Golf mag's slice of sexist misery


Golf Digest featuring Paulina GretzkyI got into an argument on Twitter yesterday. I'm an irregular user of this micro-blogging platform, but a cursory browse after a weeks-long hiatus had brought to my attention a comment by one @__decker: 'I'm angry at #GolfDigest too,' he tweeted. 'They should've put #paulinegretzky photos on every page.'

The tweet was accompanied by a link to photographs of the said Gretzky, a model, actress and singer, and referred to complaints about her appearance on the cover of the latest edition of the American magazine Golf Digest. The comment was frustrating, for @__decker (along with countless other male commentators on Twitter) was demonstrating precisely the sort of response the magazine's editor had intended with the cover: blissful titillation dressed up as a tribute to professional female golfers.

As they tweeted their gratitude to Golf Digest, these men seemed oblivious to the fact that this wasn't an edition of GQPlayboy or Maxim, where such an image and the message it conveys would be quite at home; rather, it is a publication aimed at celebrating the achievements of professional and amateur golfers, men and women alike.

To represent the female golfing fraternity with a sexed-up image of a woman who is, according to the magazine's editor, 'new to golf', is to heap deep insult upon those women slogging it out on the professional circuit. It discriminates against them as sportspeople because it denies them the opportunity to be the public face of their own sport, and implies that women are only good for public exposure if they are young, attractive and willing to strike a provocative pose.

And it prompts the question (which could be applied to any number of other situations): if the few women granted the honour of appearing on the cover of Golf Digest must assent to having their sexual characteristics amplified during the photo shoot, why are male golfers portrayed so respectfully, swinging their clubs, focusing thoughtfully with chin on fist, staring with furrowed brow into the distance?

But you cannot express such frustration in a 144-character Tweet. My reply to @__decker was a little mean — I implied that he was responding to a serious social issue as would a teenage boy — and he assured me in turn that he was, in fact, 28, that a 'gorgeous girl who modelled (conservatively) for a magazine is no harm', that the magazine had 'gained a larger audience because of that ad' and finally, sticking the knife in, 'You must be against every mag with that POV (point of view). Miserable way to live.'

It's a miserable way to live indeed. For most women, objectification is so commonplace, so thoroughly woven into the fabric of their lives that they have learned to live with it as one would a disability.

But there is tremendous harm that comes from representing women sexually at every possible turn: according to the Representation Project, which uses film and media to highlight gender stereotypes, exposure to sexually explicit video games and music videos is linked to an acceptance among men of rape myths and sexual harassment; 65 per cent of American women and girls report disordered eating behaviours; 53 per cent of 13-year-old girls in the US are unhappy with their bodies, a number which increases to 78 per cent by the age of 17; of all the animated movies made between 1937 and 2005, only 13 of them had female protagonists, and all bar one of these characters had the aspiration of finding romance.

But even when women manage to break away from the patriarchal idea of them as sex objects on the lookout for nothing more than love, they often battle to be taken seriously: in Nancy Pelosi's four years as Speaker of the House, for example, she didn't appear on the cover of a single national weekly magazine. And the last time a professional female golfer appeared on the cover of Golf Digest was in 2008.

For men like @__decker who have grown up in a society saturated with such sexualised images, the relentless objectification of women is harmless fun. But there are male allies who are at last taking offense at this sexist tsunami, and they're calling the media out on it.

'If a magazine called Golf Digest is interested in showcasing females in the game, yet consistently steers away from the true superstars who've made history over the last few years, something is clearly wrong,' Mike Whan, LPGA Tour commissioner, told a British newspaper. 'Growing the game means a need for more role models and in these exciting times for women's golf, the LPGA is overflowing with them.'

And in Australia, comedians the Bondi Hipsters have parodied the cover of this month's British GQ magazine, which features a naked Miranda Kerr. Dom Nader (aka Christiaan Van Vuuren) told the Huffington Post that the parody was a response to 'the over-sexualisation of the female body in the high-fashion world. For some reason, as soon as you put a man in there ... it's an entirely different thing that we aren't used to seeing.'

It's a picture that might be worth tweeting to @__decker.

Catherine Marshall headshotCatherine Marshall is a journalist and travel writer.

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, Paulina Gretzky, Golf Digest



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Existing comments

"...they [some women] often battle to be taken seriously" This article is a perfect example of why that may sometimes be so.
john frawley | 10 April 2014

The bottom line for business is that sex sells. It is changing the perceptions of the mainstream ever so slowly. There is some self sabotage by women in this process. The beauty of the female form needs to be acknowleged, but not objectification. Thank you Catherine for maintaining the rage.
Jenny Esots | 10 April 2014

Isn't Paulina the daughter of the all-time North American icon of ice hockey, Wayne Gretzky? These days, the pull of the Gretzky name to golfing interests would be generational - to those people who do not engage in 'tweeting'. That is to say, there is apparently some depth to the selection of Pauline Gretzky and this hullabaloo adds to promote the publication. [BTW this is from an Aussie who doesn't play golf or follow ice hockey].
Bob | 10 April 2014

Thank you, Catherine. This is a good reminder that women are much greater than the sum of their (body) parts.
Donella Johnston | 10 April 2014

Thank you Catherine, for your focus on serious journalism versus advertising.This is another example of sex selling anything, and double standards in a male dominated business world.Until the media is bound by legislative regulation this will continue. Sketchy issues surround public interest and moral rights while the male gaze is king.
Catherine | 10 April 2014

Great article Catherine, I thoroughly agree. This approach to sell magazines is cheap, puerile and an insult to women golfers indeed all women.
Ron Hill | 10 April 2014

As a gay man, I also get annoyed that some men (gay and curious) but Men's Health magazine to ogle at pictures of buffed semi naked male body builders and athletes. Not really about health, is it?
AURELIUS | 19 April 2014


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