“So… how many pros have you fucked?”
Sitting with some male skaters in a suburban Chipotle near closing time, I brushed off the question, taken aback. At just twenty years old, it was the first time I’d been so callously asked about my sexual habits by anyone other than a doctor. It was a question I would have to get used to ignoring.
Let me start here: I love skateboarding.
For the past seven years, skateboarding has provided an avenue for creativity and travel; it has given me brothers and sisters and stories and experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world. It reignited my passion for photography.
But, as a woman, skateboarding has also taught me to tread carefully. I’ve learned that the best way to avoid unwanted sexual attention is dressing like a fifteen-year-old boy (and it doesn’t always work), that the “boys’ club” mentality often means I’ll be excluded from introductions in circled conversations, that I’ll be asked whose girlfriend I am over and over again both at the park and at events––a question at best prodding my relationship status, at worst assuming my right to be somewhere is only earned through my relationship to a man.
I’ve been terrified of garnering the reputation of “ramp-tramp” or “pro-ho” just from spending time with skaters; a reputation which is damning for any woman near skateboarding even when it’s unfounded (never mind that it shouldn’t matter if or how many people a woman chooses to sleep with).
“I’ve been terrified of garnering the reputation of ‘ramp-tramp’ or ‘pro-ho’ just from spending time with skaters.”
Skateboarding in 2018 is being hailed as progressive and diverse. We applaud ourselves for taking small steps forward (Women’s SLS! More female pros and skate photographers!), and ignore the harmful attitudes still being fostered, particularly toward those on the peripheries. When I spoke with one of my friends about writing this piece, she cautioned against it, stating that women in skateboarding have come so far in the past few years and I should wait to see what happens in the next few. But this isn’t an article about female skateboarders. This is a piece about my experience as a woman in skate culture.
Last year, I decided to forego attending Creature’s Rumble in Ramona contest after the flyer brazenly proclaimed, “BANDS – CARS – BREWS – BABES – GOONS – SLUTS”. Sluts? Are “babes” and “sluts” mutually exclusive? Would I be either one or the other for attending? Would I be both? It was such an unnecessary inclusion. I’d looked forward to seeing my friends but was uneasy after reading that. One word can carry a weight that extends beyond the boundaries of a single event. One word can be the difference between feeling welcomed and feeling objectified.
For those of you who will dismiss my frustration as oversensitivity: I envy you. I envy the fact that you don’t have to think about what it feels like to have your self-worth chained to your sex, and that you will never know that feeling.
As the #MeToo movement rose around me, I supported my peers and didn’t pause to reflect upon my own experiences. I didn’t think about the times I’ve been groped or harassed; it was easier to dismiss than confront them. I was complacent.
“Hiding behind being a ‘skateboarder’ as a means of justifying sleazy and careless actions toward women often goes unchecked.”
It is here that we arrive at the slippery slope. Maybe I should have turned back, the late night I was led to a hotel room after being invited to hang out with a group of friends, only to realize my invitee had no intentions of ever taking me to them. Maybe, after turning down his attempts and telling him point blank I wouldn’t hook up with him, I should have bolted. But I didn’t. It was late, I was drunk, and I wanted to sleep. Instead, I was woken up twenty minutes later by him forcing my hand into his pants. I fled, immediately.
That was five years ago, and I still get anxious when I think about running into him. Could it have been worse? Absolutely. But it’s a situation that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Now here I am, nervous that you might be thinking to yourself, “who cares, it wasn’t rape,” and angry at myself for having those fears, because I need to believe that most of you won’t think that.
There are more stories, of course. Like the many times I’ve had my ass grabbed. Or the time someone came up to me at a contest and pinched my nipple. Or the time I gave a few skaters a ride back to their hotel and one of them presumed I only did so in order to have sex with him. I could go on, but why bother? None of it is excusable.
When I’ve called out this kind of behavior, I’ll be told something along the lines of, “it’s just part of being a girl in skating.” Hiding behind being a “skateboarder” as a means of justifying sleazy and careless actions towards women often goes unchecked. It’s culturally accepted, or at the very least unquestioned. This shrug-your-shoulders attitude does more than demean women, it bolsters the stereotype that skateboarders lack moral character––a stereotype that has hurt friends of mine, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that fact.
I am no one to skateboarding. I don’t work in the industry. I’m never going to go pro. And that’s exactly why I wanted to write about this; I don’t have to worry about losing a sponsorship or angering the powers that be. Some of you may say my experiences aren’t that bad, that again, it’s just “part of being a girl in skating.” Boys will be boys. But how is this okay? I’ve endured behavior that has made me question my value, and this behavior is normalized on a cultural level. If these have been my experiences, I can only imagine that much worse has happened to other women.
This isn’t about PC culture taking over. This isn’t about “the patriarchy.” This is about basic human decency. If you think that politics have no part in skateboarding, that everyone should just shut up and go skate: skateboarding has always been political and will continue to be. Skateboarding is not exempt from the pitfalls of sexism or power corruption. We don’t get to dust off our hands and walk away from the discussion; if anything, we’ve only just started.
I’m not asking for skateboarders to exemplify some impossible pinnacle of human morality. I want to stress my experiences so that you can learn from them and better understand what it feels like to be a woman in this specific world. While the path to equality may seem daunting, there are easy ways to push forward.
You can lead by example: by treating others with kindness and egalitarianism. Think about what you are saying before you speak, and call things out when they don’t sit right with you. This doesn’t mean you have to be fearful of everything you say, it’s rather the opposite. This is an opportunity to use the weight that your words and actions carry for the better. You have power and agency. Use it.