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excerpt from
"The subculture of skateboarding: Beyond social resistance"
written by Becky Louise Beal

Males represented 90% of the participants in this subculture of skateboarding. In a subculture that does promote stereotypically feminine values, it appears odd that there are not more females participating. One of my formal questions addressed female participation. The responses generally reflected the dominant ideology that males and females have different social roles, and that sport, and by extension skateboarding, is a male domain.

While talking with the skateboarders, I commented on the lack of female participation and asked their opinion about why it occurs. Most males were taken back and they spent time reflecting on it (as if they had not given it much thought before), and their explanations ranged from describing "natural" differences to social preferences of males and females. All the females discussed the issue directly and with depth, and it is my interpretation that they thought about this often. For both males and females the sex-segregation of skateboarding was typically justified as a reflection of feminine and masculine behaviors. Even though the skateboarding does not reflect mainstream masculinity, skaters defined skateboarding as a masculine practice. Therefore, they explained the lack of female participation as a natural inability or as a choice of women not to skate. It appeared that dominant ideology of sex- typed behavior was an assumption of these skaters.

None of the skaters I met would consciously or deliberately exclude women from skating, as reflected by Philip's statement:
Well, the first time you set up boundaries it's like the first nail in the coffin, when you say well no more skating in the street or no more skating for women, that's just saying, well we can't go any further with skating, it stops you as far as, you know, "only guys can skate and that's it." I really don't think anybody wants to limit it, especially skaters.

Skaters expressed the assumptions that women either exclude themselves by choosing not to skate (act masculine) or that women naturally would not be interested in skating (in acting masculine). These unconscious assumptions affect how skaters treat and relate to females and males which effectively maintains sex-segregation. It is my contention that these assumptions specifically affected how this predominately male subculture related with females, and therefore, affected female participation. These males did not relate to females as equals, they commonly viewed females as significantly different and especially as an object to view and as a sexual partner. Females were not described as equal partners in the male domain of physicality. The following categories reflect the varying assumptions of male and female behavior as a means to explain the lack of female participation, All of these assume that females are naturally "feminine," and choose to act accordingly. The bruising of one's body demonstrates a traditional masculine characteristic of risking bodily injury. Most males flaunted their bruises, and often proudly told stories of past injuries. Overall, the skaters did not associate courageous injury as a feminine (and therefore, female) attribute. I also feel that these males thought that bruises did not look good or "appropriate" on females which reflected their expectations of females as much (if not more) as females expectations of themselves.

Feminine Natural Aptitudes

A few skaters contended that women do not skate because they do not have the natural abilities. Paul, an 18 year old skater, strongly believed that: "Certain groups of people have innate abilities." He defended this position by stating that his dad could get on a skateboard "right now" and ride, where as his mother could not keep her balance. When skaters made these claims, I challenged them. Paul revised his statement to, "girls do not seem to try to skate."

Eric also believed that females are not inherently capable of skating as well as males: "it takes too much coordination for a girl, and it's too aggressive." When I commented that girls have traditionally been viewed as excelling in sports that require balance and coordination (e.g., gymnastics, figure skating), he modified his statement in a similar manner to Paul's; that girls do not try.

Feminine Social Practices

Most of the skaters presumed that males and females have different social roles or practices. Doug replied to my question of what is a cool skater by stating, "Someone who is not ashamed of it. They don't hide it in the closet around their girlfriends." The statement reflects the assumption of different social realms for males and females; skaters are male (assuming heterosexuality), and females are not typically exposed to skating. I then asked directly about female participation, and Doug responded, "there's not nearly as many, it's too bad." He seemed sincere, so I commented on the idea that it appeared to be an open sport, and he replied: "Ya, but it's also pretty aggressive, kinda, I mean, there's that end of it, it kind of looks aggressive maybe, and women don't get into it." This switch in mid- sentence from a natural difference ("but, it's also pretty aggressive") to a matter of choice ("it kind of looks aggressive, and women don't get into that") was a typical response. I interpreted him as saying: it's not that women can't be aggressive, but it's that they choose not to. either way, woman are relegated to a different social realm; they could choose differently but it's not in their nature to do so.

Males did not expect masculine behavior from women, and therefore did not interact with females in such a way as to encourage it. Tim stated that his sister wants to skate but, "she would rather spend her time doing her hair or talking on the phone." Brian commented on female interests: "No, um, I'm not too sure why girls don't skate, maybe because they are so interested in other things like going to the mall and hanging out with friends, their friends don't skate-" Jeff, an 18 year old skater, described the lack of female participation as a social choice of females:

Not as many women take an interest in it, it's not intended to be a sexist point of view or anything, but I don't know if women take as much interest in it, maybe it's that, or maybe it's that women prefer to pursue other sports. Maybe it's just a male dominated sport like football is, I don't know, I don't think it is, I don't see any reason why women shouldn't be able to skate.

Many of skaters saw no physical or tangible barriers to females' involvement, and therefore assumed that females must freely choose not to be involved. Other skaters were aware of social forces that may hinder females from skating such as lack of other female participants and lack of peer support. Rarely did the male skaters ever consider their behavior as a reason why females did not participate more regularly.

Through my interviews I became aware that males thought of the female skater as an exception. Moreoften, they commented about females as playing a marginalized role in the subculture of skateboarding. "Skate Betties" is the name given to most females associated with skating. Skate Betties are female groupies whose intentions (according to males) are instrumental: to meet cute guys and associate with an alternative crowd. Females are not perceived as expressive or fully engaged in the values of the subculture. In essence, they are commonly perceived as posers. Doug, a 25 year old skater, explained skate Betties in this way:
They do it because they want to meet cute guys, or their boyfriends do it. It's the alternative crowd; it's like the girls that are kind of into alternative music and that stuff, and kind of skating goes along with it, not as much punk, but not mainstream, and um, they like the clothes; it's a cool look, I think it's a cool look.

Male skaters often labeled females who were attempting to skate as "Betties." James was describing two women he knew that skated: "they were like skating Betties, you know, you always saw them downtown trying to skate around." The last phrase "trying to skate around" is derogatory statement with the assumption that these females could never fully be skaters. Brian, a 13 year old, illustrates the marginalization that many females who try to skate face. I had asked him if "girls get into skating." He replied, "Oh, sometimes, there are girls that like skaters, like they hang out, but they don't really, they aren't like, they just try to balance on the board." Females efforts were often belittled. Philip stated, "there were some girls at my school that used to skate but they weren't, I don't know, I guess they just didn't quite have the dedication for it."

These comments illustrate the assumption that females are not capable or dedicated enough to be true skaters. Male skaters tend to lump all females into the marginalized role of a "skate Bettie:" an instrumental role, and a role that looks to the male for identity. A skate Betty's only identity is her association with, not participation in, the subculture. In addition, skate Betties are frequently seen as a reserve stock of girlfriends, similar to the cheerleading role women play in mainstream sport. As Mark stated: "some skaters think women are only there when you get done with skating."

It is my contention that males act on the assumptions stated above: that males are potential skters and females are potential posers. The actions derived from those assumptions affect female participation. Females do not feel as welcomed to the subculture. Some of the following comments from the female skaters illustrate this differential treatment.

Differential Treatment of Females

Pamela, and 18 year old skater, described her barriers with male skaters. She felt that she had to be a better skater than males in order to be accepted by them.
With my friends they look at me as just one of the guys, that was fine, now when you go skating and meet new people you pretty much have to prove yourself and they say, "oh, a girl skater she probably can't do anything," so you, you got to pull off a bunch of tricks and then they say, "oh, oh, she's pretty cool." That pretty much breaks the ice if you show your skill...If you don't prove yourself you get hassled.

She followed that statement by saying guys don't have to prove themselves like girls do in order to be accepted. Once she proved herself, she did feel accepted. Acceptance based on being "one of the guys" reinforces that females and femininity are not accepted, it is only when females prove their masculinity (one of the guys) that they are accepted within the subculture of skateboarding.

For Shelley, this meant that she actually split her personality in two parts: masculine and feminine. When she skates she "stops thinking like a girl" and then she can do better. While she skates she wants to be treated like "one of the guys;" she doesn't want to "be scammed on." Then she stated, after she skates she can get "dressed up." While she skates she thinks in a masculine manner, and after she skates she can be feminine. Her statement also implies that part of being feminine is to be open to being scammed on, to being viewed as a sexual object -- to "dress up."

The perceived masculine domain of skateboarding is reflected in the perceived masculinization of females through participation in skating: females become "one of the guys." Francis, an 18 year old male skater, portrayed another facet of this masculinization: "you don't want your girlfriend to skate, but it's cool for others [females]." He could not explain why he felt this way, but it is my contention that these males could not conceive of being intimate with someone else they perceived to be masculine. Part of being treated as one of the guys means that female masculinity is accepted, but this often means that males would not consider being physically intimate with a masculine female. This may partially explain why Shelley divided her personality into a skater who would not be "scammed on," and someone who could "dress up" after she skates.

Grace, a 21 year old skater, also stated that her acceptance was based on beinq masculine because "skating is perceived as unfeminine." Therefore, when she skates she is "one of the guys." She stated that males "feel threatened by her," and thus treat her differently. For example, they are more concerned when she falls, and more enthusiastic when she learns tricks which do not warrant the enthusiasm. Her male friends tend to be overprotective which annoys her.

The bonding that does occur in the subculture of skateboarding happens more immediately for males than females. Males are assumed to be potential skaters, and females are assumed to be potential posers. As described above, males unconsciously create barriers through this assumption. These assumptions of sex difference created barriers to female participation, which effectively promoted the reification of sex difference through the maintenance of social boundaries. Females are accepted once they prove themselves by overcoming these barriers. As noted in the previous chapter, females enjoy skating for the same reasons that males do. Yet, two of the females described feelings of isolation. Grace specifically stated that she gets lonely as a female skater. Shelley indirectly addressed this when she said that she gets support from males, but she really gets psyched when she sees a video with a "girl" skater in it. These feelings of isolation reflect a lack of complete acceptance into the subculture.


Skateboarding is a typical female model of sport: it is cooperative, anti-competitieve, a means of self-expression, a means of self-control, it lacks rules, and it lacks a hierarchal structure. In addition, the skills involved are typically seen as feminine such as grace, coordination, and balance. It is not a sport that is based on muscle-bound power. Yet, this subculture is overwhelmingly male. The males in this subculture define its practice as masculine. In a creative way, skateboarding represents a different practice of masculinity; it strongly devalues the role of domination through competition. This type of masculinity is worth celebrating.

A contradiction arises when skateboarding becomes a sex-segregated physical activity. Males claiming skateboarding as masculine practice is derived from the exclusion of females (and thus, femininity). Masculinity may become re-defined, but it still is based on a segregated and dominant role over females. Females' role in skateobarding is comonly marginalized, and the few who are accepted are the exception for they display (uncharacteristically of females) masculine behavior. In this manner, sport remains a male preserve through the exclusion of females and the redefinition of masculinity.

On one level skateboarding displays resistance by re-defining masculine behavior. On another level, it reproduces patriarchy. What is essential for the maintenance of patriarchy is creating different social realms for males and females, and marginalizing the female realm. Skaters do this by redefining masculinity which reserves skateboarding as a male realm. They also act in subtle ways which discourages female pparticipation by initially treating them as incapable or unwilling to be involved in skateboarding.

Tell us what you think about this. Why do YOU think there aren't more girls skateboarding?


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