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  • Kel Glaister

Parkour branding and misogyny

I’ve never seen the need for parkour brands. You want something cool on your t-shirt? Get a sharpie and draw it on there. And then get back to training. One of the attractions of parkour for me has always been that we don’t need kit; we don’t need to spend money. Right off the bat, parkour is more accessible to those in financially precarious situations, and less likely to be rampantly repackaged [1], like skateboarding and surfing have been (look into the calculated erasure of women skaters and surfers, if you’re interested.[2] ) In this way, parkour is potentially a site of resistance to the market and to late capitalism. This has always been its strength.

But, as it always does, the market has proven that all means of resistance can and will be recuperated, packaged and resold back to us. And so parkour brands are born: Etre Fort, Skochypstiks, Farang, Storror, Take Flight (hahah!), Novel Ways, Wefew, Air Wipp, and so on and so forth, all sell us products we don’t need. I am, of course, a grumpy leftie, and while it irks me a bit, but I don’t begrudge people founding these brands or people buying their products. Unless…

Unless those brands warp and abuse the principles that make parkour what it is. We’ve seen it before with Tempest and their ‘test footage’ for KFC, or with Red Bull and Betfreds sponsoring parkour/ freerunning competitions. And we see it again and again in parkour brands themselves using tired misogynist tropes in their videos, ad campaigns and social media. If parkour brands exist, we must hold them to a higher standard.

Now, I’m focussing here on sexism in parkour branding, and while it’s not as awful as in some other fields, I’d argue that’s simply because the field is smaller. For just two examples:

These are, admittedly quite old, but by no means the only ones. These are the starkest examples of objectification. Looking through just about any parkour brand’s lookbook or summer collection album on Facebook and you’ll find subtler examples- men climbing and jumping, while women pout listlessly into the middle distance [3].

The point is, these images are textbook cases of objectification- the women in are static, inert, powerless. Their faces are not shown, or dismembered, literally cut off by the framing. They are presented as passive sex objects for the (male) gaze. “The common thread running through all forms of sexual objectification is being treated as a body (or collection of body parts) valued predominantly for its use to (or consumption by) others.[4]”

It’s cheap, unnecessary. It’s also harmful.

I’m sure some will be thinking that this argument is simply prudish. That these brands are just using sexy images of pretty girls: where’s the harm, they’re sexually empowered women, boys will be boys, yada yada yada. This is not simply about showing some skin- I train in booty shorts when it’s hot, I’m regularly topless on the beach and have been reported to Facebook’s ‘community standards’ keystone cops more than once. This is not about censoring shows of skin or of women’s sexuality; this is about the recuperation of female sexuality for the male gaze, through blatant objectification.

Use of misogynist, objectifying imagery in parkour branding is dangerous, because objectifying imagery does psychological harm to women and femme folk (and to men as well.) “Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and worthy of empathy by both men and women. Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths. Add to this the countless hours that most girls/women spend primping and competing with one another to garner heterosexual male attention, and the erasure of middle-aged and elderly women who have little value in a society that places women’s primary value on their sexualized bodies.”[5] Images like these “sell women and girls a hurtful lie: that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others, and they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others.”[6] When brands make and distribute misogynist objectifications of women, it sends a harmful message that women are not welcome in parkour unless they are sexy, sexually available, and passive or mute. These images, in parroting back tired and lazy sexist motifs of mainstream advertising, attempt to align parkour with dominant gender norms. These are norms th