THE BLOG

Calgary Stampede: A Breeding Ground For Sexism?

07/07/2014 12:41 EDT | Updated 09/06/2014 05:59 EDT
Mike Powell via Getty Images
1989: General view of cowboys during the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Canada. Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell /Allsport

Elsbeth Mehrer, Director External Relations

YWCA of Calgary

As the Calgary Stampede kicks off, the Calgary Herald reports young women are again flocking to the city to work the many temporary service sector jobs created by bars and night clubs during these 10 days.

"They all want to meet a rich guy from Calgary now so the hot girls come because there's all these rich guys making all this money. It's like a movie," says one nightclub owner in the article.

Must be a horror movie. While it's critical to note that the women quoted in the article don't cite a desire to identify a wealthy husband as their ambition, we cannot help but be disturbed by this characterization of women as gold-diggers keen to use their assets to find a husband.

Don't get us wrong, we enjoy a Stampede party as much as the next cowgirl - we were flipping pancakes for moms and kids accessing YWCA of Calgary parenting programs and childcare centres yesterday - but we do shake our heads at misogynist, sexually charged and often damaging attitudes and behaviours that accompany the season.

With nary an image of women competing in barrel racing or girls mucking out 4H stalls, we must be actively critical of myriad media images of young women in Daisy Duke cut-offs and leather bras. And yes, there are hyper-sexualized images of shirtless cowboys too: all the more reason we should talk to our children, neighbours, friends and maybe even strangers about rampant, stereotypical Stampede messaging.

While the official Calgary Stampede brand asserts hospitality, integrity, pride of place and community; away from the parade and the exhibition on the grounds, the broader ethos celebrates a non-stop, hedonistic, liquor-fueled party for temporary cowgals and boys. This projection of a consequence-free time during which boundaries and inhibitions melt on hot asphalt has larger implications for individuals, our culture and our city's reputation.

Reports of brisk business at divorce lawyer's offices and STI clinics are legend in the weeks following Stampede. There's even mythology about wedding band checks (similar to a coat check). And, this year, with changes to the Alberta liquor regulations, accessing a drink at breakfast time will be easier than ever before.

The YWCA and our community partners remain focused on the increased needs of vulnerable women at this time of year, because for women fleeing violence, those with a history of being exploited and those struggling with addiction, these 10 days can be particularly challenging. At the YWCA, additional counselling and case management staff are brought into our shelter and transitional housing programs to ensure women who are at a vulnerable time in their lives can access the supports they need against the Stampede back-drop.

We know that most will have a fun few days where the least safe element will be too much fried food, but please, let's remember to respect ourselves and others while we're at it. Unlike mud on boots, some experiences don't wipe off.

Calgary Stampede 2014