Editor of Sidewalk Magazine, Ben talks about his experience with women in the skateboarding industry, and gives us a guy’s perspective on women in skateboarding.
How did you get in to skateboarding?
My introduction to skateboarding was pretty much the standard one for those people who started up back in the mid 80’s when skateboarding was a truly hidden corner of youth culture and had next to no attention paid to it by the mainstream media. I’d had a plastic board as a young child but didn’t really understand or comprehend ‘skateboarding’ until around 1985 when I saw the first Back to the Future movie. After that I went and bought something approaching a ‘proper’ skateboard, started buying British skateboard magazines and began to immerse myself in the culture.
When you first started, did you see any girls around the skatepark (actually riding a skateboard, not just watching from the side)?
To be honest, back when I first started up, there were no skateparks to speak of in the UK (other than a few relics left over from the 1970’s). This was a very different time in British skateboarding history – the majority of my formative years were spent just skating street and at that point, aside from the odd female skater in UK/US mags (Stephanie Pearson being the main one) there were no female skateboarders around, at least as far my experience was concerned. Maybe 10 or so years later – once a couple of indoor parks had opened up in the UK, I began to see a few female skaters appearing.
Have you ever given advice/tips to any girl skaters? Or supported any female pro skaters?
Of course – I am the editor of a skateboard magazine so obviously through that I have offered advice to skaters of every gender, given coverage to skaters of every gender and through my involvement in events given direct encouragement (over the mic/or through filming) to the vast majority of known female skaters in the UK and beyond). Additionally myself and Ryan Gray filmed a large amount of footage for the recent(ish) As If and What? female skate video released a few years back.
Why do you think it is difficult to get recognition as a girl in such a male dominant sport?
I really do not agree that it is ‘difficult’ to get recognition as a female skater. It may be ‘difficult’ to ascend to levels of sponsorship that match the top tier of male pro’s but recognition/respect on a realistic basis is completely attainable by female skateboarders: especially in the UK. All the major events have female competitors, there are female-only events held and the general attitude from the male contingent is one of wholehearted and unerring support. If your question is really, “Why are female pros not earning the same kind of money as the top tier US pros?” – then the answer is different. And as I’m the editor of a UK mag, rather than a global one, I might not be the best person to ask.
The fact of the matter is that top tier pro skaters (probably less than 1% of the entire skateboard population globally) earn massive salaries/get lucrative endorsements off the back of the skateboarding they do – whether that’s appearing in things like Street League, shooting interviews for Skate mags, filming video parts or whatever. Top tier professionalism in skateboarding is predicated on the difficulty, gnarliness, progressive nature, etc. displayed in said pros skating and currently there are no female pros on a similar level in a pure trick-sense to the highest male earners. Rightly or wrongly, this is how skateboard ‘professionalism’ operates. This is not to say that there are not extremely talented female skaters around – (Letiticia Bufoni, Lacey Baker, Alexis Sablone and Elissa Steamer all come to mind) but the fact remains that, according to the unspoken ‘rules’ of ‘making it as a pro skater’ even these women have not yet produced skateboarding of an equal standard to their male counterparts – nor have any of them filmed paradigm-shifting video parts (with the notable exceptions of Elissa/Alexis) or shot interviews that have progressed the activity as a whole – yet.
Over the last 40-50 years, since Patti McGee became the first female pro skateboarder, how do you feel the industry has changed when it comes to women in skateboarding?
Patti McGee was a ‘pro skater’ at a time when the trick lexicon of the ‘sport’ didn’t extend much further than going fast and doing kickturns: in the five decades since then, the amount of tricks invented and sheer force of progression has made the skills of all original pros look almost child-like in comparison. Female skaters such as Elissa Steamer and Alexis Sablone made an impact on the wider skate scene by skating at a similar level to the men without any kind of tokenism applied to them – they appeared in mags/videos because they were sick at skating – rather than because they were ‘sick at skating for a girl’.
If you’re really asking about the imagery and general attitudes displayed in the advertising, etc. of the industry then in some ways no, things haven’t changed that much. Scantily clad women are still used to sell product to young men and thus I guess you could foreground this as a reason for some women being put off trying skateboarding – although things are a lot more complicated than that. This is related to societal attitudes as a whole, rather than anything necessarily specific to skateboarding. With that said – I think as a whole the situation for female skateboarders today is undeniably better than it ever has been in terms of inclusion, opportunities and visibility.
In your opinion, why do you think men in board sports have generally achieved more recognition and support than women? Do you think maybe it has something to do with the stereotype of women needing to be ‘feminine’ and therefore they can’t skate and be lady-like at the same time?
This is a hard question to answer without repeating myself. Partly this is due to the fact that skateboarding is not a ‘sport’ in the traditional sense and thus the methods used to decide who is or isn’t an extremely talented skateboarder relies on things like video parts/interviews in magazines from within the culture itself: at the moment (with the exception of Elissa and Alexis) there are not really any women producing video parts/interviews on the same level as the men that are seen by a mass/global audience (with a few exceptions). I am married to a skateboarder and have many female skater friends – some are traditionally ‘feminine’ some are not – all are skateboarders. The question above is a little bit like asking if gay male skateboarders are less reckless or gnarly than their straight counterparts. It’s impossible to generalize really and doing so is unhelpful. Aren’t we all ‘skateboarders’ first?
What can be done to create more support and acknowledgment for women in skateboarding and board sports in general, for them to become equal competitors with men?
Female skaters need to strive to be as good as the men in a ‘trick’ sense if total equality of opportunity is the goal. If not, then female skateboarders and their male friends need to continue supporting each other, continue attending and assisting with female-specific events and just generally create a welcoming atmosphere rather than worrying about ‘victim mentality’. More progression = more visibility = more female pros = more inspiration for new female skaters.
Do you think that if male pro skaters gave public support to women in the same sport there would be further interest and backing from skate teams and organisations? Or do you feel they do not particularly need the support of male skaters to gain impartiality in skateboarding?
Skateboarders as a whole are supportive of each other. Pro skaters do give support to women. Watch Elissa Steamer’s recent Epicly Later’d clip for more on that. There is no physical reason that female skateboarders can’t be as good as the men on their own terms (Lyn-Z Hawkins being a good example) – when they are (which will happen) then those women will receive the same salaries etc. as their male counterparts.
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- Nina Hoogstraate