Recently the Whitecaps released a series of advertisements. The premise of the ad campaign was to show recordings of Whitecaps ticket-holders at games reacting to the drama of the competition. Video clips were set to slow-motion and classical music to further dramatize the event. The ads, asking viewers to “be a part of the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver,” capture the spirit of the team, with fans both young and old, male and female, cheering and groaning along with the team’s feats and defeats.
Well, I should be more accurate: there are no women in the ads anymore, after the single video featuring female Whitecaps FC fans was pulled. The reason for its being pulled? Accusations of sexism.
The video in question featured three young blonde women, wearing Whitecaps white, celebrating a team victory. Cheering involved briefly jumping up and down, much like most fans do. Assumedly because the women were traditionally attractive, and the clip was set in slow-motion, the video has been hailed as another example of sexism and female-alienation in sports.
Assistant Teaching Professor of Political Science, Dr. Janni Aragon, said, “It’s almost like I’m watching the ‘Baywatch’ opening.”
I can understand this argument, honestly. Clearly the Whitecaps’ marketing team didn’t select the featured fans at random. They made a decision, conscious or not, for the only female fans in the videos to be young and conventionally beautiful. I can guarantee that there are Whitecaps fans who don’t fit the young, blonde, and slender category, but they were passed over.
Continuing to feature women in sports—even when on the sidelines—as young, attractive, and cheering for men, does relegate women to a specific, less-active role. It perpetuates the idea that being attractive and supportive are women’s rightful positions, and it’s also exclusionary to anyone who isn’t young, white, blonde, or slender. So yes, in a way the complaints are warranted.
I’m not sure I would say the ad is prima facie sexist, though. Discounting the ad entirely based on the fact that the women are attractive means judging the women on the basis of their appearance, saying that they cannot be involved in an ad campaign because they’re too attractive. What, these real-life fans of the Whitecaps can’t be advertised as fans of the Whitecaps because they’re attractive? Just as I think it’s ludicrous to single them out for the campaign on the basis of their looks, I also don’t see the point of dismissing them on the basis of their looks.
This sort of judgment becomes a bizarre, arbitrary selection of who is “unattractive” (or, less traditionally attractive) and can therefore be featured in an advertisement. Or would the ad have been acceptable if the three fans hadn’t been jumping and cheering along with everyone else in the stands?
Just because the slow-motion effect harkens back to the babe-some beach bods of Pam An and others doesn’t mean that it’s sexist, either. The slow-motion increases the dramatic effect of the ad, as does the orchestral music—isn’t that, like, film editing 1101? If they’d only used the slow-motion effect on the women, I’d think there was something to those accusations of Baywatch mimicry. The effects were used equally amongst the men, women, and children in the campaign though.
The real issue is that the Whitecaps didn’t feature any other women, so the young blonde women were the faces of female Whitecaps fans. Now, though, women are entirely absent from the marketing campaign; if we weren’t alienated before, we sure are now.
Emily Guedes, who had been among the three women in the ad before it was pulled, had her take: “What’s misogynistic is the fact that men are in the videos—and kids cheering for [the Whitecaps]—but not a couple of women. … I am not offended by the video but [I am] adamantly offended by their removal of it.”
I know many are applauding the fact that the Whitecaps removed the video, but I’m with Guedes on this one. By removing the advertisement, these women have been denied as legitimate, acceptable examples of female fans, and women in general have been erased from the stands. It would be entirely possible to find women of varying ages, sizes, colours, and general appearances to feature in the ads. That’s how I think the Whitecaps should have addressed the complaints of sexism in the first place: by showing women as “part of the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver,” regardless of being traditionally or untraditionally beautiful.