Sports Illustrated is resorting to the same old tactics that pornography panderers have used for years. Ads questioning the sexuality of men who find the swimsuit issue a grossly sexualized misrepresentation of women have begun to appear. This "real men don't protest" attittude attempts to bully male readers into the status quo. Odd, especially for SI, who claims to embrace diversity, for them to borrow the pornography industry's old standard defense. Yet SI can't take the heat when diverse opinions, especially those by its own male readers, encourages them to stick to their original agenda: the celebration of athletics and sports -- for men and women. This tactic to emasculate men who question the prudence of "winking" at SI's demeaning "babes for sale" mentality is offensive, but appreciated. We're glad SI finally admits that it's not just women who think their distortion depiction of women is wrong, and that men agree with our postion too.
Excerpted version of a letter by Linnea Smith to new advertisers in the 1995 SIswimsuit issue, June 29, 1995.
Dear 1995 SI Swimsuit Issue New Advertiser:
"In the two minutes it takes you to read this letter, a woman and child will be raped. Of the 1.3 forcibly raped per minute, 61% are under the age of 18, 29% are under the age of 11.* These staggering statistics representing the widespread victimization of children demand the reevaluation of individual and institutional practices that perhaps foster this type of abuse. And we should each ask ourselves what we can do to protect children.
The inappropriate sexualization of children ... the sexual objectification and devaluing of women ... is there a connection with the rape epidemic in America? Some research findings indicate that such dehumanization is an important disinhibitor of aggression and cruelty to others. Perhaps you are unknowingly contributing to one of the greatest problems facing American women and children today. I hope that by reading my letter protesting your advertising support of the annual Sports Illustratedswimsuit issue, you will stop and think about the values of sex being used to sell. I hope we can change a culture that enables and tolerates sexual abuse.
Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue is socially irresponsible and sexually immature. SIvirtually bypasses the many wonderful stories of women's hard earned accomplishments in the sports world; well under 10% of SIcoverage is devoted to female athletes, and the one major issue focusing on women is a centerfoldrather than centerpiece approach. SIperpetuates in the male athletic community a view of women as valuable (and worthy of coverage--'news' coverage, that is) only if presented in contorted and exaggerated sexual postures and scenes.
SI's portrayal of women in scanty bathing suits, often with partial nudity, always in sexual poses, and for awhile, sharing the spotlight with nude and provocatively-posed children, is intolerable. This degrading stereotype of women and children is a disservice to the athletic community and fans, and a real and dangerous disservice to the female population, who in one year saw 683, 000 of their rank brutalized by rape, most of them children. ...
... New research and public opinion is showing that using demeaning sex to sell may not only be socially irresponsible, but also damaging to the best interests of companies. More and more, we're seeing naked women, but are they the most effective sales vehicle? They're mostly selling a warped view of human sexuality and female value. Is this the message you want to send to your purchasing public? SIshould recognize women and children as athletes, not as sex objects. ...
I'm writing as a mother of two bright, talented, caring teenage daughters who participate in school sports. I'm writing as a spouse of one who's worked in college athletics for more than 30 years. I'm writing as a professional in the health care field. I'm writing as a member of the largest consumer population in the U.S.--women. When you advertise in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, you're saying to the world that it's OK to devalue women, to objectify them, to see them only as sex objects for men. I'm asking you to say that it's NOT OK. ...
...Even current and former SIand Time, Inc. employees feel the swimsuit issue is unfair to women and cheapens the staff's editorial integrity; and yet, SI continues this degrading sexualized portrayal of women. And they've gone on the attack, resorting to the same old tactics that pornography panderers have used for years. Ads questioning the sexuality of men who find the swimsuit issue a grossly sexualized misrepresentation of women have begun to appear.
This 'real men don't protest' attitude attempts to bully male readers into the status quo. Odd--especially for SI, who claims to embrace diversity--for them to borrow the pornography industry's old standard defense. Yet SIcan't take the heat when diverse opinions, especially those by its own male readers, encourage them to stick to their original agenda: the celebration of athletics and sports--for men and women. This tactic to emasculate men who question the prudence of 'winking' at SI's demeaning 'babes for sale' mentality is offensive, but appreciated. We're glad SI finally admits that it's not just women who think their distorted depiction of women is wrong--that men agree with our position too.
... As former First Lady Barbara Bush said, 'The country's future is in your house--every house.' The same house where one in four children are abused. The same house where 266,000 women and 417,000 children were raped in one year. Take a look at your house. Move your advertising dollars to other SI issues.
Thank you for your time and attention. I'm sure the woman and child whose dignity, whose sense of safety, whose very lives were just destroyed in the minutes it took you to read this letter hope my appeal moves you to make smarter advertising decisions. Please expect more letters like mine soon. I've enclose a brief booklet citing examples of the abuse we're trying to halt.
Linnea W. Smith, MD
*These disturbing facts are drawn from the Spring 1992 'Rape in America' report, based on a three-year study that more than triples Federal Justice Department figures on rape."
Excerpted version of the June 29,1995 letter Linnea Smith wrote to those who advertised in that year's SIswimsuit issue.
"Dear 1995 SISwimsuit Issue Advertiser and Repeat Offender:
It's that time of year again--time to appeal to you and other Sports Illustratedswimsuit issue advertisers who once again financially supported (and so tacitly approved) the objectification of women. While you have chosen to once again 'wink' at this degrading stereotype by advertising in the 1995 issue, others across the nation are calling foul.
Well under 10% of SIcoverage is devoted to the women contending for recognition for their legitimate and hard-earned accomplishments in sports. It's tragic that the one major issue focusing on women uses a centerfold rather than centerpiece approach. SIshould recognize women and the children as athletes--NOT sex objects--EVERY week of the year. Please don't support SI's swimsuit issue.
I know that SIis an excellent advertising vehicle, especially at swimsuit issue time, when readership doubles to 41 million. One in four people read the swimsuit issue. Therefore, more than one in four people get the REAL picture: for 51 weeks Sports Illustratedshows some commitment to a level playing field for men and women; then they put out the swimsuit issue that reassures readers that women are just babes after all. Is this REALLY the message you want the consumer--primarily women--to get? ...
We're making headway. Since 1992, SIhas toned down the issue, the media is calling them to task, and the public is asking questions and pointing fingers. ... SI's 1993 swimsuit issue ads decreased; many 1992 advertisers chose not to buy space. Hyundai Corporation demonstrated leadership on this important issue by pulling out with a public statement expressing concern over SI's misguided use of children in the '92 issue. Public response was overwhelmingly positive.
SIissued a public apology of sorts, stating that in '92 they were 'a little bit more aggressive.' The '93 issue was much more conservative and the compromising depiction of children was gone, despite SImanagement's view that the provocatively-posed children made the swimsuit issue 'more wholesome.' ...
The goal of a just society must be to recognize the full humanity of all its citizens. I'm asking you please ... now ... demonstrate your commitment to the equality and security of women and choose other issues of Sports Illustratedfor advertising. Hyundai has. Others have. I hope you will. Please expect more letters like mine from others across the nation soon."
Linnea W. Smith, MD