By Anna Levesque
About a week ago I was introduced to a thread on the forum www.mountainbuzz.com that questioned the objectification of women in the kayaking media, particularly offensive media put out by a few small groups of young paddlers. I’ve been in the industry for a long time, over twelve years, and I feel like this is groundbreaking. This is the first time that I know of that a paddler has brought this issue up in a public forum. And, it is the first time that other paddlers, both male and female, are expressing such strong opposition to these attitudes in a public forum. For someone like me who has been voicing concern for many years about the way women are portrayed, and treated in paddling, it’s a big deal. In the past I was most often met with resistance and sometimes anger when bringing up this issue, and now there seems to be widespread support for the true respect and value of women in the sport. I was also excited to see Dagger write a post condemning the offensive behavior – the first and only manufacturer who has done so. For the first time I feel a real shift happening in our community toward an attitude that dispels the belief that what’s important about a woman are her looks and her sexuality. Or the belief that to get noticed a female paddler has to put her looks and sexuality ahead of her skills. I feel like this is a great moment for our community and a great opportunity for all of us to step up and have our voices heard in a positive way.
The Mountain Buzz thread now has over 50,000 views and over 260 posts. Pretty amazing! There were lots of positive and not so positive responses and when I came to the thread there were already 18 pages of posts to sift through. I strongly recommend that you take a look at it if you haven’t already. You don’t have to read all of the posts, that can be overwhelming, but I do feel that it’s important for as many people to see the thread as possible. Here’s the link: http://www.mountainbuzz.com/forums/f11/bdp-and-bomb-flow-45573.html If you’re interested in what I had to say you can read my first post on page 18 and then my second post on page 26.
Writing the posts was challenging and scary. I felt vulnerable and I knew that I was opening myself up to criticism and attacks – something I hadn’t done in a number of years since putting my energy into Girls at Play. In the past I have been labeled a ‘bitch’ and even a ‘feminazi’ for expressing how I felt about the portrayal of women in whitewater. And even though it didn’t feel good to be responded to in that way I knew that I had to keep speaking up because it was the right thing to do. I’m glad I did. It’s not always easy, but the payoff is powerful. Since my posts on Mountain Buzz I’ve been approached by many paddlers, both men and women, thanking me for my words. Some have shared their personal stories of sexual abuse, domestic violence and bullying all related to the type of language used and behavior by the young paddlers in these groups. To hear stories of hardship and healing makes me proud that somehow I found the courage to speak up and to dedicate my work to empowering women in the sport. If you had asked me five years ago if I would have received such widespread positive response I would have said ‘no.’
This positive shift in the whitewater community is exciting and I encourage and challenge you to find your courage. To stick up for yourself and others when there is an inappropriate situation happening, or when something doesn’t feel right. It could be as simple as walking away or not laughing at an offensive joke or statement. Reflect on how you portray, support and treat yourself and others. Support manufacturers and companies who support the empowerment of women in kayaking. All of this makes a difference. And if/when you feel vulnerable remember that you’re not alone and that your actions, words and thoughts do affect and help others. Your words may inspire someone to share their story and heal. Your actions may encourage someone to be more respectful of others. Your dollars can keep companies with positive messages in business and let companies know that you expect them to support good role models. You have the power to create a positive paddling environment for girls and women, but it does take effort, it takes reflection and it takes courage. Thank you for stepping up!
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