BACKLASH against criticism of the use of "ring girls" in a boxing match in Bendigo shows very rigid stereotypes of women in sport, a women's advocate says.
Battle of Bendigo promoters initially dropped "ring girls" - who hold up the cards between rounds - from the program after City of Greater Bendigo councillors criticised the council's connection with women being used as "token trophy women".
But "ring girls" were present holding up cards for at least the final three rounds of the event.
The city is a major sponsor of the Battle of Bendigo.
Women's Health Loddon Mallee chief executive Tricia Currie said response to councillors comments showed these comments challenged attitudes and representation of women in the sport of boxing.
Ms Currie said the strong backlash showed just how much stereotypes needed to be knocked out of the ring.
"When women's presence in sport is objectified, like a trophy girl, it's based on sexist attitudes, and sexist attitudes to need to be challenged, because violence against women begins with inequality, disrespect and sexist attitudes," Ms Currie said.
"It's why we mustn't walk past sexist attitudes which are part of a bigger picture within our community, of cultural attitudes towards equality and respect for women."
Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive officer Kate Wright said it would be great if people invested the same energy and interest in achieving gender equality as they had over the issue of "ring girls" participating.
Ms Wright said the very fact the women were referred to as girls was diminishing.
"A lot of the comments I read said, 'Oh how can you criticise, those girls are out of a job now'. And it's my understanding they got paid, which is good because I would have hated for them to not get paid," she said.
"The issue is the objectification of women in the way they're asked to dress and present. It's not an issue of pay parity and gender equality simply because they replace them with men and boys.
"Pay parity is about men and women being paid the same for equal work, without being asked to wear different and at times inappropriate clothing."
Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams said the use of ring girls at the event was ultimately a matter for the promoter, but debate around gender equality shouldn't be stifled.
Minister Williams said issues around gender equality were subject to legitimate and growing debate in the community.
"Society has come a long way in recent years in making sport more welcoming for women and girls, and taking strides to change a culture that has led to bad outcomes for women," she said.
"But the job isn't done yet. It's important that we continue to have these conversations to weed out the sexism that remains in sport."
Ms Currie said while male and female boxers may have been wearing less clothing than the "ring girls", their outfits and gear were appropriate for the sport they were engaged in.
Battle of Bendigo promoters have been contacted for comment.
USE of "ring girls" at a Saturday boxing match in Bendigo has led the City of Greater Bendigo to announce it will have more detailed discussions with event promoters about staging.
Battle of Bendigo promotors dropped "ring girls" from the event after councillors and women's advocates raised concerns about objectification of women.
But "ring girls" re-appeared late in the evening, for at least the final three fights.
The City of Greater Bendigo is a major sponsor of the event.
Mayor Margaret O'Rourke said in a statement on Sunday:
"Although the ring girls were ultimately re-instated, the City acknowledges the promoter's efforts to try and manage differing community views in response to the use of ring girls," Councillor O'Rourke said.
Councillor O'Rourke said the city would seek to have more detailed discussions with event promoters to make sure there would be careful consideration of event-staging.
COGB Manager of Tourism and Major Events Terry Karamaloudis said on the night:
"From the city's perspective, we understand and respect the promoter's decision to engage male ring managers at tonight's event".
Councillor Yvonne Wrigglesworth said before the event it was a "wrong look" to see ring girls parading in front of a City of Greater Bendigo banner.
Cr Wrigglesworth said she was disappointed by council's association with images of ring girls, which she described as "an outdated and misogynistic concept".
Councillor Jennifer Alden, a member of the city's gender equity working group, said the practice was not in step with the messages the city wanted to promote.
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