Sexualized posters at fundraiser during Calgary Stampede raise eyebrows

A poster of a woman's legs showing cowboy boots and her shorts around her ankles and some other sexualized posters during the Calgary Stampede went too far, one critic says.

‘I didn’t understand even the purpose of it. I wasn’t sure what this image was supposed to invoke’

Some people say these posters, especially the woman, are over sexualizing the Stampede and should be taken down. (@janedoughnut/Jane Doughnut/Twitter)

"The only word I could think of was just gross."

Johanna Schwartz was volunteering at a fundraising event during the Calgary Stampede last week when some posters on the wall of the venue made her stop and think.

"As I was coming in to drop off some silent auction items for the event, I walked through the room to look at the space and couldn't help but notice, because they were gigantic, these large photographs all over the room of various cowboys and cowgirls in state of undress," Schwartz tells CBC News.

"That is normal for the Stampede, you expect a certain level of sexy cowboy in most of these places but the one image that really caught my eye was a photograph of a pair of woman's legs in cowboy boots with her jean shorts around her ankles."

'I think that is objectification when the woman herself isn’t even present in it, it’s a problem,' said one observer of this poster at a recent Stampede fundraiser. (@janedoughnut/Jane Doughnut/Twitter)

Schwartz, who works in the non-profit sector with vulnerable populations, said while there were posters of shirtless men on at the venue, something about the female poster was different.

"I understand shirtless cowboys and cowgirls in short pants and all of those other pieces in an alcohol-infused Stampede experience but the idea of a woman with her pants around her ankles … it really only could mean one thing," she said.

"I didn't understand even the purpose of it. I wasn't sure what this image was supposed to invoke.

Johanna Schwartz says the posters made her stop and think. (Meghann Dionne/CBC)

The only word I could think of was just gross."

One of the co-creators of the #SafeStampede hashtag campaign which began last year, agrees.

"I find that image a little disturbing," Elizabeth Chorney-Booth said.

"We don't know what situation that woman is in. Her face isn't even in it. It is just a pair of boots and jeans down around it. We don't know if she is enjoying herself, we don't know if she is having a good time. I think that is objectification when the woman herself isn't even present in it, it's a problem."

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, a co-creator of the #SafeStampede hashtag campaign, says changing the sexualized culture of Stampede will require starting a conversation. (Meghann Dionne/CBC)

Chorney-Booth said the hashtag campaign was designed to start a conversation.

"Most people who have spent a lot of time in Calgary, or have grown up here, know that during this 10 days there is a lot of fun going on but sometimes things can get out of a hand and sometimes women and LGBT people of all genders can feel a little bit unsafe and sometimes harassed or overly sexualized," she said.

"We just wanted to start a conversation about some of the aspects of an event that we all love that are maybe not as savoury. I don't think anybody wants this stuff to go on. Everybody wants Stampede to be safe and inclusive of everybody."

Chorney-Booth says for a cultural change to take place, many will have to be at the table, including bars and restaurants and corporations that hold Stampede parties.

"If a woman is drunk to the point that she can't consent, just keep an eye her so that she is not dragged out of a bar by someone who has bad intentions," Chorney-Booth said of bar staff training.

"Corporations who have big parties, maybe don't get all of your clients and staff drunk at 8 a.m. so that there is an out of control atmosphere."

Schwartz agrees that we need to talk about the over sexualization, particularly of women, at Stampede and the rest of the year.

"Those of us who maybe have more of a fine-tuned lens that we are seeing that through, it is absolutely our responsibility to share that with people and to make people understand that these images are impactful and important and hurtful to a lot of people," she said.

"I would like to see that image just taken down. I don't think it is an awful lot to ask. If anyone did have an argument for why it was important to stay up, I would love to hear it."

A spokesperson for the venue, The Metropolitan Conference Centre, did not want to speak on the record when CBC News requested comment.

With files from Meghann Dionne