Earlier this week, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) decided to stop employing “walk-on girls” – glamorous women who escort the players through the crowd and on to the stage. The decision came after conversations with the organisation’s broadcaster, ITV, who are reportedly fully supportive of the move. This weekend’s competition – the Masters in Milton Keynes – will not feature any walk-on girls.
It’s not gone down well with everyone – a petition to reinstate the girls is currently at 30,000 signatures and many of the walk-on women themselves have spoken out about losing their jobs. “I think it’s really sad,” Daniella Allfree told ITV’s This Morning. “Everybody chooses to do a job and, as a woman, you choose to do a job and I feel as if I’m being told I can’t do this job, then my rights are being taken away.” Walk-on girl and model Charlotte Wood told BBC 5 Live: “I go to work, I put on a nice dress and I escort darts players on to the stage. I smile and that is it. I don't honestly see what the problem is.” She went on to explain that her job as a walk-on girl made up 60 per cent of her earnings.
Blaming the walk-on girls is futile and, to be decisive, wrong. The women are filling a gap created by the men at the top
And it’s a factor we would do well to remember when denouncing the decorative role of a walk-on girl – these are real women; rightly or wrongly, this is how they made a living. But does that mean we should allow it to continue? No. Parading silent, beautiful women across a stage for the mostly male audience to ogle and objectify has much wider – and more damaging – implications. It sends the message that a woman's worth is in their beauty, rather than their skills, and in what men think of them. It keeps women in a position of inferiority.
In the outcry over the banning of walk-on girls, many of the women themselves have denied they feel objectified when doing their job. But in the videos on YouTube channels such as Darts Walk-Ons, which compile the girls’ time on-screen, the wolf-whistles and shouts as the women leave the stage is almost deafening; female darts players do not get a walk-on girl accompanying them to their boards. The very fact that these channels exist shows how the viewers see the women as ornaments – whether they recognise this themselves or not.
Blaming the walk-on girls is futile and, to be decisive, wrong. The women are filling a gap created by the men at the top – and at the PDC, it really is men in charge. There are seven men on the board of directors and the only woman holding a senior position at the PDC is the head of administration. The issue here is the lack of choice women are provided with – when the PDC could be encouraging future female darts players or referees, instead the glamorisation and adoration of stereotypical beauty is all they are being offered.
The worthwhile and overdue debate about the use of walk-on girls has claimed its victims and, rather unsurprisingly, it’s the women – rather than the men who put them in this position – who have borne the consequences.