvy and tiny-waisted and thin-legged and when we think of our own bodies we should mostly be concerned about how much men will like it.

Today I was on Talkback alongside a female rugby player from Belfast Harlequins who was talking about a brilliant creative protest stunt she pulled at the end of a game last weekend, running on to the pitch wearing only some strategically placed packets of Hunky Dory’s and flinging crisps over herself. Genius. And she mentioned on the show that she had a problem with the ads sexualising female sport because women who play rugby don’t do it so men will look at them, they do it for the love of the sport. So this got me thinking about two current ads for women’s sports gear – one of which is an epic fail and the other is an unprecedented win (in my opinion anyway). The difference between the two is this idea of the extrinsic motivation vs the intrinsic.

For example, check out Reebok’s ad for Reetone. Clearly, as far as they are concerned the only reason women could possibly want to exercise is to make men look at them. And we wonder why women feel self conscious in the gym…

Compare to Nike’s 2005 campaign that is about getting inside the head of a woman who owns her body, who loves to push it to it’s limits, to watch it grow in strength with a childlike enthusiasm. The ideas presented in this series really excite me and make me feel empowered. I know it’s not for everyone and there are so many experiences women have of their own bodies that I wouldn’t expect this to make everyone feel the same as me. In a previous post about discovering that my Hollywood role model is a 10 foot blue alien I talked about the importance of my physicality as a lanky, muscular, curveless teenager to my gendered experience. I’m just glad that at least some advertisers are determined to not force us all into pathetic, diet dependent, sexyface stereotypes. You can view your body as the vehicle through which the world experiences you and spend your days trying to fit it to someone else’s narrow idea of beauty. OR you can remember that your body is the vehicle through which you experience the world. It is not an object outside of yourself, but your vessel of passion and anger and fun and freedom and determination. It is beautiful because it is you and you are beautiful. It is powerful because it is you and you are powerful.

(Click on the images to enlarge to read the text on them…it’s the best part.)

AUG 2010 UPDATE: Since writing this blog post in May 2010, I have noticed it getting a lot of traffic recently through searches for things like ‘nike big butt’ etc. So I FINALLY figured out why: Nike have released the ‘butt’ ad in the series with the same copy but a new picture (I’ve pasted it at the very bottom.) Let me know what you think of the new version. Personally I think it’s still on the money with the message but I can’t help looking at the image and saying “No woman I know wears THAT little to the gym” and I feel it’s a bit similar to the Reebok Reetone posters. Recent industry data has suggested the Reebok campaign is going pretty well so it’s hard not to think that Nike felt that if Reebok are staking a claim on our butts then they should get their 2 cents worth in as well. Maybe it’s time they all just left our butts alone.

EVEN MORE RECENT UPDATE: Jezebel writers suggesting the new ad could be a fake and now that I look at it, and the bad spelling, they could be right.

EVEN MORE RECENT RECENT UPDATE: Nike have confirmed the new one is a fake. So they have decided to leave our asses alone. Mystery solved :O)


4 Responses to ““My butt is big and if you don’t like it you are invited to kiss it…””

  1. 1 Vic May 12, 2010 at 7:51 am

    ‘….research shows that boys and girls show equal interest and participation in sport until puberty and then the gap begins to grow.’

    I did a research project on this for NHS Scotland last year- Interestingly, the change in girl’s particpation can’t just be explained by gender stereotypes- there are lots of interacting factors (unfortunately a lot to do with appearence, e.g. ‘I don’t want my perfectly straightened hair to be frizzy for the rest of the day after P.E. class’). The things that girls report are really saddening. Anyway… glad to see some positive action on the appearance front. I love sport (watching it and participating) and the attitude that female sport is unwatchable is totally outdated (did anyone see the female snowboard cross at the olympics!?)

    • 2 soisaystoher May 12, 2010 at 10:26 am

      hey Vic

      that’s the very stereotype I was referring to. The one that says you have to look pretty all the time so that boys will fancy you. As opposed to the more traditional ones around motherhood and housework and life choices. Can you link me to your research? I’d love to have a read.

  2. 4 blegh May 31, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    I think that Kellie has gone off on a tangent that most men don’t think about when they think of women’s sports. The problem that men have (and I include myself in this, unfortunately) is that the skill level *generally* in women’s sport is lower than that of men’s sport. Tom Humphreys wrote a great article in the IT a while ago that touches on a lot of the same points as Kellie’s article: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/sport/2010/0503/1224269589525.html

    What do people think of things like different scoring systems for men and women in tag rugby, and the different number of sets in tennis? (and I’m not putting that forward as a counter-argument against the discrimination against women in sport, I’m genuinely curious)

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