Saturday, 13 February 2016

Tokenism, exceptionalism and the comodification of women in skateboarding

The issue of participation of women and girls in skateboarding is contentious and not likely to be resolved soon - it’s also a reflection of wider society - and with a couple of high profile skaters (Vanessa Torres and Lacey Baker) calling out the industry on its sexism, along with the success of organisations like Girls Skate Network and Longboard Girls Crew, it’s probably time to talk about the elephant in the room.

Strangely this issue always seems to boil down to arguments about whether girl/women only sessions are sexist or not. Which is really strange because these kind of sessions are a symptom of the real issue - which is that skateboarding is not a friendly environment when you’re not a man.

Now because I know what is going to happen next like I’m reading it off a script, I’m not saying all men are terrible, I mainly skate with guys and they inspire me, help me out when things are bad and are generally an awesome bunch of people - this isn’t about individuals, it’s about Men, a distinct social class (and yes male supremacy and patriarchy are actually things). So if your initial reaction to my words is an angry proclamation of “Well I’m not like that”, turn off your computer, make a cup of tea and come back when you’ve calmed down.


Feel better now?

The issue of getting women and girls involved in skateboarding is so full of nuance that I could probably write a book on it, and there is a lot more going on than girls and women being intimidated by the guys at the skatepark/session. I think it’s more interesting - and productive - to look at how the skate industry treats female pros and women in general. How many times have you seen a skate company present women in an overly sexualised way and as little more than an accessory to skateboarding? Often they aren’t even riders.

watch this and see what I'm talking about

The end of this video sums it up perfectly’ “What’s this got to do with skateboarding? Not Much”. The thing is, representation matters, and this kind of media isn’t unique (not even unique to skateboarding) and it sends a very distinct message that they are either there to look pretty, or some million to one exception to the rule. This shit-baggery is compounded if a company or brand has obviously sponsored a female skater because they’re attractive. I have heard lots of guys - from teenage boys to grown ass men - complain that some girl/woman “only got sponsored because she’s pretty”.

No shit Sherlock.

Lacey Baker talks about how the men who run the skate industry (I’m referring to it as the skatriarchy from now on) don’t judge women and girls on how well they skate but on how good they look. These same men will then pat themselves on the back for including a single woman on a skate team, as if that kind of tokenism does anything to actually inspire girls and women to skate. These token female skaters are then held as an exception to whatever lazy stereotype about women in skateboarding you can think of (poser, skater-dater, not a real skater etc), which can leave you feeling that if you can’t skate as well as the best female pros, that somehow you’re not good enough to call yourself a skateboarder at all. Sometimes it genuinely seems like guys get to be mediocre and still be told that skateboarding is for them, but when you’re not a man then even being one of the best isn’t always enough to get a seat at the table.
So to the point of all this, if the skatriarchy has created a space that is centered around and caters to the experiences of Men, where do non-men fit in? The answer is in the spaces we create for ourselves, from women only sessions to brands run by women for women. These spaces are important because they give us the chance to do our thing in an environment that isn’t subtly (and sometimes blatantly) telling us we don’t belong.

It’s relaxing, it’s freeing, it’s about knowing you won’t be the only woman at the park. Some women will only ever want to skate with other women, and that’s fine. Some of us, after building up the confidence are happy to skate with the guys, and that’s fine too. It takes a lot of entitlement to complain about these spaces and tell us that sexism doesn’t exist in skating because we’re all just skaters - a worthy sentiment, but just saying it doesn’t make it true - when I know plenty of women who do experience sexism in skateboarding.

If you’ve made it this far, and you’re a Man you might be sitting there in a bit of a defensive huff thinking “Well, what can I do about it?”.
Fortunately my friend, there’s plenty.
Firstly listen to non-men when they talk about how uncomfortable a space skateboarding can be sometimes, because if they’ve opened up to you, it means they trust you, and trust me that can be a big thing sometimes. Remember that our experiences are not universal - what doesn’t even register for one person, can make another feel completely unwelcome.
Support and encourage the non-men who skate with you - this can vary from coaching to just making sure they get runs when the parks busy. There’s a fine line between support and encouragement, and forcing people into doing something they’re not ready for - again this is where listening comes in.
Finally, let non-men have the spaces that we’ve created for ourselves. You literally have the rest of skateboarding catering for your needs, it’s petty as fuck to complain about the spaces non-men have created to centre what skateboarding means to us.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Skateboarding as a Liminal Space

I have spent most of my life in the boundary between the places whose rigid definitions I've failed to fit. It’s lonely growing up not knowing who or what you are. As you grow older you begin to unpick meanings and realise that the threshold is as much a real place as the ones either side of it. I began to accrete labels - dyke, lesbian, queer, trans, ace - and started meeting those fellow travellers in the void between the things society tells you are true, and it became less empty, but I’ve always existed between. The world refuses to make a space for me, so I made my own.

Skateboarding in its purest sense is one of these liminal spaces, balanced on a knife edge, trying to figure out whether it’s a sport or a calling. To those of us already living on the threshold between places, it offers the seductive ability to belong by not belonging - and no matter how corporate and sanctioned it becomes - it will, at some level, always speak to those of us looking for a way translate the spaces we exist in.

The simple act of seeing the potential for a spot - maybe doing any DIY that’s needed - creates the spot, carving out a space that is uniquely ours where before there was nothing. This is why that, no matter how toxic the masculinity that permeates the corporate skate world is, I’m drawn to skateboarding, because it reflects what it’s like to live in the world as a queer, non-binary grrrl. The space I have to be me, is the one I created in order to be me.

I doubt there will ever be a space for me in the corporate behemoth that skateboarding has become, I’m a non-man whose body is too queer for the men who built it and now run it, but I don’t care. I’ve found my space and you’ll never take it away from me.

*walks off humming the Firefly theme music*

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Leticia Bufoni and the ESPN body issue

So unless you've been hiding under a rock, you'll have probably noticed that Leticia Bufoni posed naked for ESPNs body issue and the net it trying to decide if this is a good or a bad thing.

I'm going to put my cards straight on the table, my initial, visceral reaction to the pictures was one of dislike. This is because I'm a skater grrl, and for me it feels like they feed into the way women in board sports are sexualised and marketed to a predominantly male audience. However, when I went and looked at the body issue - well the pictures from it at least - I liked looking at the images, not in a titillating way, but just seeing myriad different ways a body could be athletic and powerful and beautiful. I realise beautiful is quite a loaded term, but there was something incredibly captivating about seeing all these different shapes of athletic body - especially when they were caught in sporting motion. Go and have a look and tell me I'm wrong. Clearly if I'm happy looking the naked bodies of female athletes in sports I don't care about, but I'm upset about Leticia Bufoni's pictures, there's something else going on.

I need to say that I've read comments pretty much slut shaming Letica Bufoni for doing this. This is not on. It's her body, her life and she can pose naked if she wants to... it's not even like it's massively out of context either, because that's the whole point of the bloody magazine. So stop with the slut shaming already because it ain't big or clever.

This is the point to start talking about objectification, and whether or not the Body Issue is guilty of this - and before someone dives in with "but the men are being objectified too", I'm well aware of that and don't particularly like it much either, however once a woman has been presented as a sexual object it can be hard to shake that off, whereas it doesn't seem to define men in quite the same way. Objectification is all about power and who has it - this comic explains it all very neatly. Now it gets messy and complicated when we're talking about professional athletes because part of your job as a sponsored pro is to rep the companies that sponsor you. I doubt that any of Letica's sponsors straight up told her that she "had" to do the body issue, because this is 2015 and ewwww - so she almost certainly had a choice and the ability to say no if she wanted to.

So far so good.

It gets complicated here because the Body Issue is a very high profile thing, it does drive advertising and that's kind of her job as a sponsored athlete. Do sponsored skaters have pressure to put out media, to compete, to win? Sure, being sponsored isn't a badge of merit, it's something you have to work hard to achieve and then put a lot of work into to keep. When that's how you make you're living, you're always going to consider how your actions affect your value and worth with a sponsor. Does that mean she was forced? No, but it does mean that the answer about how much of a choice she had is murky. Obviously this is purely speculative, I neither know Leticia nor am I a mind reader, and this is just based on stuff I've been told and experienced - Though my brief stint as a sponsored skater hardly set the world aflame.

Then we need to throw in the horrible truth that in the wider context of the world and society we live in, a naked women will be regarded as a sexual object and her public nudity will follow her and define her in a way it really doesn't for men, no matter how empowering the initial act was. This is because the world is a shitty place most of the time, and personally I can't wait till the thumb cats take over and we can get down to being ruled by our new feline overlings. They can't make as much of a hash of it as we have.

Jokes aside, public female nudity feeds male entitlement to women's bodies - and before someone dives in with #notallmen, I realise this, I'm using male as a label for a class of people who aren't women and not you personally - and I think this is going to follow her for the rest of her career. Whether it ends up being a good or a bad thing remains to be seen.

And it's still not her fault, so stop thinking it.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Team no Balls

I went to the Summer Swine Stomp freeride at Hog Hill recently (by recently I mean last july) - it was fun,the weather was good, there were a bunch of ladies skating the hill and generally the stoke was flowing in full effect. However something happened there that just niggles at my feminist soul - I was told I had balls for skating down the hill on my Rayne Phantom (basically an over sized skateboard). Now I let it slide for a number of reasons - I was having fun and didn't want to kill the vibe, it was unintentional, and because (despite everything you may have heard) feminism isn't about publicly shaming individuals; instead it's the case that we live in a world that normalises certain ways of thinking. We all feed and support that system unless we consciously check our privileges and language all the time, and feminism is merely a set of tools that allows us to do this.

Photo by Steven Cornish Photography

This is critical - I know the red mist often descends when I mention the 'F' word - but critique of the system of patriarchy that we live in is not a critique of you. So please take a few deep breaths, maybe have a cup of tea and then come back.

I don't hate you... No really, I don't.

Me "having balls" was most likely a comment and compliment on the fact I was skating the hill confidently on a board with a 19" wb... What can I say, I like wrongboarding. But having balls does not equal confidence any more than having (or being) a pussy equals being timid, doubtful, or apprehensive. Confidence is built up of many different things: experience, technique and attitude. If you put in the time, you learn good technique and you keep at it no matter how hard it seems, then you will get better. Any dangly things you may or may not have between your legs never come into it. As someone of the female persuasion it's actually a little bit insulting to brush aside the blood, skin and tears I've sacrificed to skaten over the years in order to gain that confidence, by saying it's about having balls. It needlessly genders a compliment, it says that my skating can only be good when it's considered to have attained some weird abstract of maleness. It may not be quite the slap in the face of "you skate like a guy", but it is firmly headed in that direction.

You may think this is unimportant, trivial even, but it does genuinely matter. Gendered compliments subtly reinforce male dominance of the space that is skateboarding, and indeed society in general. It's not about swapping one kind of gendered compliment for another, it's about realising how ridiculous they are in the first place. Generally women don't have balls (and most of those that do don't want them). If you happened to meet a trans skater and you told her she had balls, you would ruin her whole day - tell her she looks really confident doing what she's doing and she'll be stoked. There is a growing movement in the world of female skating to reclaim the label of "skates like a girl", not because we think it's better than skating like a guy - see comments about needlessly gendering stuff - but rather because as girls, when we skate, we skate like girls. Some girls shred, some don't - same goes for guys. Experience is gained through hard work and determination and is not gendered. Ever.

So to the point of this little diatribe. Please stop gendering compliments and insults, they demean and lessen the safe and welcoming space that skating should be. I have been told countless times that guy or girl skaters are just skaters, something I agree with completely, but instead of just saying it, make it true by living it. The language is there to say what we need without resorting to tired and damaging gender stereotypes. So, no more telling someone that they've got balls when what they really have is confidence, and no more calling your mate a pussy if they're bottling a trick.
Let's all keep skating awesome.

If you have read this far without rage throwing your cup of tea at you monitor, you may want to learn more about feminism and why it's important for everyone, so I've included some links to some feminism 101s. Enjoy.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Holesom Girls 2015 Calendar

The 2015 Holesom Girls calendar is pretty awesome, and not just because I'm Miss June. It's refreshing for a company to view their female riders as talented skaters in their own right, rather than just pretty adornments for holding product in ads. Hell it's refreshing for a company to support such a large roster of female riders in the first place.

Basically Holesom rock. 

Twenty badass ladies feature, and we're from all over the world, representing all sorts of styles and skill levels of skating. This isn't about selling product - though you should buy holesom pucks, they're badass - but about showcasing a bunch of ladies who shred hard and ride with a smile. 

Like I said, pretty fucking awesome - and something we need more of in skateboarding.

Anyway, ride with a smile and keep it Holesom!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Keep Skateboarding fun 2014 edition

Despite not having reliable transport for most of 2014 - I live in the country, busses do not count as reliable transport - I've still done a fair bit of skating. It's been a tempestuous year. I stopped being a sponsored skater because it wasn't working for me, nearly rage quit because I was taking things way too serious and finally learnt how to drop in and started skating transition.

Like I said, tempestuous. 

Fortunately I'm still skating and having as much fun as ever, heck I've even managed to progress my skating to the point where people think I know what I'm doing. It's actually been a pretty good year, once I remembered that skateboarding is not a serious business so I should just chill the fuck out and have fun.

Well at least for me it's not, some people take their skating very seriously and they are usually technical masters... But I'm not. Accepting that I'll never be the gnarliest, or the most technical actually freed me from worrying how people say me and I'm a better skater than I was at the start of the year. Even if I still can't do switch BS 180s. Seriously though, they're like the devil.

So things I have learnt over this year in skateboarding:

While there are people for who skateboarding is a pretty serious business - mainly because it's their job - I'm not one of them. 

If you embrace the fact you suck at skateboarding and just have fun, it doesn't matter if you don't land a particular trick, just make sure you have a smile on your face and it's all good.

Do shit that scares you, because that's how you progress. Chip away with at it and don't beat yourself up for being scared and before you know it that thing that terrified you will be common place. 

Skating transition is the most fun you can have skating up hill.

Also this totally happened last night at prime. Stoked on 2015 and more skate shennanigans.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Rayne Phantom review.

I've spent most of the last year riding my Dangerous Decks SE10, learning the art of downhill slide. Sometimes though I feel the need to ride something a bit bigger, but don't want to break out my DH setup (truthfully this is because I haven't yet progressed my tech-slide style onto softer wheels and bigger boards)... So I bought a Rayne Phantom, which if you've never seen one before is basically just a big skateboard.