How Skater Girls are Tackling Sexism in the Sport

One skater girl recalls her experience of getting back on a board and learns how women are taking a stand against sexism in the skatepark

Feature by Iana Murray | 06 Sep 2018

Learning to skateboard at 20 years old is, frankly, embarrassing. You can be forgiven for wiping out on the hard concrete when you’re a kid – that’s the time to make mistakes – but adulthood is less accommodating. There’s an expectation to be mature and you definitely shouldn’t be playing with toys.

My relationship with skateboarding is a tenuous one. I tried skating when I was younger – the result of a brief obsession with the Tony Hawk video games – but like most of my fixations, I quickly gave up. I was frustrated with myself for not being very good, and oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t going to land kickflips any time soon with the cheap skateboard my parents bought from the garden centre. But there was also something else. I had never seen a girl skater, in real life or on screen, and I was acutely aware of how lonely I felt skating. Add to that the judgemental glares of dog walkers and teenage boys on their BMX bikes, and the pressure to prove myself as a skateboarder got to me. I hung up my board in the shed to gather dust.

Skip to six years later when I saw Skate Kitchen earlier this summer. Starring the real-life group of the same name, the film follows an introverted teen who finds friendship in an all-girl skate crew. I was entranced by the group’s ferocious camaraderie and badass attitude, deflecting sexist men with the wry confidence I wish I had. Most of all, I admired their skating, looking effortlessly cool as they traverse the streets of Manhattan like it’s their personal playground. I was that pre-teen girl again, raring to cruise on the board from the garden centre. Getting back on a (better) skateboard, I immediately recalled why I had stopped. The stares and double-takes were all the same, inducing unwelcome anxieties that lurked wherever my board and I went. Will people laugh at me if (or more appropriately, when) I fall over? Will people think I’m a poser? It’s a sentiment shared by other girl skaters.

“When you go to an outdoor park, I definitely feel as though eyes are drawn to female skaters,” says Megan Bruce, a student from Aberdeen. “It gives you a feeling that you need to try and prove yourself as if you're not as worthy to be at the skatepark as guys are. I think there’s also a stigma that a lot of guys might think girls are trying to skate to look 'cool' rather than to actually enjoy the hobby itself.” Megan started skating with her friend two years ago after a school trip to Aberdeen’s Transition Extreme. They learned that the centre holds a Girls Night exclusively for female skaters and have been going weekly ever since.

Skateparks can be a scary place, especially for people who aren’t at a level to face the scrutiny of others yet. Skate sessions provide a far less intimidating alternative, such as the inaugural beginners skate session held at Kelvingrove Museum in August. Those in attendance were welcomed to the sight of beer cans being passed around and the sound of heavy metal blaring from phone speakers. Everyone was readily embraced, whether you had been skating for years or had never stepped on a board before, and you could tell from the diverse group who had congregated at the museum front. A girl in a hijab was landing ollies, while close by a newbie was being taught how to find her stance.

The session was held by Doyenne Skateboards, a Scottish-based brand founded by a collective of girl skaters. “We decided to hold a beginners session because we believe that people just need an invitation, even to a small event like ours, to feel like they have an opportunity to start skating,” Doyenne tell us. “We believe that everyone deserves the same opportunities, and there are not many for women, queer folks and people with disabilities. So we decided to create that opportunity for them.” The company was created in response to the boys’ club mentality of the skatepark, with the hope of encouraging more women to skate. Doyenne operate on the values of inclusivity and equality. “We wanted to create a skateboarding brand that all skaters could feel represented by, regardless of gender, race, sexuality and disability,” they say. “Offering inclusivity means raising awareness that everybody can be a part of something.”

Doyenne’s mission of inclusivity also extends to their merchandise. Emblematic of the growing acceptance of gender fluidity in everyday fashion, the company sells ungendered clothing, ensuring everyone feels welcome to buy their products. Doyenne Skateboards’ activism also extends beyond Scotland – a portion of the profits go towards Skatepal, a non-profit organisation that helps young Palestinian skaters by building skateparks and teaching classes.   

As conversations and stories are shared with the group, it soon becomes clear that the sport is more open to women than others. One woman speaks about a young girl who was a talented skater and when she snapped her deck at a skatepark, a male skater rushed to the shop to buy her a new one. The unspoken bond between skaters crosses the gender divide and yet women are still reluctant to get on a board. So, how can we encourage more girls to skate?

Ultimately, there needs to be a change in skateboarding’s innate boys’ club culture and an erasure of the stigma against girl skaters. Doyenne believe it’s only a matter of time until women achieve equality in skating, as long as girl skaters continue to support each other. “If skater girls encourage other girls to start and show there is a community they can be part of, girls would be less intimidated to start,” Doyenne say. “It’s actually pretty beautiful how much support there is within the girl skater community around the world, and we believe it’s just going to grow bigger.”

It speaks to the power of representation that one movie was the push I needed to start something I knew I’d love. It may have taken me the better part of a decade to finally pick up a board, but hopefully, I’m a rare case in the fast-growing movement of empowered young female skaters. With the knowledge that a community exists that shares my worries and anxieties, skating has suddenly become a lot less lonely. When I fall, I just get back up again.

Skate Kitchen screens 15 Sep at GFT as part of Glasgow Youth Film Festival and is released 28 Sep by Modern Film