fitness · sexism

On vibrators as athletic trophies, or when a prize is not a prize

I’ve played in a fair number of competitive athletic events— tennis tournaments, squash tournaments and league play, bike races of various stripes, and even a couple of triathlons (there was also that one disastrous intramural D league volleyball match, but I’d rather not discuss it).

In the course of competing, I’ve won a few medals and ribbons, the odd trophy (tennis tourney when I was ten), and of course swag— bike gloves, cans of electrolyte drink mix, even a blinkie on one occasion. Usually these non-money prizes are donated by sponsors or local sporting goods stores, so they tend to be sport-specific and sport-themed.

It turns out, though, that I’m a bit behind the times, as some tournament promoters have expanded the range of their prize offerings for women competitors to include vibrators.

Yes, that’s right. Vibrators.

At the recent Asturias Squash Championship tournament in Oviedo, Spain, the top four women received trophies, as did the top four men. But for the women, there was a little something extra for them: a vibrator for the winner, and for the others, either a hair removal kit or electric foot file.

An instagram photo of the trophies plus the other special prizes offered to the top women squash players.
An instagram photo of the trophies plus the other special prizes offered to the top women squash players.

From the article in Newsweek: The athletes wrote to the Royal Spanish Squash Federation demanding answers over the treatment, which they felt promoted sexism. The organization then instructed the local federation to launch a formal investigation, along with the Asturian Women’s Institute.

“We were very surprised, very shocked,” Sadó was quoted as saying by the BBC. “We think it’s very sexist. We wanted to explain it to everybody because we think […] there’s a lot of discrimination [against women in sport] and things have to change.”

It’s worth noting the various responses to their formal complaint. 

From the regional federation: “It’s the height of sexism,” Maribel Toyos, a spokesman for the Asturias Squash Federation, was quoted as saying by Spanish daily El Pais. “We had no idea the women were going to receive these gifts.”

They appear to be shocked, shocked to discover this happened.

Then there’s the local club, whose officials actually went to all the trouble of selecting, obtaining and proffering the vibrator and depilatory aids. Here’s what they said:

“We understand the reaction and deeply regret this unacceptable incident,” said official statement signed by president Nacho Manzano and acting president Barbara Fernandez.

This is weird. It’s the kind of reaction you would have if say, a dog had gotten loose in the club and chewed their squash rackets. It’s as if it had nothing to do with them. And they joined everyone else in denouncing it as unacceptable.

There weren't pictures of dogs eating squash rackets, but this dog apparent made a mess and then denied it by looking away.
There weren’t pictures of dogs eating squash rackets, but this dog apparent made a mess and then denied it by looking away.

Except they’re the ones that did the unacceptable thing, which required ill-intentioned forethought and planning.

Then comes the non-apology apology:

“The club reiterates its apologies to players, the Federation and people or entities offended by the discomfort caused by inappropriate gifts and that should never have been delivered.”

Let’s unpack this. They apologize to those offended by the discomfort caused by the inappropriate gifts; and then say they shouldn’t have been delivered.

First, they’re trying to put the blame on the gifts themselves, which strikes me as grossly unfair. I mean, some vibrator was just sitting around, minding its own business, when it gets bought by a sexist and malicious squash tournament promoter. That’s not its fault.

Second, vibrators aren’t inappropriate; people who buy vibrators as athletic tournament prizes for women athletes are inappropriate. Likewise the other products.

Finally, there’s the bit about “should never have been delivered”. Again, it’s a weird attempt to distance themselves, as if it’s the fault of UPS for delivering these items to the club for distribution.

It's totally not this guy's fault.
It’s totally not this guy’s fault.

The responses all around are a tour de force of the passive voice.

But this wasn’t passive at all. It was actively mean, an attempt to humiliate women who had the temerity to excel in squash. Why didn’t the person whose idea this was take responsibility and say they were sorry? This is what I’d like to read:

Wow. Yeah, this was a total dick move on my part. I thought it would be funny. We all did. But of course it’s not— it’s insulting and demeaning. Squash is largely male, and I guess we haven’t owned up to how toxic this environment is for women. And here we are.

Now it’s time to apologize and get some help on making structural changes to squash organizations at the local, regional, and national level.

I am sorry I thought this, said this and did this. Our club will be sponsoring a free girls’ squash clinic every year, with the goal of recruiting girls into competitive squash and supporting them. We hope this program will be a first step in addressing the harms suffered by women in squash.

Now *that* would be a prize worth claiming.

Readers: have you encountered any misogynistic shenanigans like this in your competitive experiences? Let us know, and we will rain scorn down on the perpetrators and support you.

3 thoughts on “On vibrators as athletic trophies, or when a prize is not a prize

  1. Wow, Catherine. Fantastic critique!
    I have to say, while the vibrator is super-insulting, the hair removal wax isn’t all that great, either! Women in sports already have to deal with the assumptions that they’re not feminine enough–wax sort of screams “here, let me help you with your image.”

    Liked by 3 people

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