Words: Melissa Kurtin
This is a man’s world, But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing, Without a woman or a girl.
– James Brown
From the recent Olympic Games, the US Presidential election, and now #Wakebutt. One thing has become evidentially clear to me; the world is still very much a mans game. I am guilty of being often oblivious to it because I am fortunate enough to surround myself with strong independent women who make their voices heard and don’t take no for an answer.I have sat at my computer for hours contemplating Do I really write this? or Should I stay silent on this? Well #Wakebutt was the icing on the cake and as an editor of a media publication and hopeful role model for the next generation, I prepare myself for the onslaught of internet trolls.
“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” – Donald Trump
After spending more time than I’d like to admit watching the Rio summer olympics almost every post-event interview, reporters started with a comment or question about the female athletes’ physical appearance. In 2016, an incredible athletic performance still comes second to physical appearance. In my opinion it’s disgusting. The Chicago Tribute actually published this headline Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics. The paper was inundated with negative feedback, so it changed the head to Corey Cogdell, wife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein, wins bronze in Rio…yeah, because that’s so much better. The other thing that really bothered me during the games was the reaction when an athlete was brought to tears—whether by happiness, performance or whatever. When a male athlete welled up, it was “Look at this moment of passion,” when a female athlete did it, “She is overcome with emotion.”
Women won 87% of the medals Canada took home. My good friend Mickey Henry, briefly introduced me one summer to Natalie Spooner. Spooner was the first player to play for the Canadian National Women’s Team, the National Women’s Under-22 Team and its Under-18 Team, did I mention she also has a Gold Medal? If Canada own’s one thing, its hockey. While it may not be my sport of choice, it is safe to say 99.9% of the time we are going to be in a medal game, it might be bronze, but most times it’s for the gold. The Women’s Olympic Team has won Gold in the last 4 games and won silver the game before that, the men won Gold 3 out of 5 games and brought home a 7th and 4th, yet the majority of the funding and prime time coverage still gets funnelled through the men.
I came across an outstanding and heartfelt letter written by Carro Djupsjö, a rider who I have yet to meet, but have admired for the past 4 years for her effortless style and level of progression. For those who have yet to read it, I have shared it here with her permission:
“When I was fourteen years old my dad bought me my first Wakeboarding Magazine. I had just started wakeboarding and I read that thing cover to cover, completely amazed by the crisp photographs of these athletes going bigger than I though was possible. Those athletes quickly became my heroes and I could not wait to grow up and be just like them. After waiting carefully each month by the one shop in Sweden that sold international magazines and paid the $10 for each new copy of Wakeboarding Mag the first thing I would do was to flip through the pages, searching for the female riders. And there they were! Leslie Kent, Cathy Williams, Will Christien, Amber Wing and my biggest shero, Dallas Friday. My heart would fill up with pride that those girls were out there and in my eyes, their pictures were even better than the guys!
I would rip out my favorite pictures and post them on my wall. Every day I would watch my shero’s and female role models and I promised myself that one day, this is where I was going to be: determined, brave, hard working and respected. Just like those women on my wall.
Now, 10 years later, I know what it is like to be amongst the top Women in wakeboarding. I compete against my sheroes and I’ve worked with several of the photographers taking those beautiful and crips photos. I work with some of the biggest brands in the industry and I compete in world events. Unfortunately the life of a professional female wakeboarder isn’t at all what I imagined it would be.
In my career I’ve been faced with events I was not ready to face. I was so excited to be doing what I love and so sure that if I just changed one way or the other, I would get all the sparkly promises I had dreamt of as a kid. If I could just get a little bit better the magazines would start publishing my photos, the sponsors would sign me with good contracts and the media would start covering my achievements. Any day now! But no, my reality did not turn out that way.
Luckily for me, social media exploded right before my wakeboarding career started and me and my friends could create our own stories. Facebook, youtube and instagram made it possible for us to promote our own personal brands as the magazines would not do it for us. The amount of women getting published kept on dropping and contests like ”Miss Wakeboarding” where girls were portrayed in their bikini’s and voted on by their looks kept claiming the attention of my beloved industry. That is until Wakeboarding Magazine took responsibility and last year decided to make a change! Besides killing their ”Miss wakeboarding” competition they dedicated a WHOLE ISSUE to the women in wake!! The 14 year old me would’ve been dancing down the street!! Finally the largest magazine in Wakeboarding decided to support the female athletes for real and for that, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you Wakeboarding Magazine.
It’s not only the media where female wakeboarders get neglected. I have so many stories that I don’t know where to start. From the time a judge in a world event slapped my butt not only on one but on two occasions while I was nervously standing on the starting dock to the time a company told me ”But Carro, you are already getting paid a lot for a female athlete, why would you think your salary deserves to be equal to the mens?”. But my point isn’t just about smack-talk, it is much more important than that.
Women in sports are raised to tolerate being treated differently than their male colleagues. And we happily accept it because that is all that we know. Here is my message to you: It does NOT have to be this way. The thing is WE have to be the change. We have to create the events, we have to write the stories, we have to take the photos and we have to stand up for ourselves. In these digital days we all have the power to make our voices heard and it is now more important than ever for companies to keep their following happy. Words like ”prosumers” are being frequently used in marketing and shows us just how much power consumers really have.
The change is just within our reach and with the help of good people in companies working for fair sponsor deals and equal media coverage we will get there! And the good people are out there, we just need to help them to CHANGE THE CONVERSATION.
My hopes and dreams are that my niece will get to grow up in a world filled with Sheroes on her wall. Sheroes that do sports, politics, business and science and not only get judged by their looks.”
The sad thing is Carro is not alone, I have had a boss feel that it was ok to grab my butt and pull me into him so rub against me in the work place. I have had an employer tell me if I was a man I’d make a minimum of $10K more a year (which is sadly true) and a coach call me a mega bitch for standing my ground and making the same tough call he did one month prior.
Being a female in a male dominated industry is hard. Instead of celebrating and supporting, its often turned into competing with each other as there are less sponsorship spots, less events, less prize money, and overall less opportunities. This is why we need to #ChangeTheConversation. It is so frustrating at times because on the one hand, we’ve come so far with equality in sports, but at the same time we still have so far to go. We are all guilty of it, I can name male athletes across the world of sports from baseball, hockey and football to track and field, figure skating and golf. How many female athletes can I really name (out of the realm of action sports), maybe a dozen or so. It’s time we try to shift the focus and share the spotlight with our male counterparts.
Being the solo female on the SBC Team, I’ve had many open discussions with my fellow editors, who have all agreed to make sure there is more content on female athletes. As editor of SBC Wakeboard, here is my promise to you. I promise to dedicate a minimum of 25% of all content pages to the ladies. It’s time to stop talking and start leading the change so hopefully the next generation doesn’t have to fight so hard.
“I want a girl to be on the cover of Surf magazine. It would be great if that girl were me, but any girl would do.” – Anne Marie Chadwich, Blue Crush