It’s all in the name – here at Girl Skate UK, we’re for empowering girls and women to get out there and skate. But there’s been some discussion in the last few days about whether ‘girls-only’ skate sessions are damaging to the normalisation of girls/women in skateboarding. Some have been surprised that one of their favourite skateboarders, Stef Nurding aka the Concrete Chameleon, seems to be against girls-only sessions. Stef is one of the most prolific skateboarders on the UK scene right now and what she had to say first on her blog then on Facebook makes a lot of sense.
“…I agree with an environment where beginners feel like they can learn without being mowed down by the latest skate park hero but I don’t really see why it would be more scary to start skateboarding if you were a girl or if you were a boy? I feel like a lot of the reasons why girls don’t want to attend mixed sessions are just total myths so I have mainly written this to dispel them and to make beginner girls feel like they are most likely more welcome anytime…”
Stef then goes on to list these common myths, which I’ve summarised:
1. Boys/Men don’t want you to be there (she says this isn’t true)
2. Beginner boys are less intimidated than girls (she says it’s scary for everyone)
3. Stef doesn’t know a woman alive who would say she was intimidated by a man so why would it be any different in a skatepark?
“I feel like little girls especially are never going to feel like it’s OK to just turn up if they are constantly being told they are different and that they should attend a sex-specific night. So I am here to tell you, that you have nothing to fear and to just get stuck right in, take your space and go to the skatepark whenever you feel like it ;)”
PATRIARCHY AND BEING JUDGED
It’s great that Stef is putting the message out there to go skate whoever you are as it’s an important one that we shouldn’t ever forget. But, is it really that black and white? Issues of gender, age, race and diversity are rarely as simple as just saying ‘get on with it’ as unfortunately the way all of us have been socialised has a huge impact on how we enter any situation. Patriarchy, which is the social system in which males hold the most power, is still with us today in so many things we do. It’s easy to forget this.
To use a personal example, I get treated very differently by both men and women depending on how much I give away about myself on first impressions. If I’m wearing a yellow hoody riding my cruiser people think I’m 10 years younger than I am and can be patronising to me. If I’m wearing a kitten heel with my wedding ring on they ask me about my husband. I’m married to a woman. My point being, you need a certain amount of confidence to not feel judged by a wide range of people. The skatepark, although usually filled with the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, carries that same risk. You’re being yourself and putting yourself out there to enjoy something, and one negative/judgemental remark could be the difference between going again, or calling it quits. Putting girls together to skate makes some girls feel less alienated as there’s less chance of being judged in a particular way. On Facebook, it’s clear that lots of people share this view.
“…I have also witnessed girls being letched at and harassed and I acknowledge that this happens everywhere but this kind of thing puts girls off…a girl’s night can be a safe environment until confidence is achieved…”
“…I agree, however girls nights are a great way to introduce girls to sports which are commonly portrayed as sports that are more likely to be picked up by guys and ultimately higher in guy participation…. If girls only nights give the push start in confidence to get girls kicking it with the boys, it’s no bad thing…”
“This has really annoyed me and lot of other girl skaters. Girls nights are great for building confidence to skate in mixed sessions. It’s not about excluding boys or segregation. We all skate with boys as well, but it can also be intimidating and we experience abuse like being shouted at or being seen as posers or perved on…. Until mixed sessions are more equal then we won’t need them (girls nights)!”
A few people also shared Stef’s views:
“Skateboarding is skateboarding. Girl /guy, guy/girl everyone is welcome to express themselves…”
“Surely by keeping girls separate it goes against the whole point of trying to get more girls to skate?…”
“Not allowing guys in is just as sexist…”
WHAT IF WE SCAR OUR PRETTY FACES?!
Most of us (hopefully all!) wish sexism didn’t exist, but there are certain activities which are still a throw back to old-fashioned views on how girls or boys ‘should be’. Skateboarding has arguably and historically been associated with a bit of a ‘lad’ culture – aggressive, dangerous, high risk of injury. Kind of like boxing – another activity that ‘girls shouldn’t do’ – what if we scar our pretty faces so we won’t be attractive to men?! Nyjah Huston famously made a remark similar to this, and although he’s since apologised it just shows that some people who have still been socialised to think this way. One way, but NOT the ONLY way to redress the balance of these sorts of inequalities is to encourage and empower those groups who have historically got the raw deal. In the case of skateboarding, that means creating a comfortable space where girls and women can build confidence to then just go whenever they want, when boys and men are also there. Not all of us are there yet, but it’s getting better.
SHOW MORE DIVERSE ROLE MODELS FOR THE YOUNG’UNS
The consensus does seem to be that we need to encourage little girls especially to feel like it’s OK to just turn up, but does having a girls’ night actually mean they are constantly being told they are different? It’s not that they are being told that they should attend a gender-specific night, it’s that the night is there for them if they want it. I’ve never been to a ‘girls only’ session – only ‘girls sessions’, which is subtly different. I guess we have to be mindful of the way we communicate that message to girls, and balance it out with reinforcing the fact that other sessions are mixed. Otherwise Stef and others are right and we will just end up with a segregated skate scene. And we need role models for that – little girls need to see that girls just like them skate with guys, and that that is the norm. The fact that Stef has brought this out in the open is working towards that – good on you pal, skateboarding relies on people like you! In the meantime, we don’t quite have enough confident girls skating who are getting the exposure to be seen skating in mixed sessions.
Skateistan is actually a great example of girls finally making up the majority of the mixed sessions – at least in their ads and images. It’s one of the other ways of redressing the balance. Maybe it’s time for us all to start putting the same effort that we put into encouraging girls’ sessions into encouraging beginners, regardless of gender, to just go skate.
Skateboarding is a diverse activity and scene, which is one of the reasons we love it, right? Go in peace and skate!