I should have started the list with Booty Shots — clickbait, baby! But, look, you’re already here, and where are those promised booty shots? Don’t worry, keep scrolling and they will appear (or will they?).
We’re coming pretty late to this party, but Misadventures wanted to weigh in on an internet spat that began with an article Zofia Reych originally wrote for the Outdoor Women’s Alliance in 2014, which Julie Ellison, editor of Climbing quoted in her piece, “Climbing Media Is Not Sexist, You are,” which Reych then countered in her very recent response, “All Media is Sexist. Admit It and We Can Make It Better,” and which was all brought together by the photo below, posted by climber Sasha DiGiulian to her Facebook and consequently commented upon by hoards of champions, trumpeters, naysayers, fist-shakers, angels, and trolls. Just the usual internet crowd.
Confused? Don’t be. The argument is familiar to any woman active in the outdoors world: is the media still sexist?
Reych’s original piece discusses the disappointing continued use of the mantra, “sex sells,” even on climbing magazine covers. Sure, women were featured, but when they were the images were still overtly crafted for a male gaze, claims Reych. The athlete was beautiful, the athlete was shirtless, the shot was a closeup rather than one spotlighting the difficulty of the route, etc. etc. This, I think to a large extent, is sadly true. And this, again sadly, is what caused the backlash against DiGiulian’s post. I think people were not scandalized by the content, but rather by the continued litany of appearances of the faceless female body. The photo, however lighthearted, however great (it is a great photo) and its ensuing comments reveal most importantly a readership of women that has become accustomed to abuse.
I also, however, understand Julie Ellison’s frustration in her response. As a member of the climbing media she hardly appreciates “blanket statements” that “it’s the media’s fault.” And, yes, it was completely overblown that Sasha DiGiulian had to publicly apologize for posting a photo to her own Facebook page. But Ellison’s defense of her magazine ends up sounding just that: defensive, and misdirected towards someone (Reych) who is hardly an enemy. Ellison writes, “One of my duties is to select the images that you see in this allegedly exploitative rag, and the person I work with the most on image selection is—wait for it—also a girl!” That may be true, but to say of body shaming and inequality, “Didn’t we get past that in the 1950s?” is reductive.
This next part is a bit of a side-note, but Ellison goes on to write about an angry letter she received railing against featured female crotch shots. She writes, “At that point I had been at the mag for about four years and had published precisely zero crotch-focused images. (Keep in mind this does NOT count advertisements, of which we have no control over.)” A call to action: wouldn’t it be wonderful if editors did push back more against that imagery in ads? Sure, we need the money, but we (readers and magazine staffs) should still have a say what gets printed on those sold pages, too. Dreams.
Reych closed her original piece with a topic close to our hearts: women-focused media venues, much like the one you are reading right now. “[…]some argue its need. They ask why female athletes, amateur or professional, would want to separate themselves from men in the media or, more largely, why the world needs women-orientated sport media at all? Seen as over-kill, it is often associated with a lack of self-confidence and a need to take the stage side-by-side with men.”
The answer, Reych writes, and which I agree with, “lies not in separation nor the fear of comparisons, but in creating balance. As long as there is a glaring lack of content that fairly represents women, it will be needed.”
We started Misadventures because of that very same lack of content. Unfortunately, despite the internet feuding, I think that Julie Ellison, Zofia Reych, and so many others of us, are working towards the same goal from different angles. We’re on the same side. We believe women deserve respect, and we’re working to make that happen. We should be aligning our crotches, not calling them out.
While I sympathize with Julie Ellison and continue to enjoy Climbing magazine, I did not read the one thing I hoped to in her response: that there is still work to be done. That we’ve got a ways to go. That we’re not there yet. Perhaps it goes without saying, but I don’t hear it enough.