THE LADYBALL & GROWING WOMEN’S SPORTS
Last week, some new hotness dropped; and by new hotness I mean utter ridiculousness. It was dubbed the Ladyball and touted as a “soft-touch, easy play and fashion driven” alternative to regular (read manly) balls. It was specially designed for “a woman’s unique grip” and “to go with every woman’s wardrobe.” Say what?! You can feast your own eyes on the monstrosity below, but you shouldn’t be surprised that the streets didn’t take too kindly to the Ladyball. Folks, myself included, got one look at the hot pink creation and took to Twitter with their thoughts. Those thoughts shifted between frustration, sarcasm, annoyance and outrage. Men and women found the Ladyball and its premises completely absurd and were willing to let the world know it. It HAD to be a joke, right? Please say it’s a joke. Lord, please don’t let it be so that an entire company of people thought this was a good idea.
Yes! It turns out that it’s NOT a real thing, just some sort of dumb joke. But the sighs of relief would quickly turn to groans when the ad’s creators finally came forward. Supermarket chain Lidl Ireland and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) announced that their misplaced ad was released in an effort to raise awareness about women’s sports and the challenges that female athletes face when trying to get the same recognition and respect as male athletes. Insert blank stare. So it wasn’t a joke necessarily, but a marketing ploy/public service announcement. Oooh, ok. Not well played at all, folks. Not well played. You’re telling us that the very best that Lidl and the LGFA could do to raise awareness about issues with women’s sports was devise an ad that insulted people and encouraged stereotypes about women? Com’n son. Rather than create awareness by showing the world images of girls trying to play sports with no equipment, or women sweating tirelessly at games with no one in the crowd or women working full-time jobs elsewhere because their work as professional athletes can’t pay the bills; these two creative geniuses had the world tweeting about archaic things like whether all girls like pink and whether women’s tiny hands can sustain the pressure from big, strong, manly equipment.
I understand that many marketers and PR folks live by the saying that there’s no such thing as bad press, but I’m not buying it. It’s completely bad press to use the stereotypes and false premises that hurt female athletes to try to convince people that they need to pay better attention and give more respect to women’s sports. See, some people saw the Ladyball and watched the ad and thought it was cool. Some people actually believe that women like to and should prance around in pink and that everything they do should somehow relate to how they look. Some people can’t fathom women being able to play sports just as well as men. Those people won’t find the irony in the ad and those people don’t see anything wrong with the state of women’s sports. But those people are exactly who we want to target. To grow women’s sports and respect for female athletes we have to continue to challenge stereotypes and false premises, not play upon them. Let’s show the world more hardworking, capable girls and women deserving of recognition, respect and equal treatment. Let’s show the world the different standards by which female athletes have to navigate the world and fight to change those standards. Leave the ladyballs and hot pink marketing in the 1950s where they belong.