Skateboarding has always intrigued me in many ways with its laidback mindset, individualistic culture, and ‘cool’ aesthetic. As a female who has recently decided to pick up a board and start skating, I have found myself in some uncomfortable situations in terms of skate environments. Since skateboarding is a very male-dominated space, I would find myself in environments where I would feel intimidated by the local skaters who appeared so natural that their movements were seamless. This is where the struggle of male and female divisions at the skatepark emerges. Skateboarding “has always been a sport dominated by males, particularly those aged under 25 years” and this ubiquitous phenomenon fabricates the question as to why skateboarding is a male-dominated sport (Nolan, 2003, p. 313). I have experienced times at the skatepark where I felt too intimidated to get on my board because as a beginner, I would feel as if all eyes were on me with judging stares. However, after talking to friends and other skateboarders, I came to the realization that this feeling of judgement was all in my head. I was told that guys at the skatepark don’t care about how much of an amateur you are rather, they are so focused on landing their tricks that they most likely don’t pay attention. So, this got me thinking about the unequal representation of female skateboarders to male skateboarders. Could this imagined perception contribute to why the male to female skater ratio is so imbalanced? “[M]uch of the attraction of skateboarding is the freedom and emphasis on self-expression, self-discipline and having fun” yet, this freedom is restricted by imagined barriers of intimidation, stereotyping, and judgement (Lombard, 2010, p. 480). However, after immersing myself in the skate scene, I have uncovered multiple groups and organizations that focus on female encouragement and empowerment in skateboarding. This is one of the many factors that could help increase the presence of female skaters in a male-dominated world.
Although many factors can increase the presence and interest of females in skateboarding, the difficulty is overcoming the ongoing issues that are present. A few issues that I have noticed are the extremely male-dominated space at skateparks, the lack of representation of female skateboarders in media content, and the stereotypical gender assumptions that are tied with the non-traditional sport.
Skateparks: Who are they made for?
If you were to visit a skatepark, one of the first observations you would make is the prominent presence of male skateboarders in the space. No matter the size, location, or design of the skatepark the chances of a larger male presence is high. This got me thinking, could this phenomenon be due to the character of the space itself and how society associates these spaces with specific genders? As mentioned by Doreen Massey (1994):
[T]he conceptualization of space and place are also tied up with gender, with the radical polarization into two genders which is typically hegemonic in western societies today, and with the bundles of characteristics typically assigned to each. (p. 6)
Massey (1994) recognizes that different spaces embody and accommodate specific genders. In the case of skateparks, female skateboarders may find themselves in a space that was created for males thus, feeling barred from not only the space but activity at hand as well (Massey, 1994, p. 185). After doing some research, I uncovered interview sessions that reveal numerous feelings and opinions that young female skaters shared. This being one of them:
The guys don’t think you’re so good, and if there’s a lot of people there, like I don’t like to go, because you feel that you’re getting in their way. I mean, even if you’re trying to get better, if you can’t do certain things, they’ll automatically think that you’re really bad. (Kelly, Pomerantz, & Currie, 2005, p. 133)
Unfortunately, thoughts like this reinforce the split between male and female skaters at the parks. So, if skateparks are designed as a male space then where can females skate?
Most girls reported learning the basics in relatively private spaces, like driveways and streets near home. As some became more technically proficient, they ventured into public places, like skate parks, which brought them into contact with other skaters who were often older, better, and male. (Kelly, Pomerantz, & Currie, 2005, p. 133)
Although unfair but true, females including myself have experienced situations like the ones reported above. It is a sad thing when female skaters don’t feel welcome in public spaces like skateparks. With this gendered space, female skaters will inevitably face difficulties in incorporating a female presence in a space that was orchestrated for males. However, I have come across female skate groups that organize to overcome these challenges. The idea that visiting these skateparks in collective and supportive groups helps overcome the marginalization of female skaters in a space not designed for them. The lack of females in skate culture has always been an ignored issue but these organized all-female skate groups such as ‘Chickflip’ and ‘The Skate Witches’ are beginning to break down the barriers of females in skateboarding. Chickflip and The Skate Witches are the types of groups that encourage the empowerment and engagement of female skateboarders. Since majority, if not all, skate brands are fabricated for men and boys, The Skate Witches have created skatewear for women and girls. Standing strong behind their motto ‘for the girls, scare the boys,’ you can also find YouTube videos of female skaters and purchase zines that are entirely centred around female skateboarders. Chickflip, on the other hand, pushes the empowerment of female skaters even further by forming a collective of skateboarders who can come together for events, hangouts, and fun:
How do we meet more women who skate?
How do we get more women out to the skateparks?
How can we spread the word about the world of female skateboarding?
With the creation of Chickflip, that’s how. Chickflip began as an online group and was intended to connect female skateboarders In Vancouver B.C. It has quickly grown into something much more. With several hundred members, some from as far away as Japan, Chickflip has helped the ladies get together and stoked about skateboarding!
They constantly host ‘ladies nights’ at locations that would otherwise be entirely consumed by male skateboarders in an effort to push for their equality at skateparks. Actually, just the other week the ladies of Chickflip hosted Ladies Night at SBC, formerly known as Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret, which was reincarnated into a grungy indoor skatepark. Like skate culture, SBC showcases the same qualities as “it’s part of the same underground culture”. The success was through the roof with the largest attendance to date of “40 she-redders coming from all over the Vancouver lower mainland and as far as Vancouver Island”. I find this amazing because this local skate group has managed to bring many female skaters from around the world together. Despite the positives that these female skate groups bring to the table, I still have a feeling of unsettlement. Granted, these groups are trying to push for a change in the world of skateboarding but the fact that these groups must be formed frustrates me. Why is it necessary for female skate groups to come together to overcome such male-oriented spaces? Why can’t all skateboarders, male and female, young and old, come together in a shared space to enjoy the one activity they go to the skatepark to do? This situation baffles me because issues of spaces oriented towards specific genders should not be an issue we, as females and as a society, have to overcome.
Where are the Female Skaters in Media?
Skate brands and skate media all have one trait in common. And that commonality is, male skateboarders. Flipping through skate magazines, like Thrasher and TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING, I immediately noticed the lack of female skate articles. Even scrolling through skate sites and social media platforms, all images and articles consist of male skaters. This just speaks to the under-representation of females in skate culture. Honestly, it seems to be a man’s world: male-oriented content for male consumers by male producers. As explained by Steven Jackson (2014):
[material] consumed by a male audience sharing the experience of watching male athletes perform hypermasculine activities [acts] as a means of confirming and defining their own maleness. (p. 902)
How can female skaters relate to this content if it was solely created by and for men? We might have found the reason why skate culture revolves around the male entity. It’s all skate content made by males for males. Typically, the only time females are displayed in skate media and brands is when they are shown as anything but skateboarders. Take Sk8Mafia for example, the decks that they carry heavily consist of half naked, if not fully naked, women who are posed in sexual positions. As soon as I entered Sk8Mafia’s website, an email subscription popped up with the image of two women kissing as the background: “skateboard companies and magazines have increasingly used misogynist treatment of women as a way of selling skateboards” to men (Borden, 2001, p. 147). All of these factors add to the reinforcement of male dominance in skateboarding.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that women are only represented as sex objects in skate culture, although they predominantly are; there are cases where they are appreciated as skateboarders, and solely skateboarders. Now these are the type of cases that need more exposure. Fucking Awesome is a skate brand that makes decks with class photos of professional skateboarders from when they were young. Out of the sea of male skateboarders included in this collection are skaters ranging from Tyshawn Jones to Dylan Rieder. The one deck that stood out in this collection to me was Chloe Sevigny’s class photo deck. Why? Because she’s a female. Chloe was not posed in a sexual manner like the other women in skate graphics. Fucking Awesome used her old class photo as the main design just like her male skater companions because of her ability to skate, and not because she can be used as a sexual component to the brand.
Waves are being made in the world of skateboarding for females as pro skater Lizzie Armanto starts to break down the wall of division between women and skateboarding. For the first time in history a female skateboarder has officially made the cover of TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING magazine. On Instagram you can find a post by TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING of Lizzie Armanto and the cover shot of herself in action:
Other female pro skaters have made it onto the cover of other skate magazines but little do we hear about these publications. In 1989, Cara-Beth Burnside was featured on the cover of Thrasher magazine rocking a pink top and high ponytail all the while “busting out of a vert ramp”. We don’t hear about these female accomplishments because skateboarding is so heavily consumed by male material that female content gets pushed to the side. Times are changing and media outlets like TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING are noticing the upsurge of young females in skateboarding. Media coverage used to be lacking for female athletes but TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING is making an effort to fix this issue by dedicating an issue of the magazine to females. TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING Editor-in-Chief Jamie Owens explains that:
There’s been a surge of females in skateboarding recently.
There have always been girls in skating, but over the past few years way more young girls are getting into it.
We wanted to shine a light on girls in skateboarding.
They’re a subculture within a subculture, and we wanted to let them know we all skate together. There shouldn’t be this weird distinction between girls and guys skateboarding.
Seeing this progress puts my mind to ease…but only slightly. There is still a vast amount of issues that needs to be dealt with in regards to the uninviting nature of sports to females. But seeing these steps being taken, no matter how small, gives me hope for the future of females in skateboarding.
Cool Outcasts in Society
Sometimes gender stereotypes impose a threat to skateboarding as a whole because skateboarders, both male and female, push the boundaries of what’s normal. Being an alternative subculture, skateboarders altogether are generally marginalized from mainstream society.
And yet, despite the documented benefits of skateboarding, skaters continue to suffer an image problem. They are often viewed as ‘problems’ or ‘nuisances’ because skateboarding is sometimes practised in public spaces, which has led to a perceived risk to public safety as well as property damage. Negative public attitudes such as these marginalise skateboarders from the broader community, thereby cementing preconceptions of skateboarders as being ‘risky’, ‘devious’ and ‘unsavoury’. (Johnston, 2016, p. 64)
Using the marginalization of skateboarders in mainstream society as a comparison, females not only experience this within society but within the skateboarding community too. Yes, male skateboarders face marginalization issues in society, but female skateboarders experience these issues times two. What adds fuel to the fire is the idea of what and how genders should be:
By (re)producing images (and, accordingly, ideas) about what femininity or what masculinity is supposed to look like, media images produce meaning and, at once, reinforce and normalize particular, limited, representations of gender. (Couture, 2016, p. 129)
So, to counter this phenomenon we must aim to change the perception and representation of female skaters in a meaningful way. Instead of focusing so much on abnormalities in a negative way, we should learn how to view these differences in a positive and progressive manner. Maybe this change in thinking is what we need to fix the problem of female marginalization in skateboarding. One person cannot create this type of change; it takes a collective of minds to reach a new age of acceptance. I’d say with the formation of progressive skate movements like the ones mentioned earlier, we are taking a good first step in the right direction. We have a lot of work to do if we want to create social change within the sport sphere and it includes the help of everyone.
Borden, I. (2001). Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body. Oxford and New York: Berg.
Couture, J. (2016). Triathlon Magazine Canada and the (Re-)Construction of Female Sporting Bodies. Sociology of Sport Journal , 124-134.
Jackson, S. (2014). Globalization, corporate nationalism and masculinity in Canada: sport, Molson beer advertising and consumer citizenship. Sport in Society , 901-916.
Johnston, D. (2016). Skateparks: Trace and Culture. Global Media Journal: Australian Edition , 63-83.
Kelly, D., Pomerantz, S., & Currie, D. (2005). Skater girlhood and emphasized femininity: ‘you can’t land an ollie properly in heels’. Gender and Education , 129–148.
Lombard, K.-J. (2010). Skate and create/skate and destroy: The commercial and governmental incorporation of skateboarding. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies , 475–488.
Massey, D. (1994). Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Nolan, N. (2003). The ins and outs of skateboarding and transgression in public space in Newcastle, Australia. Australian Geographer , 311-327.