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The Vocal Local: I’m joining women in calling out misogyny in skateboarding

Tim Christian recently returned to his own teenage pastime with his young daughter and he’s shocked at the misogynistic attitudes some female skaters endure. In his response to SLAG Collective’s Vocal Local piece on the backlash they have received for speaking out against it, he argues that the personal is political and calls for male allyship for women and girls who skate.

I’m something of an old man of the Blackpool skate scene these days, having first picked up a board as a young lad in the dim and distant days of around 1999/2000 and, after a significant hiatus to do the whole work/marriage/kids thing, have braved the world of wrecked knees and significantly less bouncy bones to take up skating again over the past few years.

My reentry into skating has also been boosted by my daughter catching the skating bug and demanding her dad teach her how to ollie. Although skateboarding will never be the central pillar of my life in the same way it was when I was 16, it’s been a relatively simple and easy transition back into a social scene and a welcoming environment that’s included reconnecting with old friends and making some new ones.

This sense of easy camaraderie and shared identity was very much what had appealed to me when I started out oh so many years ago. We were united by our love for skating but also banding together against an often misunderstanding and occasionally hostile society that had a dim view of our pastime and made assumptions about us as people.

What the hell is going on in the skating scene where people think abusive responses are appropriate? How are they not ashamed to openly express such utterly backwards and ignorant opinions?

I guess everyone has slightly rose-tinted views of the social group they’re a part of and owe so much to, so I was genuinely upset and a little shocked when I first read the Gazette article about the SLAG Collective back in March 2023. I was well aware of the existence of the group before then, having seen them on social media and being present at events like Ramp City’s monthly girl’s night (my daughter even won one of their t-shirts in the regular raffle) and the Reclaim Blackpool fundraiser at Bootleg Social. Their description of a scene that was broadly welcoming and inclusive was a familiar one, but the undercurrent of a locker-room mentality on male-dominated skate parks was one that I didn’t recognise and was horrified to read about.

Obviously as a male skateboarder, I wasn’t directly affected by this anyway, but I’d always thought of the people I skated with as accepting and open to the girls that did skate, I’d never really witnessed anything like this from the people I considered my friends and I was shocked to learn it was such a big problem.

Fast forward to today and I’ve read a follow-up article in Blackpool Social Club about the continuing importance of SLAG and the backlash the Gazette article has received from some people on the scene and this alarm has deepened. What the hell is going on in the skating scene where people think abusive responses are appropriate? How are they not ashamed to openly express such utterly backwards and ignorant opinions?

Skateboarding is deeply and inescapably political and shares an intertwined common cause with feminism, and you’d be a fool to believe otherwise.

The more general descriptions of abuse and sneering were and are bad enough in their own right, but I was particularly bemused by one statement that stood out like a sore thumb amongst the regular bubbling misogynist ignorance: the words “feminism doesn’t have a place in skateboarding”. This one genuinely pulled me up short for a moment. I mulled it over in my head, “feminism doesn’t have a place in skateboarding”? This echoed the often made, and always incorrect, statement “politics doesn’t have a place in [insert activity or interest here]”. Given that feminism – like all struggles for representation – is inherently political, these statements marry up in their witlessness. By extension, these people are saying politics has no place in skateboarding either. Well, I’m here to tell you that skateboarding is deeply and inescapably political and shares an intertwined common cause with feminism, and you’d be a fool to believe otherwise.

How can anyone who has been skating for any length of time not be familiar with the disgusted glance or the sharp word of a disapproving passer-by? How many of you have had to put up with the unwanted attention of drunk idiots who “just want a go on your board”? Or the remonstrations of security guards, or the barked instructions of the police officer? How can you not recognise the exclusion from public spaces, the demonisation, the judgemental dismissal, the restrictive legislation, the tacit societal permission of infliction of violence – stop me when this starts to sound familiar – the unsolicited opinions regarding what you wear, how you look, where you go and when, the company you keep. I mean, COME ON!

The Skate Like a Girl Collective say skate spots can be intimidating spaces for women

For those hard of hearing at the back, skateboarding is political in an ingrained fashion on the subjects of policing, use of public space, provision of facilities, attitudes of broader society and acceptance in the mainstream, JUST LIKE FEMINISM. I’m not for a second trying to put the travails of skateboarders on a par with the struggles that women have to put up with every day, or claim that skateboarding is some sort of protected characteristic (it’s easy enough to put down your board and cease being seen as a skater), but the idea that there are no parallels between the two experiences is, quite frankly, an absolute fucking nonsense.

Feminism not only has a place within skateboarding, it is a natural home for it. I look forward to reading the imminent statements from Lucy, Emily and Ali (members of SLAG and Reclaim and the focal points of this backlash) when they are published on their social media, and what their thoughts are about the importance of their feminist identities when it comes to skateboarding, although it’s a black mark against the skating community that they’re having to make these statements at all. Skateboarding has always been counter-cultural, and to see this counter-culture parroting such banal and ignorant normie mantras against feminism is phenomenally disappointing. I’m not saying that skateboarding is going to be the vanguard of the revolution or anything, but the very least the scene can do is provide allyship to marginalised communities, identities and movements.

The harder part is standing up to your mates when they say or do things that make the scene an unwelcoming place, and not just when the girls are around.

Allyship. There’s a lot of talk of it when it comes to discussing ways that men can actually do something to help, but not enough talk of what that means and, as I was recently reminded, “ally” needs to be a verb, not a noun. What can men and boys in the scene do, then, to make the environment a safer and more accepting space for women and girls?

Firstly, obviously, don’t be a dick. No sneering or abuse, no catcalling (I’ve heard it ain’t a compliment) or snide criticism. Who gives a shit how good someone is on their board? When has that ever been a prerequisite for acceptance in the scene (not to mention that plenty of girls who skate are a damn sight better than many of the boys)? But secondly, most importantly, don’t accept any of that from your friends either. The harder part is standing up to your mates when they say or do things that make the scene an unwelcoming place, and not just when the girls are around, don’t let them say that shit when you’re just chatting or hanging out amongst yourselves either.

You don’t have to preach, just have a word, just stop someone short and tell them you don’t want to hear that from them. Make it an unthinking, reflexive part of your attitude to skating (and life) that misogyny is outside the accepted behaviour of your social group. The vital first step has been taken by women like the SLAG Collective and the Reclaim Blackpool movement, but it’s also men who need to get involved and the success of those movements hinges on men learning the lessons that they’re trying to teach.

Women and girls who skate aren’t asking for special treatment, they’re just asking for fair treatment. They’re asking that the welcoming and supportive environment and the respect and solidarity of the community be extended to them too. Long story, short: lads, do better.

Read The Vocal Local: Why we still need to Reclaim SLAG here

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Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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