Parkour Branding and Misogyny by Kel Glaister

I’ve never seen the need for parkour brands. You want something cool on your t-shirt? Get a sharpie and draw it on there. And then get back to training. One of the attractions of parkour for me has always been that we don’t need kit; we don’t need to spend money. Right off the bat, parkour is more accessible to those in financially precarious situations, and less likely to be rampantly repackaged [1], like skateboarding and surfing have been (look into the calculated erasure of women skaters and surfers, if you’re interested.[2] ) In this way, parkour is potentially a site of resistance to the market and to late capitalism. This has always been its strength.
But, as it always does, the market has proven that all means of resistance can and will be recuperated, packaged and resold back to us. And so parkour brands are born: Etre Fort, Skochypstiks, Farang, Storror, Take Flight (hahah!), Novel Ways, Wefew, Air Wipp, and so on and so forth, all sell us products we don’t need. I am, of course, a grumpy leftie, and while it irks me a bit, but I don’t begrudge people founding these brands or people buying their products.
Unless…
Unless those brands warp and abuse the principles that make parkour what it is. We’ve seen it before with Tempest and their ‘test footage’ for KFC, or with Red Bull and Betfreds sponsoring parkour/ freerunning competitions. And we see it again and again in parkour brands themselves using tired misogynist tropes in their videos, ad campaigns and social media. If parkour brands exist, we must hold them to a higher standard.
Now, I’m focussing here on sexism in parkour branding, and while it’s not as awful as in some other fields, I’d argue that’s simply because the field is smaller. For just two examples:

kel-blog-novel-ways

kel-blog-novel-wayskel-blog-teamfarangThese are, admittedly quite old, but by no means the only ones. These are the starkest examples of objectification. Looking through just about any parkour brand’s lookbook or summer collection album on Facebook and you’ll find subtler examples- men climbing and jumping, while women pout listlessly into the middle distance [3].

The point is, these images are textbook cases of objectification- the women in are static, inert, powerless. Their faces are not shown, or dismembered, literally cut off by the framing. They are presented as passive sex objects for the (male) gaze. “The common thread running through all forms of sexual objectification is being treated as a body (or collection of body parts) valued predominantly for its use to (or consumption by) others.[4]”
It’s cheap, unnecessary. It’s also harmful.
I’m sure some will be thinking that this argument is simply prudish. That these brands are just using sexy images of pretty girls: where’s the harm, they’re sexually empowered women, boys will be boys, yada yada yada. This is not simply about showing some skin- I train in booty shorts when it’s hot, I’m regularly topless on the beach and have been reported to Facebook’s ‘community standards’ keystone cops more than once. This is not about censoring shows of skin or of women’s sexuality; this is about the recuperation of female sexuality for the male gaze, through blatant objectification.
Use of misogynist, objectifying imagery in parkour branding is dangerous, because objectifying imagery does psychological harm to women and femme folk (and to men as well.) “Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and worthy of empathy by both men and women. Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths. Add to this the countless hours that most girls/women spend primping and competing with one another to garner heterosexual male attention, and the erasure of middle-aged and elderly women who have little value in a society that places women’s primary value on their sexualized bodies.”[5]
Images like these “sell women and girls a hurtful lie: that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others, and they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others.”[6] When brands make and distribute misogynist objectifications of women, it sends a harmful message that women are not welcome in parkour unless they are sexy, sexually available, and passive or mute. These images, in parroting back tired and lazy sexist motifs of mainstream advertising, attempt to align parkour with dominant gender norms. These are norms that allow men to active and agentive, but enforce women’s role as that of a decorative, sexually available object (and deny the existence of all other genders and non-heterosexual sexualities.)

So, what can we do? Plenty!
First off, do not support products that profit from these abusive tropes and images. Don’t support products that attempt to rebrand parkour as a boys’ club, don’t support products that use imagery that dehumanises and objectifies your sisters. Do not give them your money.
The flip side of that is, of course, to support projects that celebrate marginalised identities within parkour and other movement disciplines. See and Do, She can trace, Freequence, Lift Big Eat Big, She Climbs, your local group for LGBTQ+ youth, pretty much every Roller Derby team ever, Girls who Powerlift, Skateistan; the list goes on.
Fight fire with fire; we can all make images and videos that celebrate women* and gender diverse people in action. Write about it. Shout about it. Share your experience. Organise an Inclusivity Jam in your city.
And when you see sexist, objectifying images on the social media of parkour brands, call them out on it [7] (if and when you’re safe enough to do so.[8]) If you’re a guy reading this, that goes for double. Misogyny is not a “women’s problem”, and it’s important that our allies speak with us, and undertake some of the emotional labour of confronting problematic behaviour. And you can thus help combat the catch 22 of misogyny; that a truly misogynistic person will only lessen their sexist opinions when they’re called out on them by men.[9]
I’m not naïve enough to suggest that commenting on these images will change the minds of the people producing them- that’s probably a lost cause, but we can hope they’ll stop and think for a second. No, it’s important to comment, write letters and kick up a stink on these images for other women, for other people who feel uncomfortable with them. Commenting on Youtube videos or Facebook images leave a trace for others who see those images, and they will know that those images do not represent us, that there is a space for everyone in parkour, and that parkour can potentially be a haven from the unchecked capitalist sexism of everywhere else.

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[1] Less likely, but certainly not impossible. You only have to look to the recent misogynist brain fart that was the GQ magazine spread on climbing, for a related exemplar. (Don’t even bother looking at the original magazine spread- check out the parody instead: http://qz.com/797467/outdoor-research-responded-to-gqs-sexist-rock-climbing-photo-shoot-with-a-perfect-parody/)

[2] https://mpora.com/skateboarding/scene-stealers-womens-skateboarding-punk-mens#mdWdTzudFoFZcdUc.97

http://www.theestablishment.co/2015/11/09/why-are-surf-magazines-erasing-women/

[3] For a few choice examples: www.instagram.com/p/BI5hh4VB5PS/, www.instagram.com/p/1lz4aFr2V7/, www.instagram.com/p/0PYzjDLAmh/

[4] http://www.sanchezlab.com/pdfs/FredricksonRoberts.pdf

Objectification Theory- Towards understanding of women’s lived experience and mental health risks.

[5] https://educoup.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/the-disease-of-sexual-objectification-inside-a-society-that-turns-women-into-things/

[6] https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/06/sexual-objectification-part-2-the-harm/

[7] Yes, for individuals it can be more helpful to call people ‘in’ instead of out. However in the case of companies and brands, unless you know the people behind the production personally, this is not feasible. Nor is it helpful, as the images that are doing harm go unchallenged in the public eye. Staying quiet can be mistaken for a tacit approval.

[8] Of course in times of doxxing, online rape threats and violent trolling, this is a course of action unavailable to many who don’t have the privilege of feeling safe online. I’m not suggesting that you’re obliged to, only that doing so when you feel safe can help.

[9] Thanks to Suzi Miletic for this point.

 

Blog post image photo by Andy Day. www.andyday.com