Silly Sharks’ sideshow

2019-07-22 10:37
Stephanie Saville.

Stephanie Saville.

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Last weekend, I opened Instagram to check on what everyone was up to. I didn’t expect to be as discombobulated (isn’t that a lovely word?) as I was when I closed the app with a frown on my face.

The reason for this was a post by our provincial rugby team, the Sharks. When I saw it, I did a double take. Surely this wasn’t their official page? But on checking, I saw the blue tick verifying the account and so, yes, it was their official Instagram page with 88 900 followers. Yep. It was definitely all very official.

“They are ready for the start of #CurrieCup. Are you?” asked the caption over what I felt was a rather smutty gif of two scantily dressed young women wiggling around, dressed in black bras covered by black gowns. One actually wears lacy lingerie. They shimmy their shoulders while dropping their black gowns, smiling and winking seductively, with their best come-hither looks on their young faces.

Oh no, Sharks, I thought as I shook my head. No, no, no. How could you get it so wrong?

I know that the Sharks flasher girls are a thing. They’re a stunt to draw men. I know they come onto the field and run around, dropping their gowns at strategic points for the crowd to see their bikinied bellies, each with a letter (S.H.A.R.K.S.) body-painted onto them to make up the name of the provincial team. But looking at the gif, it felt like we’d stepped back 35 years in terms of gender politics. Remember those adverts for cars that showed scantily clad women draped over 1980s style vehicles? Wherever men would cast their gaze, there had to be a woman there to ogle, to service it.

Go to any Sharks rugby match and tell me the audience is only male. It’s not. Women have entered the domain of rugby fandom and we attend rugby matches with our partners and female friends.

So what is having the Sharkettes (another name for them apparently) flashing their bodies at matches say to most women? “This is not for you. This is for men.” It also says that the serious business of the sport is the male domain and the silly, sexy sideshow is all women contribute. The flasher girls — the coy in spirit, but sexually overt, male fantasy.

And so, while you’re sitting in the crowd before the match begins, you start to feel a bit awkward as the young women run onto the field and the men around you make that gross “phrwoar” sound they often emit when something lascivious presents itself. They clap and whistle. Some reach for their binoculars.

The show elicits a predictable response from the guys. But women are not quite sure how to react. Do we sit there with a fake smile pasted on our faces, through clenched teeth? Do we ignore it? Do we clap? Many women will find this unsettling. It makes us instantly aware of the male power dynamic and reinforces stereotypes about women and respect, and the objectification of the female form. And sure, we’ve put up with this, turning a blind eye over the years, because to put your hand up and say this is not okay, especially to a stadium filled with many men, will draw howls of protest and derision from those who feel you should shut up and put up, and not scrum against the status quo. I can imagine the comments this column could elicit, even as I write it.

And what does the concept of the Sharks girls (notice how they are widely referred to as girls? Another way of diminishing them) have to do with rugby? What does it have to do with me, a female spectator who doesn’t believe any sport event is enhanced by scantily clad women? What does it say to the young girls who are there with their dads? How awkward is it for them to watch their fathers leering at the sideshow?

If men want to look at women in this way, let them do it elsewhere, away from where we have no say in it and where we are made to feel pretty awkward about it.

What women’s sports codes feature scantily clad men giving come-hither looks? I’ve never seen this at any netball final. Let me stress that I am strongly pro-choice and if the young women who make up the Sharks girls are comfortable doing this, that’s fine. But I am uncomfortable with a situation where the organisers of a sporting code as big as provincial rugby, don’t consider the viewpoint of many of those who support them. And yes, we pay for our tickets, the same price as the men.

In the U.S., cheerleading is often a highly technical sport in its own right and many of the cheerleading squads are made up of mixed genders. And that’s great. Show us something with skill, something with class. I’d welcome it.

So, Sharks, maybe it’s time to re-examine the concept of your flasher girls. It’s outdated, incongruous and inappropriate, and it’s time to find a new gimmick. This one is terribly tired. And we’re terribly tired of having to watch it.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  sharks rugby

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