A little over a month ago, I posted a piece on the sexist marketing trope of how expert women’s gear allows them to “keep up with the boys,” sending the message that men are generally better, but some women manage to keep up. My friend Reid dropped in my DMs to ask question about how men can help champion progress for women in snow sports:
“Umm what can I do to be a better ally for gear equality? Sometimes I’m bad at losing the message in the delivery of calling out ‘bros.’ But yeah, I’m not sure to go about bringing it up to manufacturers.”
I love this question. Here’s the quick and dirty answer: say as little as possible:
“Hey, I noticed your brand is doing ____. I don’t think this is a good move for both the greater ski community and the success of your business. Here’s a blog piece or the comment section of a social post where women are having a really thoughtful and educational discussion of this topic. I found it really thought-provoking, and I hope your team reads it and takes it to heart.”
Ideally send by email over social.
But I’m always one to provide the long answer, so here’s my reasoning:
- Always amplify the voices of people in the affected community. I don’t want men to stress over a carefully wordsmithing a statement because I already have. For each piece I write, I spend 2-8 hours organizing a narrative, checking the thoughts in my head against reputable research and pounding out word count. When allies put a message in their own words, a few things happen. First, the message can get misconstrued. Whenever you see plus size women advocating for size inclusivity, there’s always an ally who wants to tack on tall or petite sizes. A valid need from the industry, but a very different level of priority compared to half of the women’s market lacking options that can physically get on their body. Passing along the original message ensures the message stays consistent. Second, sometimes we get rewarded for this work – job opportunities, pro deals, influencer product seeding, etc. so it helps a lot to keep our names attached to our ideas.
- Your endorsement lends us the consideration that comes with male privilege. I’ve said this before, but the ski industry really values and prioritizes maleness. Your endorsement lends us credibility. There are so many tropes to undermine the vision of under-valued groups. Women get painted as irrational, overly sensitive, angry, lacking a sense of humor, and spiteful. When women speak up against sexism in the outdoor industry, men push back saying that the industry was built on “self-expression” and a “rebellious spirit” and that women are just not getting the “jokes” and just looking for something to be mad about to cause problems for men. For men, tropes aren’t readily available to discount your voice. Sure, there’s some growing rhetoric on the incel, men’s rights communities about “soft” men or “betas,” but none of those tropes are based on protected characteristics, they haven’t been around very long, and they haven’t become deeply ingrained into business culture. (I.e., the irrational women trope has kept women from reaching high levels of leadership, but no one’s like “Reid thinks people should have human rights; he’s totally unfit for upper management.”) Men are also the largest consumer group in the outdoors, and especially in more expensive and technical sports. When brands see pushback from women, they may see that as a threat to a small subset of their business. When they see it from men, it’s their core customer.
- Speaking out makes us feel really vulnerable, and your support provides reassurance. The worst part of gender-based advocacy work happens right after you hit send or post on a comment / post / email. You put yourself out there about how something’s hurtful or disempowering and you refresh, refresh, refresh to see whether you’re going to get support, or if you’re going to get trolled.
- Why email over social? Customer service software is highly sophisticated, where there’s automated monitoring and agents can link tickets into a broader issue. A lot of those software packages integrate with social media, but some just link Facebook and Twitter. Some extensions for Instagram aren’t reliable. New apps like Tiktok take time for developers to integrate into the software. Meanwhile, you can always count on your email or “contact us” ticket to get seen and worked by an internal team. Reaching out to customer service also has perks where it doesn’t boost the algorithm on problematic posts, and it also doesn’t allow misogynists and / or brand loyalists the chance to defend the brand or troll the people raising their concerns.
It sounds so passive, but the two words, “I agree” really go a long way, especially when there are numbers behind the message.
Beyond correspondence with brands, there are a few other ways to get behind gear equity and gear advocacy:
- Follow people with different gear needs than you. I’ve worked with a number of self-proclaimed gear gurus who haven’t the slightest idea about the trends and advancements going on on the women’s side of the aisle. Even fewer are plugged in to the plus or petite communities, where the gear gap is even more staggering. You can’t advocate for marginalized communities if you don’t have insights to their needs. Not to mention, your follows, likes, and comments opens doors for progress. I’ve seen first-hand a community of plus size women talk about their gear needs on the internet, grow a good sized influencer community, get tapped by Outdoor Research as plus size advisors, and play a pivotal role in making capable, technical gear accessible to more sizes. Also, if you don’t think that women, plus size women, women of color, or disabled women are making content that will be interesting to you as a Sport Bro, your sexism, fatphobia, ableism, and racism are all showing.
- Tell people when their advocacy has shifted your views and opinions. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on a snowboard with a sexy, naked lady graphic and how that type of artwork causes harm to women and how it appeals to incel dudes high in hostile sexism. And I got comments from guys like “you know, maybe those types of graphics are like snowsport’s version of Confederate monuments” or “They never appealed to me, but I didn’t realize they were problematic.” When it comes to gear blogging, I get a lot of “yaaaas” from other women, and a lot of crickets from major brands. It’s rare to feel like you’re driving progress, so let people know about these small wins.
- Recognize the value that women add to gear discussions. We’ve been socialized to believe that men are more knowledgeable, both in general and about gear. But knowledge alone won’t help someone land in the right gear for their style, ability and goals. Women are socialized to be very attuned to others’ needs and to be very careful shoppers. Those are two very important skills you need to connect the right people to the right gear. Those two traits lead to higher success rates in general sales careers, medical careers, financial advising, litigation – all because they put more time, care, and effort into looking out for their clients and patients. Why would we expect snow sports to be any different? Those skills should earn women positions of power and influence across consumer insights, engineering, marketing, sales, bootfitting, gear reviewing – and for the entire market, not just the women’s segment.
One last word for the women: I know firsthand that talking about gender bias on the internet can garner reactions from men that range from uncomfortable to downright unsafe. But these conversations also need to live in public, mixed-gender settings in order for them to reach the people who are driving snowsport strategies and making decisions within brands. Let your voice be heard. (And strongly recommend doing so on your own platforms where you own the moderating and you set your boundaries to minimize the level of emotional labor involved.)