Just a few weeks ago, the world’s most famous onscreen archer Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay entitled “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?“, which addressed revelations from the Sony hack that she was paid less for American Hustle than her co-stars, despite her A-list status and her Oscar. It’s a powerful, angry and self-aware read. “It’s hard for me to speak about my experience as a working woman because I can safely say my problems aren’t exactly relatable… [but] I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable,” she writes. “Fuck that.”
Sadly it’s a similar story in off-screen archery. Apart from a handful of track stars, it’s not a secret that being an elite Olympic athlete is rarely a path to great wealth – although in recurve archery that may depend on where you are from. But it seems that in compound it’s much harder to make a living as a woman than as a man.
I asked Crystal Gauvin for some details. She said: “In the US at NFAA events, pay in the pro division is 100% based on participants in that division. It varies by tournament but the payout is usually something like 65-80%, with registration fees for pro/championship division between $225-500. This system rewards high participation numbers in the championship (pro) division. However, unlike World Archery, and other events, people have the choice to shoot in the amateur (or ‘flight’) divisions OR the championship division, which has a much lower entry fee.”
“This creates a chicken/egg type situation where the women’s numbers stay low in the pro division, even as the number of women in the sport growths proportionally much more then men, because the payout is so low. Most tournaments in the US, I would have to win to just break even, coming in second means I lose money. As you can imagine, the majority of women that don’t realistically have a chance at winning will choose to shoot in the amateur class then instead of the pro, which then keeps the payout low. “
The differences in payout totals is one of the reasons that there appear to be zero full-time professional compound female archers, as opposed to a few dozen or so men. Most of the top women in the sport, it seems, either work a job outside of the sport or have support from a spouse or family.
The other problem is that anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that some of the bigger archery companies, especially in the USA, do not sponsor female athletes to anything like the degree they sponsor the male stars of the sport. This is despite the staggering growth in participation numbers specifically amongst women and children in the last few years, – which as we all know, Jennifer Lawrence had a lot to do with. It appears that a large segment of the industry still believes that women do not sell bows. You’d think it would be a marketing opportunity.
Pay inequity has come a long way in many sports, but still lags in others – the most glaring being, of course, soccer. At the international level, archery rates very highly for gender equality, a key part of the Olympic charter. The prize money is equal, the differences in sporting format are almost neutral and the ‘rock stars’ of the sport – especially in recurve – are more women than men. The now well-established World Archery mixed team format is rare in Olympic sport outside racquet events, but is increasingly becoming the norm and looks likely to feature in Tokyo.
But internationally, it’s very difficult for compound archers to compete at elite level and keep a roof over their heads. The recent, unedifying spectacle of Linda Ochoa offering to sell two of her bows to fund a World Cup trip highlights the problems faced, even at the very top.
It’s been an incredible month for women in archery. Sara Lopez, fresh off her dominant world cup season and a finals win in Mexico City, now appears to have smashed the 1440 record by five points at the Colombian nationals. It’s not yet ratified at this writing, but her score of 1424 is the single highest 1440 round in history by anyone, male or female, breaking Peter Elzinga’s 2009 record by five points.
There are arguments to be made for having completely open classes too – which already happens in some shooting events.