How To Be A Lady (Who Shreds)

Women in Skateboarding How To Be A Lady (Who Shreds)

An inquest into gender bias in sport and why society thinks women shouldn’t skate.

Women in Skateboarding
“Women who prefer exercise and liberty, who revel in the cool sea breeze and love to feel the fresh mountain air fanning their cheeks, who are afraid neither of a little fatigue nor of a little exertion, are the better, the truer, and the healthier, and can yet remain essentially feminine in their thoughts and manners.” – 1894 Lady Violet Greville in Ladies in the Field Sketches of Sport

One afternoon in 1997 twelve-year-old Lucy Adams was leaving swimming practice in Horsham, England, when she noticed a large construction fence had gone up in the vacant lot behind the pool. She wandered over and peered through a small hole in the boards. On the other side a group of men dressed in long T-shirts and baggy jeans were building something that she would later describe as “fantastic”. With heavy iron bars, scaffolding and large, smooth strips of wood they fashioned swooping curves, elegant arcs, gentle waves and precipitous drops into something that looked like a cross between an obstacle course and a post-modern sculpture. She returned as often as she could and watched as the ramps and transitions took shape and the men began to ride them with their skateboards.
One evening before the park had officially opened she went over, roller skates in hand, and approached the men. “Can I have a go on my skates?” she asked. They laughed and told her she needed a skateboard. “So I went home and told my dad, ‘These are shit now, we need a skateboard,’” she says. Adams has gone on to become one of Britain’s best skaters, but her wider relationship to the skate industry remains very similar to those early days of peeking through the fence. Skateboarding may not be against women, but it’s certainly a consolidated boys club.

There are few reliable statistics regarding the number of skateboarders in the world, much less the number of female skateboarders. The US boasts over 12 million riders, with the number of women in this group ranging from twenty-five per cent to nine per cent, depending on the source. If, for the sake of argument, we take the higher estimate, the number of women skateboarding is roughly consistent with the number of women participating in both surfing and snowboarding. However, compared to its sister sports, female skateboarders are still a silent, invisible minority and skating in the wider public consciousness remains a ‘guy’s sport’.

Adams didn’t realise it at the time, but by squeezing through the fence and daring to “ask for a go” she was, like so many girls before her, stepping onto the frontlines of a bitter, and contentious gender conflict that has quietly raged in the dark recesses of Western society’s subconscious for over 250 years. It’s a struggle not over land or money, but what the sociologist Michael Messner calls the “contested ideological territory” of the female body. At stake is the very definition of what it means to be a woman and how you can legitimately use your body.
Athletic meetings… always attract a large number of women, perhaps it is the gay colours of the runners, perhaps it is their youth and splendid physical condition, whatever the reason, they come in their thousands and bring brightness and colour to the scene even if their appreciation is not always particularly intelligent.” – The Times, 1919

The notion of ‘guy’s sports’ and ‘girl’s sports’ is completely socially constructed; the ill-begotten child of the specific time period and societies in which sporting culture originated, namely Britain and the United States during the Industrial Revolution. Although physical competitions existed before the socio-economic upheavals of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it took capital, a sedentary leisure class, and the then revolutionary idea of ‘leisure time’ to turn games into what we know as sports today. As machines streamlined production and the work day became shorter and less physical, middle and upper class men who spent a lot of time sitting behind desks found that exercise was a good way to blow off steam. Tennis, football, American football, rugby, basketball, athletics, swimming and many other sports were refined and popularised as leisure-time activities during this period.

Read on....courtesy of Huck Magazine 033


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