Rossignol announced the launch of their women’s initiative called “We Rise” today, following behind Blizzard’s Women 2 Women program and the K2 Ski Alliance.
I have a lot of issues with these sorts of marketing initiatives. Solid women’s offerings no longer deserve special accolades. Skis like the Blizzard Dakota and the Volkl Aura and Kiku have been released for decades and the rest of the market has responded with high performance skis that reward strong technique and skilled riding. It’s par for the course these days. Even through the lens of empowerment marketing, launching a marketing message acknowledging women’s strength in 2019 is incredibly late to the game. We all shared Always’s #LikeAGirl commercial and Under Armour’s #WillWhatIWant campaign in 2014 and have since moved on to campaigns addressing toxic masculinity or the rise of gender neutral consumer products as Gen Z deconstructs gender norms. And I would say, “better late than never,” except that these initiatives rarely actually do anything to improve the skiing experience for women. The attempts at building online communities to get advice and find partners just result in dormant Facebook groups with a few hundred members. Web content at times can be sparse or even kind of problematic. And none of it seems to address the issues that women are actually incredibly frustrated by, like: being scrutinized and underestimated by potential male ski partners, bros who hurl insults about your skiing from the lift, bootfitters who refuse to double-downsize your shell size for a performance fit, paltry boot options for small-but-still-very-normal-sized feet, the overwhelming whiteness and privilege of the ski industry that makes many women feel unwelcome, pay and opportunity in a traditionally bro-ey industry, lack of maternity support for athletes, sales staff who warn you “that’s a mighty wide ski for a lady. Most women don’t like skis over a hundred. Their thighs just get too tired,” an entire ski culture writes 2 narratives for women – either the ski bunny arm candy or the mom who skis blue groomers with the kids, that guy your friend met at a bar who droned on and on about how he’s so mad that he can’t ski the Shift because his DIN is a 13 and a half. I don’t see how all the “inspiring” platitudes written in Pinterest-y hand-lettering or videos of happy ladies skiing is going to dismantle the tinges of sexism that are woven into ski culture and make the sport a little less fun for women.
But Rossignol’s initiative gets way more problematic with their tagline #WeRise. Let me tell you about the other communities who used the mantra first. Maya Angelou published “Still I Rise” in 1978, an ever-relevant ode to the resiliency of the black community in the face of oppression and injustice. Andra Day’s “Rise Up” has become the anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement and Mothers of the Movement, a group of African American mothers who have lost children to gun violence and police brutality. Why We Rise is a short documentary from 2013 that follows the struggles of undocumented immigrants living in New York. Why We Rise is also a part of the LA County Department of Mental Health that’s part of a movement driven to recognize mental healthcare as a human right. When We Rise is the autobiography of LGBTQ+ activist, Cleve Jones, which also served as inspiration for a docudrama bearing the same name that chronicles the history of LGBTQ+ advocacy in America. We Rise is the title of indigenous climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez’s book on how to participate in effective, solution-oriented environmental activism. This is a rallying cry for marginalized communities in the face of violence and social injustice. These are the words of social and political movements, the verbiage of protest and revolution. They carry so much weight and meaning. To co-opt them from marginalized communities and grant it as the motto for beautiful, smiling white women with their skis propped over one shoulder and a long blonde braid spilling over the other is so incredibly tone deaf. It’s unacceptable. And to release the campaign on the 2nd Monday of October? Well, let’s just say it’s a very “Columbus Day” thing to do.
Don’t get me wrong, skiing needs feminism. I’d love to see the day where I can ask a stranger if “the backside is open” and not receive some sort of response invoking anal sex. I’d love to head into a gear shop and not wonder if it’s going to be a waste of time working with someone who carries preconceived notions about their female customers. But the choice to keep clicking into my skis isn’t some sort of civil resistance. The issues facing women in ski culture are real and worth addressing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge that they’re also pretty paltry in the overall scope of equality & discrimination.
And if Rossignol (and Blizzard, and K2) really want to use their women’s initiatives to improve skiing for women, put some concrete, data driven goals on the table. The folks over at Burton see fair labor practices as a component of ethical & sustainable business, and have aggressive goals for themselves and suppliers that they track publicly on their website. They have an incredibly progressive contracts written for their female athletes around pregnancy and motherhood. They were game-changers for awarding equal prize money for men’s and women’s competitions, dating back to the ‘90s. Rossignol’s goal of more “best days” is so vague and meaningless, they can never be held accountable for creating progress.
A few tips for all you brands out there who haven’t started your women’s initiatives yet:
- If it doesn’t involve expanding the narrative of female skiers beyond slim, white, ski bunny types, abort! (Er, stop. If you’re still stuck on white feminism, something tells me the word “abort” is uncomfortable for you too).
- Have some goals. Not just sales goals. Not “more best days” goals. Something tangible and meaningful for your female customers. Sign up for something “behind the scenes” that benefits women in your organization and doesn’t pad your bottom line to really delineate that it’s a brand value, not a gimmick. Make commitments. Be accountable to your progress.
- Think critically about your unisex/men’s line. Discrimination will never, ever be fixed with a conversation that only includes the marginalized group. Does your men’s like go over the top to stroke the male ego? Do any of your skis share a name with a pro-Confederate guerilla group? (Spoiler: it’s the Bushwacker). Pull a Black Crows move: build a stiff, demanding freeride ski. Then paint it pink.
- Pick a better tag line than Rossignol.