Last month, World of X Games aired a special all about female action sports athletes. It was so refreshing. As of late, the X Games has started to give women the coverage they deserve. . . finally. It was so disheartening to see women’s events diminish throughout the years, and it hurts when my highlights mostly feature men (I think that’s why I started to pay more attention to the winter sports). There is hope though. In addition to the “Women of Action” episode, X Games held a Real Women contest to highlight the athletes who for one reason or another, don’t participate in X. On top of that, female BMX riders were invited to hit the course during one of the practice sessions.
However, we can hope all we want, and that doesn’t change the harsh reality. The on-line “Women of Action” series speaks of a glass ceiling that is found in any male-dominated field, be it science or skating. Then there’s the shameful state of women’s motocross about which I’m glad the TV episode covered. There are many opinions about the issue, but something is wrong when top riders like Ashley Fiolek and Jessica Patterson are dropped by their sponsors because the series promoter has decided to cut pro racing for women. We’ve seen this before, like when Cara-Beth Burnside was dropped by the company that helped her become the first female skater to have her own shoe. Vans won’t even deign to put her on their Legends team despite how much she’s done for the sport, and they’re losing a portion of their customers because of it—and the fact that their designs for women’s shoes have become more stereotypically feminine (we’ll discuss this in part 2).
Speaking of skate legends, check out this TED Talk by Cindy Whitehead.
She highlights the day-to-day issues that women—hobbyists, amateurs, pros, and legends alike—face in doing what they love. The hateful comments and skepticism are what pushed me away from the scene. To this day, I feel self-conscious going to local events. Sexism happens on multiple levels, and it’s so ingrained that the action sports community has to make a hard effort to fight it. Otherwise it will destroy the potential that the sports have to grow while depriving girls of something wonderful.
We’ve seen women ride with the men: Peggy Oki, Fabiola da Silva, Vicki Golden, and Emma Gilmour to name a few. They make the case for an elimination of gendered events, but here’s the problem: sexism is systemic. Male athletes get the coverage and sponsors because they are still the main demographic of action sports fans. As Cindy mentioned, people automatically assume that an action sports athlete is a man. The stereotypes are that ingrained in our minds, as is the idea that women are physically less capable than men.
In the “Glass Ceiling” article, ESPN asks James Riordon if size and strength really affect how much air you get and how many spins you do. His answer: “The discrepancy in upper-body strength isn’t enough to hinder spinning. What it comes down to is there is no physics-based reason why men and women aren’t at the same level, at least not at the top level of the sport.” Maybe there are other physicists who want to refute his statement, but snowboard Kelly Clark, in the same piece, brings up Chloe Kim who evokes comparisons to a young Shaun White.
It is through snowboarding that we see what happens when women are given the chance to show their stuff. The Olympics have really helped with giving them more exposure, and as a result, other events have to follow suit. That leads to increase opportunities, which allows the women push themselves further. Perhaps the brightest beacon comes with Elena Hight’s double backside alley-oop rodeo, the first for a woman or a man and top voted moment in the history of X.
It seems that enough people out there know what a good thing is when they see it, and I’ll hang onto that hope.