Olive Bowers is not exactly a veteran of the ocean, but at 13 she has enough experience to know what she likes and what she doesn't when it comes to surfing. Best is catching a clean wave in the summer; worst is some of the sexism that still lingers in the sport.
What she encountered when she picked up a copy of Tracks magazine, which bills itself as ''the surfers' bible'', prompted her to write a fierce letter to its editor, Luke Kennedy, objecting to the way it portrays women.
As Bowers flicked through the pages, she was surprised to encounter only one picture of a woman: ''She was called 'Girl of the Month' and she wasn't even on a beach. She was just standing in a dark room.''
Then Bowers looked at the magazine's website.
''There was one video of Stephanie Gilmore surfing. That was pretty good. But even if there was a 1000 videos of girls surfing there was still that section that was called 'Girls' and you clicked on it and it was all girls that weren't even surfing. Just in bikinis; models really. That really annoyed me.''
In her letter to Tracks, Bowers says she wants to ''bluntly address the way you represent women in your magazine''. The ''girls'' section enters ''into pages and pages of semi-naked, non-surfing girls. These images create a culture in which boys, men and even girls reading your magazine will think that all girls are valued for is their appearance''.
The year 8 student at Princes Hill Secondary College in Melbourne, whose mother is actor, writer and academic Alice Garner and whose grandmother is one of Australia's best-known writers, Helen Garner, goes on to say that she and her ''posse of female surfers'' are going to spread the word and refuse to purchase or promote Tracks magazine.
''It's a shame that you can't see the benefits of an inclusive surf culture that in fact would add a whole lot of numbers to your subscription list ... I urge you to give much more coverage to the exciting women surfers out there, not just scantily clad women (who may be great on the waves, but we'll never know).''
Kennedy says the magazine does not have a non-girls policy.
''But obviously they are not our primary audience. We have written extensively about female surfers in the past.''
Bowers may be young but she already has strong views about women and sport. She is disappointed that because she has turned 13 she can no longer play interschool football, for example. ''I'm in a girls' league, but in school sports once you're 13, you're not allowed to play the game.''
While her letter, which has also been posted on her mother's Facebook page, was specifically to Tracks, Bowers reckons that women's sport doesn't get a fair go and she points to an imbalance in the coverage of women's sports in newspapers.
She would like Tracks ''to accept that women surf and that's that. You can't turn it into something all sexy ... People would be outraged if there was a surfing thing and there were no men surfing, only pictures of nearly naked men.''
Olive's letter to Tracks
Dear Tracks Surf Magazine,
I want to bluntly address the way you represent women in your magazine. I am a surfer, my dad surfs and my brother has just started surfing.
Reading a Tracks magazine I found at my friend's holiday house, the only photo of a woman I could find was ''Girl of the month''. She wasn't surfing or even remotely near a beach. Since then I have seen some footage of Stephanie Gilmore surfing on your website, but that's barely a start.
I clicked on your web page titled ''Girls'' hoping I might find some women surfers and what they were up to, but it entered into pages and pages of semi-naked, non-surfing girls.
These images create a culture in which boys, men and even girls reading your magazine will think that all girls are valued for is their appearance.
My posse of female surfers and I are going to spread the word and refuse to purchase or promote Tracks magazine. It's a shame that you can't see the benefits of an inclusive surf culture that in fact, would add a whole lot of numbers to your subscription list.
I urge you to give much more coverage to the exciting women surfers out there, not just scantily clad women (who may be great on the waves, but we'll never know).
I would subscribe to your magazine if only I felt that women were valued as athletes instead of dolls. This change would only bring good.
- Daily Life
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