There are images of women in the skater community that are meant to be rebellious or humorous which have counter productive side effects. Instead of making skaters have a laugh and identify as a tight group these pictures makes some skaters feel uncomfortable and excluded. The only skaters I have met have been nice, intelligent and including. Still these motifs are present within the skating community. Therfore I ask of you to make sure that you know what your values are.
What motifs do I mean and why are they a problem?
Imitating a subculture
Some skateboard companies imitate the truly misogynist gangsta sub culture because it is cool. The motifs of women originate from the view of women similar to that expressed in hip hop lyrics. This is a culture where masculine status is built on oppressing women.
I can recognize the need for people to rebel and to identify with the underdog perspective of the outlaws. However, I think many skaters would not use these boards or motifs if they genuinely thought about what the images communicate about their values.
Simply being provocative
The need to provoke and to rebel within the skateboarding community generates images of women that seem to be printed just to get a counter reaction in the form of uncomfortable laughter or making ”boring mainstream people” upset. These pictures range from pornographic pictures of women posing half naked to pictures showing women not as proper humans but as objects who can be used by men. These pictures are accompanied by many other types of provoking pictures sometimes of an adolescent nature and sometimes generally violent.
However, these pictures of women becomes an obstacle for women and girls in the skateboarding world because if they are meant to provoke the effect is polarizing men and women into different stand points, if they are meant as pornographic it changes the whole setting of the skate scene into one where porn is consumed in public. Either way it is difficult just to shake it off if you are a young girl or the only woman skating.
Women as ornament
The third category is the saddest and coldest way of excluding women from the skateboarding community. It is not even meant to be provoking. It is just bringing about the fact that girls and women are not needed as active parts in this community. These are the guys using women and girls as pure decorative ornaments like flowers or ”hello kitty”. Even if you make an ”artsy” naked woman who skateboards, she is still there only as a decoration to please men, not as an active part of this sport. One company was so convinced that the word ”girl” wasn’t needed within this industry, sport or community that they simply kidnapped the word and made it their trade mark. Depicting women as passive and men as active is a message that is read by both boys and girls and if the industry keeps doing this there is no way the rest of us can change this.
I can understand what makes the industry pull it off but I can not understand why people keep buying the boards. Skateboarders, make sure you understand your own values. Make sure that you know if you see women as equal human beings. If you come to this conclusion you consequently need to act in a way that communicates your values. This means you can not buy these boards and it means that you will have to start talking to other skaters about this.
Collin, founder of GirlsSession in the Netherlands, started his career in the skateboarding community as father to a skater. In January 2013 he became chairman of Skatehal Arnhem which is located in the old St Joseph church in Arnhem. After having waited for some girls to carry out their idea of organizing a girl skate event which he wanted to sponsor Collin decided to take matters more into his own hands and the first girls skating evening took place in Arnhem.
”Our first Girl Skate Session was late February 2013 in Skatehal Arnhem. By then I knew enough girls to try doing one and was lucky enough to get help from GirlsShred, a group that had held an event 2 years earlier. But I learned right away that you have to do stuff yourself, be active and not wait for others too much. I immediately planned the next session for 2 months later, to get some regularity going. In the meantime I was talking to girls and finding new ones. Then I tried really hard to get Candy Jacobs there as well, as an inspiration to others and hopefully attracting new girls to attend. Luckily I now get help from Jana Coppens with GirlsSession, she’s a girl from Belgium,and has been working very hard on making this a success as well.”
Candy Jacobs is the Dutch number one female skater, former European Champion and has participated in X-games twice. She was present in the #2, and #6 sessions. Later in 2013 GirlsSession worked together with german group GörlsRocknRoll and took 9 girls to a skateboarding weekend in Kassel, including well known Hoopla skater Evelien Bouilliart. She will also join next week during #8.
”From the first moment it became my plan to try and make GirlsSession a way for girls to grow their network. The reason why all over the world these ‘girl-only’ sessions are happening is mainly because the girls feel less insecure when there’s no guys around. They are more at ease, loose. And when you then get them into contact with someone like Candy Jacobs that is an inspiration and some girls will, for the first time, think: ‘okay, if she can do that I maybe can too’.”
A GirlsSession starts at about 6 p.m. and the girls can skate until they are exhausted. They get together and have fun, can sleep in the skatepark and skate on in the morning. According to Collin it is important to make it possible for the girls to stay the night.
”This concept is important because girls travel quite a bit. If they can stay the night the decision to come is easier. More ‘value for money’ you could say. The other thing is that I wanted this as a concept you could simply do in any skatepark. We started in Arnhem, but try to go to other parks and were invited to come to Skatepark Sweatshop end of march 2014 in The Hague and are going to RampAffairz Skatepark near Korrtijk (Belgium) this week for #8. Eventually girls would know the GirlsSession name and think: ‘okay, that’s nice, heard about that and it is a safe place to go with fun guaranteed’.”
When I had my first conversation with Collin he mentioned that he always was interested in feminism or the peculiarities of women. I therefore asked him about what he can see as differences for female skaters compared to male skaters.
”The mechanics of any sport or activity is different with women when compared to men. Most girls start skateboarding later, are more fearful, less competitive, quite shy, and easier to influence than men. And don’t forget that their body is different too… I see many girls stop skateboarding because of pressure from (girl)friends. Boys are more naturally competitive and have testosteron playing a role. A boy will probably say ‘I don’t care if you don’t like skateboarding’, but a girl may stop doing it because of what others say.”
To me this is part of a general pattern. Girls do the same if they are doing something that most girls do. It is challenging the norm that takes guts. The same pattern can be seen for boys who dance ballet or women who choose work before family. Collin elaborates on the subject:
”That’s one of the things. A girl will look for approval more. That is very important. Most top-level females in any sport have a more ‘ego-centered’ way of doing things than ‘average’ women.”
He goes on to explain that he finds that the ‘compared to’ is the problem.
”Comparing men and women is where the ‘like a girl’ comes from. In many ways ‘like a girl’ is a negative. You ‘kick the ball like a girl’, you ‘hit like a girl’. Often it means you’re a pussy, a wimp.
In skateboarding also. Everything is compared to how men do it. Kick flips, invented by Rodney Mullen, are something that takes a lot of effort to learn but also it needs some fearlessness. You must, at some point, be willing to hurt yourself and land the damn thing. This ‘fear’ is something that plays a big role in how successful girls are at skateboarding. But all around them, the girls see boys landing flips and other crazy stuff that simply seems insane to most girls. A woman is less prone to taking risks like that.
In the documentary by Amelia Brodka ‘Underexposed’ there is a good example of that and it boils down to one thing… testosterone. That is the hormone primarily responsible for risk taking, the ‘fuck it, I’m just gonna do this, even if I break my ankles trying’.
The ‘compared to’ thing is just that most things in any sport are measured by how men approach them. The women themselves compare their own skills to that example as well. And I think it would be better if they would compare themselves with other females, not with men. But that is hard to do when, in skateboarding, girls are not really taken seriously and don’t get any publicity.”
Collin with his co-worker Jana Coppens is a part of the European skate scene and their work has already contributed to promoting women in skateboarding. I concluded the interview by thanking him for taking his time for this interview on a late Friday evening.
”Thank you. I love what you’re doing.”
My local skate scene and how to promote female skaters part 4: The Old boys
The old boys are fairly large group of men between 35 and 50 years old. Many of them have either been skating as kids and started again as adults or lived through the change of being a really good skater getting old and facing the fact that your brain knows what to do but your body won’t follow.
This group has been easily recognizable as a group to an outsider. They have habits of regular skating hours when they all meet up. They also skate like a social group around the bowl or on the ramp.
To me this was a rather intimidating group of skaters my own age who knew each other. It never occurred to me that I could be one of them. As I started practicing in the bowl and the ramp I made a habit of sneaking in when they had a coffee break or just after they finished. Finally one day when I left the bowl after their coffee break one of them said: ”You can stay here and skate with us”. Then they went on to explain how to take turns and how to encourage each other. Eventually this lead to them inviting Maria and me into the group and starting to change the way they talked about the group from ”Old boys” to ”Veteran skate”.
These guys have done quite a lot to make the women feel welcome this past year. They realize that it is their openness that determines if women stay in the skate community or not. I also think that some of them know that the skate scene will be more comfortable for their daughters if adult women skate.
So bearing in mind that they have already done a lot I have some suggestions for further improvement:
- Don’t change shorts or t-shirts at the side of the bowl. Male nakedness is intimidating.
- Greet newcomers with a handshake and an introduction. Don’t assume that this isn’t needed.
- Skateboarding takes place in public places. Be aware that women always assess what situations feel safe.
As I started skating not being one of the girls, not one of the boys and not one of the old boys I have been very lonely. Finally being invited in this group has ended my isolation and I am merely seen as one of the old boys rather than the mother UFO in the skate hall.