I’ll not lie- when I approached the task of researching material for this blog, I rather naively hopped onto Google and slammed in a few keywords that I thought would bring some results. #Women #sports #action #best.
Whoops. Turns out that was a mistake. Instead of the satisfying click through to a relevant article, my screen was filled with the titles ‘HOTTEST women in action sports!’/ ‘best female snowboarders, STRIPPED!!’ Yeah, I quickly hit the back button about a million times before I caused a scandal in the cafe I was sitting in…
It’s 2016. So, what? I hear you ask.
Let me repeat that: It’s two-thousand-and-sixteen. 2016. It’s been 98 years since women were granted the vote, 116 years since women were allowed to compete in the Olympics, we’ve had a female Prime Minister, and it looks like the first ever female President of the United States could be just around the corner. Throughout the last century gals have been smashing achievements and glass ceilings not only in politics, but in science, business, religion, education, literature, music, art, and last but not the least, sport.
It’s been a steady uphill battle for women trying to get the right recognition and attention that they deserve for their sporting disciplines, but here we sit in 2016 and we are definitely getting there. Something about the This Girl Can campaign that burst onto the scene in 2015 in a giddying blaze of pink and shameless girl power can be seen embodied in the changing attitudes towards women’s sports. Tip of the cap to you, Sport England, for your campaign has done an absolutely terrific job of bringing girls and women out of their shells and onto the footie pitch/ into the gym/ diving into the pool and so forth.
Let’s talk about women’s action sports for a second (my favourite subject to talk about after 3 glasses of wine). You know what the number 1 thing in the world that makes me angry is? Well, it’s a tie between flatmates drinking all the milk when you really want a cuppa, and inequality. I took a moment to watch the short film and read the article on the NY Daily News blog, Best surfer in Brazil rejected by brands, told she’s not pretty enough for sponsorship, and it made me so… uncomfortable just realising that this kind of shameless inequality has been continuing to exist just below the surface. I’m not going to foolishly pretend that I am shocked that things like this happen because I know, and I am fully aware that somewhere, on some level this kind of inequality is rife. It’s not the sort of everyday sexism that sits on the surface of an industry like favouring a male CEO over a perfectly capable female CEO, this is something that goes on behind in the scenes. We don’t hear much about this kind of thing simply because the camera and microphones are never pointed in the direction of the underdog girls without the sponsorship. And how do women get the sponsorship? Well, it seems like the old slogan ‘sex sells’ still hangs over the industry like a bad smell.
If I haven’t painted you a word picture already, then I’ll spell it out- the action and extreme sports industry is still something of a boys club. It’s marketed towards blokes, and still favours the aesthetically appeasing athletes over the regular Marjorie’s who have equal, if not more talent to boot. Anyone who looks into the recent exploits of Lindsey Vonn online or in magazines will probably find more content on her nude bikini shoot that was on the front cover of Sports Illustrated, than her sporting achievements (gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, winning the FIS Alpine World Cup 3 years in a row, smashing numerous records… just to name a few).
The issue goes beyond the fundamental sponsorship and presentation of women in action sports- the amount of attention that is directed towards the actual women’s heats and finals isn’t great either. Only recently, and by ‘recently’ I mean the last few months (December 2015, to be precise) has English Surfing Federation announced that they’re now offering the same prize cash for men and women. Up until this point, the prize for men was £1,000 and a piss-taking £500 for women. And it doesn’t stop there either: Cori Schumacher cracked some light on the fact that women’s surfing heats are held in inferior conditions to the men’s, as outlined in her blog And what of the current state of women’s pro surfing?
I think it goes without saying that everyone’s beginning to get a little bit fed up of this sexist, backwards attitude that still seems to be stuck in the 90’s and early 00’s. A bit like that miserable guy in his late 30’s who thinks he’s ‘still got it’. It’s not funny anymore, it’s just sad. Referring back to my earlier point, it’s 2016 and attitudes have got to change to keep up.
Thanks to the rise of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and last but not the least, Youtube, girls have taken their promotion into their own hands and brands and sporting labels can no longer brush it under the carpet that there is some serious talent lurking in women’s action sports, sitting there like an untapped oil well.
They can’t really use the same old excuse that women’s heats and competitions just aren’t as exciting as the men’s. From Vines and Instagram clips, to producing their own short films, statistics have proven over and over again that there is an enormous market for women’s action sports, and it is slowly emerging and picking up momentum by the minute. And, you know what? To hell with the stats! Sometimes you just need to watch a good women’s freeskiing video to see where I’m coming from. There is no real way of explaining how I felt when I watched the Unicorn Picnic: Pretty Faces short movie except (below)… ‘girlgasm’ (noun: the overwhelming sense of shameless pride when you see your sisters from other misters acing it in the park. Okay, I made this word up, but shh…).
Girl groups across the UK, USA and beyond are elbowing their way into the action sports scene like never before. SheFreeSkis is the UK hub for all lady freeskiers and has recently hit 1,003 likes (woo!) and athletes like UK Olympic star Aimee Fuller with her Red Bull sponsorship are carving fresh new lines for girls with girls-only snowboard nights at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead.
Sam Haddad does raise a pretty good point in her article on Mpora Scene Stealers: Why women’s skateboarding is more punk than men’s when quoting the founder of Girls Skate Jam, Jenna Shelby: ‘Skate parks are great places but can be daunting, even for the most foolhardy female when you’ve got 30 lads flying around’, and from this perspective, getting more women onto the action sports scene is going to take a little collective work from both sides.
Plenty of guys who I’ve rubbed shoulders with during my travel adventures (as few as they may be, I am restricted to writing about ski, snow and mountains from behind my desk in Surrey *sigh*) have bemoaned the lack of girls in the park. Whether or not that’s just the lonely mating call of a male park rat who probably hasn’t seen or engaged with a female all season is open to debate, but there seems to be a genuine interest from all parties to get more girls onto the scene.
Going bravely where not many girls have gone before is anxiety inducing at the very bottom level, but bit by bit we’re chipping away at that stony ‘no girls allowed’ exterior and with a push, and a bit of a positive and This Girl Can attitude the number of women in action sports will steadily continue to increase. And with numbers, the playing field should hopefully begin to even out.