Laird Hamilton Isn't Sexist | Period-Gate: An Alternative View
The Media Goes Route 1 on Hamilton's Shark/Menstrual Cycle Interview
Defending Laird is hardly a default position of this publication, in fact we've teased, ridiculed, chortled etc at the bronzed, chiselled waterman cliché as much as everyone else. More, perhaps.
And when Laird said to TMZ that, to paraphrase, women on their periods are at greater risk of shark attack, it's a no-brainer that both the surf and mainstream media went route 1 in their coverage.
It's an easy a win as clickbait gets. 50% of the population can tease, ridicule, chortle, etc at the woeful lack of understanding of the scientific method of a middle aged man from a working class background who left school at 15 (totally PC, that, incidentally), while 50% can be duly outraged that Laird is attempting to ban them from watersports for up to a week per month.
"Sexist Laird...." said Carve Mag's headline. "Bloody outrage" screeched The Sun. It's an easy picture to paint. Think the Ali G scene where he asks Prof Sue Lees, Director of the Centre for Gender Research if she would happy if a woman was flying her plane... "Even if she was, you know, on her monthlies..?"
Then just add pecs, and it's a wonderful opportunity to tear into machismo, only this time a real life giant wave taming buffoon, rather than spoof character created by a Cambridge graduate.
Mpora, sister site from your very own SE even dug up evidence of past Laird indiscretions against women to make their case:
"Of course, this isn’t the first time Hamilton had accidentally dropped his misogyny card in public" they report. "Back in 2013 Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira suffered a wipe-out at Nazaré that snapped her ankle... he claimed “Maya Gabeira doesn’t have the skills to be in these kinds of conditions" he said, as she was hobbling out of hospital, adding “She shouldn’t have been in this kind of surf." "
Presumably, the Mpora folk drew upon both their own tow surfing expertise (thus over-ruling the guy who invented it) as well as their in depth knowledge of Maya Gabeira's career to decide that Maya was in fact ready for 60ft Nazaré, and therefore Laird's frank comments must be based purely on sexual discrimination, as opposed to a less sinister notion that he genuinely didn't think she should have been out there that day, whether having ovaries, penis, neither or both.
In fact, only the lone voice of Derek Reilly of Beach Grit, took a different stance.
"While I admit to taking too much pleasure in a good ol web beatup, in this case Laird Hamilton vs The World, it might be time to jam on the brakes with a little real talk" said Dek.
"The story, like every other one, was determined to find some connection between identity politics, sexism and so forth, with Laird’s honest opinion; an opinion formed from fifty years in the ocean."
"Mark Healey, who actually swims with great white sharks unlike the key-jockeys at the Huff Post and the Sun (and BeachGrit), jumped onto our Instagram and wrote:
“The logic is that predators that are tuned to hunting mammals and have exponentially more powerful senses of smell than we do, pick up on that. The idea is, these predators would much rather follow a female animal that has or is giving birth so that they can get an easier/low-risk meal. The menstruation cycle likely triggers more of a response than just blood. I’ve seen it happen a handful of times while filming sharks and was able to know that the gals who the sharks wouldn’t leave alone were on their periods (yes, I asked). Not sexist, just nature."
Who you going to believe?"
Are Laird and Healey sexist? Not sure. I don't know either of them well enough to say. But claiming periods attract sharks is not, in itself, sexist.
It may be scientifically inaccurate (or not), it may lack supporting evidence, it may, or may not, be misguided, but that doesn't make it sexist.
Perhaps more notable, the thing that no one is really saying too much about, are the alarming stats cited by a number of the above publications, revealing that a massive 85% of recorded shark attacks in Australia were on men.
"1132 recorded shark attacks in Australia, of which 968 involved men, and only 64 women." goes the supposed statistical proof of Laird's prejudice.
What can we conclude from this shocking stat? Given the population split is almost 50/50. There are but three plausible conclusions:
- There are (have historically been) more male water sports enthusiasts.
- Sharks are actually attracted to men more. In which case, while Laird had the gender wrong, he was correct to assert sharks discern between male and female humans in terms of likelihood of attack.
- Any deviation from attacks being 50/50 is down to chance and the relatively small sample size, and therefore neither evidence for or against Laird being sexist.
Sexism of course, does exist in sports, surfing included. The very idea of separate sports for men and women is inherently sexist. If no gender discrimination existed, there would be a single open division for all humans, no matter how they identified in terms of gender, and thus sporting titles, accolades, wealth and fame would be decided purely upon merit, on the same terms as employment opportunities -- in the eyes of the law at least -- are supposed to be.