“A challenged world is an alert world […]. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”
This sentiment, taken from the International Women’s Day website, is the focus behind this year’s IWD theme – ‘Choose to Challenge’. Shortly after skateboarding’s initial boom in the 60s and 70s, female participation dwindled as the overall popularity of skating fell, driving it underground and ultimately leading to a ‘boys club’ mentality.
This of course acted as a barrier to girls skating, and those who did had to rip just as hard as the guys in order to be perceived as legitimate. This has often been the case throughout history, where women who enter male-dominated spaces are not fortunate enough to actively ‘choose to challenge’ gender bias, but are rather forced to confront them in order to earn the respect of their male peers. When Elissa Steamer turned pro for Toy Machine in 1998 the company was inundated with complaints, something Ed Templeton touches on in her episode of Epicly Later’d:
“The philosophy of a lot of kids in the world at that point was this: I’m better than Elissa, so I should be on Toy Machine.”– Ed Templeton
While this attitude prevailed, Steamer was fighting for equal pay at Toy Machine and Etnies. The gender pay-gap for pro skaters is of course a microcosm of the issue at large (prize money at the X Games was not equalised until 2008), with the global gap estimated at 23% by the UN in 2020. Pay is not the only issue in skateboarding as an industry. Cara-Beth Burnside was the first woman to have a signature skate shoe, 18 years after Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta designed the now Vans Era in 1976. Perhaps more surprising is that Nike SB didn’t launch a women’s shoe until 2017, despite hosting some killer women on their roster at this point, including Sarah Meurle, Josie Millard, and Leticia Bufoni.
However it’s not all doom and gloom. The actual implementation of female-specific products, as well as an increase in female-owned skate brands (check some out here), speaks volumes to how far women’s skating has come. Social media has granted girls skate content a global reach, increasing connectivity. Many regional groups and local girls’ crews run their own Instagram pages, again allowing those who are both local and remote to engage with them – whether this is via social media from another country, or in physical reality (see GSUK’s story highlights for your local). The rise of girls night’s at many skateparks across the UK can also foster a sense of community for beginners and seasoned skaters alike, and provide an opportunity to learn in what can be seen as a less intimidating environment.
The act of women and girls skating challenges sexist stereotypes of female fragility, and empowers others to join them. By simply getting on a board many girls embody this year’s IWD theme whether they acknowledge it or not, which can only be a good thing for skating as a whole. More girls visibly skating encourages others to join in and grab a slice of the fun, and the more skaters there are in general, the more likely it is that your town might build a skatepark, or fix one that has fallen into disrepair. At a professional level, more women entering the industry will hopefully close the pay gap, provide more opportunities for female pros, and contribute to the cycle of benefits that can be brought from visibility.
As women continue to push skateboarding I’m hopeful that there will soon be a future where the perception of skating as a boys club is diminished, and that women’s skateboarding as well as the intersections it encapsulates, will just simply become skateboarding. There’s still some way to go, but I hope that one day ‘Choose to Challenge’ won’t be necessary.