When people see a woman on a skateboard, they still do a double take. Skateboarding has been around for over 50 years but it’s only in the past ten that the representation of women in the sport has increased from dismal to slightly-less-than-dismal. Although the gender disparity remains depressing, female skateboarding is growing. This year, female skateboarders have made headlines for being generally brilliant.
Just before we went on holidays, a nine-year-old girl from NSW landed a 540 degree spin on a vert ramp. That’s 1.5 airborne revolutions on a death trap made of layered wood and polyurethane wheels. Impressive.
In mid-March, the Girls Riders Organisation (GRO) set a world record for the most women skateboarding in a single session. 153 females from a range of backgrounds and ages skated at the GRO and House of Vans ‘All Chicks Skate Jam’.
Statistics about skateboarding are hard to come by – probably because if there’s two things that it’s difficult to get research funding for, it’s those pesky skateboarders and, well, the plight of women. But according to a US study, male skaters made up 74 per cent of the skateboarding population in 2002.
Despite this, the sport is growing in Australia at a much more gender-progressive pace. An Australian Bureau of Statistic survey published in 2009 found that “skateboarding, rollerblading and scooter[ing]” participation rates for female children aged 5-14 increased from 16.9 per cent in 2003 to 42.4 per cent in 2009. For male children, participation rates went from 28.5 per cent in 2003 to 55.9 per cent in 2009. That is – participation rates – not the percentage of riders within skateboarding. Male participants in skateboarding are only ahead of women by 2.2 per cent.
Although the data includes rollerbladers and scooter riders, it’s sensible to say that this inflation in participation levels reflects an inflation in the number of skateboarders. This could result in a decidedly more balanced demographic by 2025.
Skateboarding’s inexplicable, overwhelming masculinisation keeps it light years away from every other wheeled action sport, not its degree of difficulty. Rollerblading, scooter-riding, and quad-skating are much more feminised action sports but they arguably involve a similar degree of skill and audacity to skateboarding. The gender diversity in skateboarding is significantly stunted in comparison to most other “extreme” or “action” sports, like aggressive inline skating and BMX.
Of course, women are socialised into being more sedentary and cautious than men, who are encouraged to engage in higher-risk activities. But why is there such a discord between the representation of women in skateboarding in comparison to other action sports?
As long as hegemonic gender norms and the oppression of women exists, so will the stereotype that women are not as suited to skateboarding as their male counterparts. All we have to look forward to before the feminist revolution is the nuggets of gold, like the latest in women’s skateboarding news, that act as landslides in a culture that is otherwise progressing at a glacial pace.