Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tough Guys Wanted: No Sequins Required

Skate Canada has a new ad campaign to promote men’s figure skating. The ad campaign is called “Tough” and focuses on how dangerous and “rough and tumble” figure skating is. A Skate Canada spokesperson promotes the “death defying” aspects of the sport by recalling an incident at a recent competition where a skater required 80 stitches when her face was sliced by her partner’s skate. Uh huh, maybe we should just change the name to Ultimate Skating that would change the image.

Skate Canada insists that this campaign has nothing to do with “masculinity” and is merely a “rebranding” of the sport to get away from its “genteel” image. Right, we all buy that.

There is nothing new or fresh about this campaign unless it is that it is a little wacky. Figure skating has always been a little embarrassed by the perception that the male figure skaters are gay. When skaters like Elvis Stojko win championships you can envision skating officials high fiving the success of an openly butch male skater. More “artistic” and “flamboyant” skaters like Johnny Weir, on the other hand, are tolerated with an uncomfortable, yet genteel forbearance.

The Skate Canada ad is merely the flip side of the gender coin. It is the same thing as the WNBA trying to sell its stars as just your average girly girl who just happens to be 6’4” and can crush a basketball back in your face. Remember, the make-up and hair styling sessions the WNBA held at rookie camp this year?

The Skate Canada ad is also confusing gender and sexuality. It assumes that an artistic sport that requires grace and style (in addition to strength and endurance) is for women and gay men. The Skate Canada ad campaign assumes that emphasizing the rough and tumble or tough aspects of the sport will “straighten up” the sport’s appeal. Tell former NFL lineman Esera Tuaolo that gay men can’t be tough. Tell Mikhail Baryshnikov straight men can’t be artistic.

This perception that women or men who do not express their gender in traditional ways are gay or that no gay men and lesbians enjoy traditional gender expression is so off base and soooo tired. Does a sport have to be sold as violent and dangerous to be appealing to men?

I think it is great that sports come in all varieties and call for a wide range of skills and sizes, none of which is connected to the gender or sexuality of the participants. The irony is that, by trying to sell figure skating as the NHL with music, they might lose the guys who like the artistic challenge of figure skating, whether they are gay or straight.

1 comment:

E Leb said...

Thank you again, Pat, for pointing out the veiled attempts to conflate gender and sexuality. And I wholeheartedly agree that having a variety of sports that require a broad range of skills and sizes benefits us all!