Friday, May 9, 2008

Girls sail, too

I'm a great believer that as a young girl, if you don't see pictures or read stories of other girls and women doing cool stuff like playing with test tubes, making rockets, flying in rockets, throwing a curve ball, running a country, balancing a budget, kayaking or sailing, you don't automatically consider yourself able to do so.

Thus consider my angst as I perused the latest West Marine 2008 sourcebook, where on pp80-81, West Marine is promoting youth sailing in general, and the new O'pen BIC sailing dinghy in particular. "Youth sailing." What a marvellous concept. But to me, youth means boys AND girls. There are two "action" photos of six "youth" having a ball in these new boats, and not one of those "youth" is a girl. How on earth are girls supposed to consider themselves eligible to be part of this action if business and advertisers don't consider the negative connotations they create when they don't balance their images and their words?

You may think this is merely a feministic rant. It's not. Many a study has been completed on the consequences of non-gender balanced material - why did it take so long for MBA, law, veterinary and medical schools to now have equal applications (and graduations)? And why are engineering and "hard" science applications from women still so low?

Kudos to one company for taking this step. MacMillian/McGraw Hill, publishers of many an elementary school text book, contracted Sally Ride Science to gender balance every one of its text books. No longer is it just boys peering down a microscope or dissecting a frog.

And another reason why Geena Davis founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The institute works with entertainment creators and companies to help educate the next generation of content-creators, and to help inform the public about the need to increase the number of girls and women in media aimed at kids, and to reduce stereotyping of both males and females.

Ironically, the majority of kayaking equipment advertisements I've seen over the past year or so seem to be fairly well gender balanced. Perhaps this is an industry which does have its act together.

Both images above are from West Marine.


bonnie said...

I look at the role models girls have today - surfers, sailors, soccer players, the WNBA - and I have to admit to a smidgen of jealousy.

Only female sports figure I remember worshipping was Ruffian.

I know there were others, but seems like it was mostly gymnasts and ice-skaters and you'd hear about 'em during the Olympics and then they'd go back to the boys.

Around me, seemed like surfing was something boys did. I still remember some coffee-table book my parents had, pictures of Hawaii. There was a series at Sunset Beach. The surfers were all guys. The only girl was a girlfriend sitting on the beach watching.

To this day I wonder how it would have gone if I'd gone out for the outrigger team instead of being lousy at track. I did go to a meeting once, I was very curious, but it was a varsity sport & I was too young. We left Hawaii when I was going into my junior year.

Outrigger was hardcore though. Don't know if I would've been tough enough. May've burned out & never wanted to paddle again - and that would be SAD!

Michael said...

I heard recently from Babs Lindman who went around NZ's South Island. One of her comments was "encourage other people to do what they are longing for.", the only one of the women to actually make that point as far as I know. That said, it's also a fact that today young boys seem to be struggling with who they can be. Witness the declining university enrollments especially in the more challenging faculties.
Good posting!

Ginger Travis said...

KiwiBird, why not write West Marine? All you have to say is, "Where are the young girls? Do you only want male customers in future? What are you thinking?!!!"

Within the last year or so, Wooden Boat magazine had a great article on a class of small sailboats called Cotuit Skiffs (if I remember right). They're sailed by kids somewhere up in New England -- and in recent years girls have served as heads of the fleet (commodore?).
Another great article in Wooden Boat was about a bunch of friends who built a rowing/sailing boat and journeyed from Washington or Oregon up to Alaska -- a couple of them were young women. So I think that's about all you have to say to West Marine: "Do you mean to send the message that women don't sail and don't motor, therefore don't buy marine hardware from you? Surely not!" People can be so clueless!

Silbs said...

Good for you. My daughters tried everything I used to do, including Judo. They stuck with the ones that they enjoyed and dropped the others. I never gave them a reason to even think that their gender played a role in their opportunities.

Kristen said...

UPDATE: I did write to West Marine before posting this entry, but have yet to hear back from them...