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The Skate Like a Girl Collective joined forces with Reclaim Blackpool to call out misogyny and empower women, but are now facing backlash from the skate community. Here, the founder of Reclaim, Antonia Charlesworth Stack, shares three of their stories

I’m dancing in the small hours. My friends playing a joyous DJ set of empowering songs. One of them, the female-born drag queen Ava King Cyanosure, has been entertaining us for hours with her incredible moves on stage. Some outstanding local female musical talent – Imogen Evans and Daisy Atkinson – warmed us up earlier, both of them brandishing their Catcalling Ain’t A Complement t-shirts, designed by Becky Davies, aka Grumpy Girl Graphics, who’s dancing with me now.

At the centre of this beautiful display of togetherness is the Skate Like A Girl collective. Its founders, Lucy Lavery and Emily Morgan have pulled off this night, to raise money for Reclaim Blackpool – a project that began two years ago, almost to the day, when I wrote an article for this website asking women to share their stories of public sexual harassment.

A lot had happened in the two years between, and the SLAG Collective are just some of the women now at the heart of Reclaim Blackpool too. SLAG aims to reclaim space for women and girls who skate, as well as the derogatory language sometimes used towards them. Reclaim does this for women and girls in Blackpool as a whole.

I’ll show you what misogyny is!

Prior to the event on the 25th March, Lucy and Emily cast any personal anxieties aside for the good of the movement, and spoke to Blackpool Gazette about the discrimination and misogyny they have faced and their work to empower women through skateboarding. But outside of the public display of support in Bootleg that night, there was an all too familiar story unfolding. A backlash women who raise their voices against misogyny often face.

Instead of aligning themselves with these women, who are trying to make skateboarding a more inclusive and safe sport for women and girls, some people in the local skate scene took against them – criticising them on social media, questioning their mental stability, shunning them in real life, and in one case threatening them with the startling statement:

“I’ll show you what misogyny is!”

“I’ve noticed the vast majority of the skate scene shares the same vision that skating helps mental health, so why is ours being ignored?” asks Lucy. “In the article in the Gazette we discussed misogyny within and outside of the skate scene. We spoke about the beautiful skate community that welcomed us and helped us. We also spoke about the sexism that we received as women who skated. Overall the article was taken quite well. We are thankful for that. But nevertheless the sexism persisted.”

Lucy, along with Emily and Ali Eland – a Reclaim activist and skater – have chosen now to respond to the criticism they have received. There have been times over the past two months that they have felt like quitting. When the backlash was almost effective in its aim – to silence them.

Almost.

As Ali puts it: “If we’re pissing people off it’s because we’re doing something right.”

Tonight at 6.30pm they will appear in the first of a special two-part report on Reclaim Blackpool for BBC North West Tonight, with the second part airing tomorrow.

“As someone who has always struggled with putting myself out there and being vulnerable to the world, creating SLAG Collective and, in turn, my relationship with both skateboarding and feminism, hasn’t been the easiest for me.

“It has taken a lot of encouragement for me to even pick up a skateboard and post clips of myself skating, never mind speaking with a local paper about my experiences of misogyny in skateboarding,” says Emily. “This is something I wouldn’t have even imagined myself having the confidence to do a few years ago – worrying about the backlash, negativity and judgment.

When someone says, ‘feminism doesn’t belong in skateboarding’ it feels like they’re saying I don’t belong in skateboarding.

“Now to hear people don’t believe feminism has a place in skateboarding and that it is pushing an ‘agenda’, I feel it’s time to tackle that,” she adds, referring to one of the comments the women received following the Gazette article.

“I am a feminist and I skateboard. So when someone says, ‘feminism doesn’t belong in skateboarding’ it feels like they’re saying I don’t belong in skateboarding,” adds Ali. It’s a feeling she says she’s all too familiar with.

In their powerful individual statements in response to the backlash, which will be published in full on the SLAG Instagram in the coming days, both Ali and Lucy speak powerfully about abuse they have suffered which skateboarding has helped them overcome – a powerful effect they would like other female skaters to benefit from.

“Skateboarding found me at the time I needed it the most. At the time I was an empty shell of myself,” says Ali. “I barely knew how I was still able to stand, let alone, skate.That’s what abuse did to me, it took away who I was until I didn’t recognise the person I saw in the mirror. All I saw was a scared, sad, little girl, who didn’t understand why the people who say they love me keep hurting me, to the point that I have to be less.

“I became quiet, tip-toeing and walking on eggshells so as not to upset the people around me… But that’s when I found skateboarding again and I started to find myself along with it. Each fall, scrape and bruise reminded me I was still alive. Each time I fell, I knew I could get back up. I started to connect with my resilience, my bravery and my determination.”

Emily points out that the skate scene often boasts that it is a sport for inclusivity, community and rebellion. “It sounds suspiciously similar to feminism to me,” she says.

Lucy echoes Ali’s statement, saying that when she found skateboarding she felt she’d finally found something that helped her overcome PTSD from sexual assault, rape and abuse. Being threatened as a result of sharing her experiences with other women, Lucy says, is not something to joke about.

“Slag Collective is actively trying to address misogyny. Not just within skateboarding but through skateboarding. And why shouldn’t we? Skateboarding can be whatever you want it to be. There is no set agenda. Stop the gatekeeping. Let me ollie away my sexual assault. Who cares? If you aren’t sexist what’s the problem? So many times I’ve heard that ‘skateboarding owes you nothing’ but men also owe it to women not to be misogynistic.”

Emily points out that the skate scene often boasts that it is a sport for inclusivity, community and rebellion. “It sounds suspiciously similar to feminism to me,” she says.

“Skateboarding helps me connect with my inner child, and feminism helps me create and maintain a space for any young people like me who wanted to pursue skateboarding and were too scared to, not feeling they had a place there,” Emily adds. “This isn’t about pushing an agenda or skateboarding ‘owing’ us something.

“I am finally finding myself confident enough to take up that space and that’s why I’m here.”

Ali adds that the friendships she has made through skateboarding have helped her to heal – through camaraderie, encouragement, support and acceptance.

“The women I have met through skateboarding each have their own stories and experiences… this has helped me to feel less alone and allowed me the safety to be who I have always been, and who, for a while, I had lost.

“I am a feminist because I want to use what I have experienced to fuel a source of change for other women and girls, to give support and give hope. I am a feminist and I skateboard.

“Feminism absolutely belongs in skateboarding because I belong in skateboarding.”

Reclaim Blackpool and SLAG Collective feature on BBC North West Tonight at 6.30pm on 24th and 25th May. Lucy, Emily and Ali will share their full statements on SLAG’s social media in the coming days.

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Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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    Antonia Charlesworth Stack is a journalist and editor from Blackpool. She was deputy editor of Big Issue North magazine and is editor of Blackpool Social Club. Antonia is also the founder of Reclaim Blackpool, a women's safety campaign that began life as an article she wrote for Blackpool Social Club. She's a contributing author to the Lancashire Stories anthology with her story about a Blackpool performer, The Call of The Sea. The book is available for free in libraries across the county.

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