March 10th, 2014

Dear SAFRA

Dear SAFRA,

Who is your gym for?

You know the ad we mean. There’s been chatter about it on Facebook and The Online Citizen. We’ve read the debate, and since we keep getting asked, here’s our perspective as a gender equality advocacy group.

SAFRA iconThis poster hasn’t appeared in a vacuum.  It’s part of a culture that ubiquitously encourages everyone to see women as existing to be “checked out” (to use your phrase) in every setting, for the pleasure of heterosexual men, regardless of how we feel about it.  Sometimes this “checking out” is the precursor to sexual harassment – unwanted advances, which persist even after women make a lack of interest clear, or touching without consent. In some cases it leads to more serious sexual violence.

And yes, it may be true that some women “check out” men too, if “checking out” means a casual momentary look.  But persistent unwanted leering, leading to offensive remarks and/or sexual harassment or even assault is something that women are much more likely to experience from men.

Your ad contributes to this culture.  By referring to women as “healthy distractions” for men, it tells men that the women using the gym are objects to be stared at, whether or not the women are okay with it.  It tells men that it is legitimate for them to engage in behaviour that might make women feel belittled, uncomfortable or threatened, as a common precursor to non-consensual harassment.

The poster also tells women that SAFRA gyms are not safe places for us to exercise.  At these gyms, it says, women should expect to be leered at by men, whether we like it or not.  If a woman at your gym feels unsafe or uncomfortable because a man is staring at her, after seeing your ad, will she feel that she can tell him off?  If she does, will she expect your staff and management to support her?

You’ve suggested the ad is about “bonding moments” among men.  But men don’t need to make women feel threatened and uncomfortable to bond – we think better of men than that.  And we’re quite sure that men can appreciate the benefits of exercise and enjoy hanging out with their friends even without women dangled before them as sexual prospects.

Women should have the right to enjoy public spaces without expecting or fearing harassment.  We should have the right not to be made uncomfortable by unsolicited advances, and we should be supported in our protests if anyone’s sexual conduct towards us makes us uncomfortable.

You tell us SAFRA believes in equality of the sexes; we hope that, in your future marketing campaigns, we see it.

With regards,

AWARE

2 Comments ...

  1. […] portraying the innocuous reality of our gymming culture?) and others expressing their support for AWARE’s open letter. A few netizens have accused AWARE, an advocacy group for women’s rights, of overplaying […]

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