Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

A while back, I promised more about female Iranian motocross riders Noora Naraghi and Behnaz Shafiei.  Today I’m delivering with some bonus information about women learning to surf there.  The action sports scene is going strong, and these women are not letting patriarchal rules hold them back.

In 2009, along with eight other women (including her mother), Noora Naraghi competed with the men and rode out in front for the women. She competed against her mom, seven other women, and men in the MX2 division.  Her entire family rides, and her husband is stoked about the achievements she has made.  Noora set her sights on the U.S., and in 2010, she got her AMA license (the first Iranian to do so) and competed races stateside.  She worked with top female racers Stefy Bau and Ashley Fiolek while here and has taken the new knowledge to coach more women in Iran.

By Caren Firouz/Reuters

Behnaz Shafiei‘s career is full of firsts as well.  This year, she hosted and won Iran’s first female-only race.  She has also received support from family and strangers alike.  As evident with the New York Times article my friend showed me, Behnaz is gaining a lot of attention worldwide.  She even has a commercial for Georg Jensen.  Her trip to the U.S., however, taught her the need for sponsorships and licensing to compete abroad, and she is currently raising money through a gofundme to pursue her dreams.

Going from the desert to the ocean, French surfer and filmmaker Marion Poizeau introduced the sport to Iranian women four years ago.  The idea was somewhat of a coincidence, as it was a male friend who wanted to explore the untouched surf of Iran.  He missed his flight, and Marion and the third member of their party decided to make it a girls’ trip.  The locals became interested.  When she returned in 2013, she connected with two female Iranian athletes, Mona Seraji and Shalha Yasini, thus beginning “We surf in Iran” classes.

By Marion Poizeau

Coming full circle, Noora posted on her Instagram about a surfing instructor course.  Iranian women are probably embracing other action sports, as evident with Ana Lily Amirpour’s vampire skater girl protagonist in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.  Let’s hope these women keep ripping and pushing for more freedom, just like their American counterparts.

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I’ve seen a few of posts on my Facebook feed featuring women in action sports.  A couple of them even tie into a “Feminism in Action (Sports)” post I am planning to write.  It’s really heart-warming to see female action sports athletes get exposure and my friends championing it.

One that particularly tugged at my heartstrings was a BuzzFeed Canada story that a friend shared.  Jeanean Thomas posted a letter on Twitter to the young man who helped teach her daughter how to skate.
 photo CQ_yKFXUwAEeVhf_zpsaojfjllm.png

This is a perfect example of what feminism is.  Jeanean get mega props for letting her daughter know that she has equal  right to be at the skatepark.  The young man was a wonderful ally by going above and beyond to help out this beginner skater even though he was made fun of.  We need to be commending guys like him, not teasing him.  This is how a girl or a boy will develop skills and a new love for skateboarding.  When I was her daughter’s age, I had the same reservations about going to the skate park and thus never went due to lack of support.  As a result, I never went and grew frustrated with learning how to skate.  Maybe others aren’t as easily discouraged, but Jeanean’s daughter got a confidence boost through a kind individual extending a helping hand and not discriminating against her age, skill, and gender.

Another skating post appeared the other day.  My co-worker shared this striking photo, and I knew it had to be the work of Skateistan.
 photo 12278839_10205313294543871_1511743250074323011_n_zpsq5zpyw8h.jpg By Jake Simkin

It’s a non-profit that uses skateboarding to empower youth in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa.  It has particularly reached out to Afghani girls who cannot ride bikes or participate in sports.  I’ll be going in depth into Skateistan in a later post, but I had to share this photo along with my co-worker’s comment that it’s evidence that “people are the same all over the world”.  It’s a message of particular importance in these recent trying times.

Finally, another friend shared a “Women in the World” feature on Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei. I’ll be writing more about her and Noora Moghaddas in a later post too, but they’re badasses for essentially breaking the law to do what they love.  Feminism often involves taking risks, and women like Behanz certainly are with the hopes that there will be more equality in the future.
 photo slack-imgs-1-com_zpsp1msdvgz.jpeg Photo from The New York Times

I’m still riding the high from the X Games Aspen, and I am eager to write my recap.  However, there is a more important topic at hand that needs to be addressed: sexual harassment.  It is a big problem everywhere. I’ve encountered it in high school, in college, at burlesque shows while dressed in lingerie, at anime conventions dressed in business casual, from strangers, from friends, and from authority figures. Therefore this is not something snowboarders are exempt, and that is what enrages some of us about the Arthur Longo video that YoBeat posted.

It’s hard to speak out when you’re in the minority. It’s even harder when women in other male-dominated industries have received rape and death threats for taking a stand against sexism and harassment (see Anita Sarkeesian and Lindy West). Therefore I want to commend two people who took a stand against Arthur’s video.

One reader decides to confront YoBeat about the problematic video.  Her letter is passionate, as sexism is a huge issue in snowboarding (and everywhere else).  She points out that lack of indication that there was any consent.  Maybe if the video had included a message about how everybody in here was a willing participant and that you shouldn’t try this without consent, there would not be as much outrage.  That wasn’t the case.  The writer expresses disappointment that a publication with a female editor-in-chief would promote a video that treats women like crap for clicks and giggles.  I share her feelings and am further disappointed because YoBeat chose to publish the letter with such a dismissive tone and not address the issue hand.

I first heard about it through the blog What It’s Like To Be a Beginning Snowboarder When All of Your Friends Aren’t.  I commend Kate for showing solidarity and reminding the community to lose archaic attitudes about harassment.    It doesn’t matter how much we admire Arthur Longo; it’s not a compliment to be touched inappropriately by a pro snowboarder or anybody else.  Something else Kate points out is the possibility of being labeled as an “angry feminist” for her post.  Although I embrace the title (because women have a right to get mad), I don’t approve of it being used to silence voices that deserve to be heard.  Women are seriously concerned about sexual harassment, and we should listen.

Regardless of intent, the video and YoBeat‘s response to criticism did harm by making the slopes less safe for women.  We need to remember that there are underage riders even at the pro levels, and so not only do we need to protect them, we need to teach them how to respect their fellow riders, no matter what their gender.  It’s okay to have fun, but not at the expensive of others.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for Oakley’s Snowboarding: For Me airing on ABC tomorrow.  At the same time, I’m totally okay missing it due to the lack of ladies in the film.  Oakley has female snowboarders on its team, and while I understand that not everybody can be featured, the documentary approach of the movie make it seem like a glimpse of the community.  Except it doesn’t show any of the top female riders, who deserve as much air time. Moreover seeing a female face will inspire young girls to pick up snowboarding (and companies like Oakley will profit from the new cusstomers).

This makes me thankful that snowboarding has individuals like Danyale Patterson, “Queen of the Too Hard Empire”.  As stated in her recently funded Kickstarter, her Too Hard series is “a [women’s] snowboard project completely run by women snowboarders”.  Danyale and the other JibGurlz prove that female riders aren’t timid, and they are willing to take matter into their own hands to make their own movies. Here is the latest, Too Hard: Tres Hard.

Tres Hard from danyale patterson on Vimeo.

For something that delves more into the mind and lives of female snowboarders, there is Burton’s 2013 WOMEN [SNOWBOARDING]. This is what I imagined Snowboarding: For Me would be like if it consisted of all women although the film does not go nearly as deep in the commentary as I would have liked. It could have had the riders talk more about their inspirations, their struggles, and their goals and less about being “one of the guys”. While that may be the reality of snowboarding and equality is what feminism is about, we don’t want girls to think that they need to hang with the guys or have their approval (just look at the Jib Gurlz). Nevertheless, I’m glad Burton attempted to put the spotlight on their female riders (next time, maybe they could get a full length feature?).

I’m sad that both of these films are under half an hour and will not get the exposure that Snowboarding: For Me will get. Their existence, however, is a shining beacon for feminism in action sports. The women are doing stuff—great stuff—in terms of riding hard, getting it recorded, put out there. We’re hearing their voices, and hopefully more of that will happen in the future because snowboarding is for everyone.

As I was writing my posts about the need for more feminism in action sports, I realized that I could do something about it. Even though I am just a fan, I can use this blog as a platform to promote female athletes who get ignored by big events and to provide resources to girls like me when I started watching the X Games. I decided to kick this new series off with MAHFIA TV not only because I was inspired after featuring Kim Woozy’s TEDTalk, but also because the site is a perfect example of how we can make action sports more feminist.

Kim, a snowboarder, founded MAHFIA TV with video producer Jonathan Villegas after she and some fellow female athletes noticed the lack of media outlets promoting what they do. With the mantra “killin’ it softly”, the site features photos and videos of ladies shredding from Spain to Korea, South Africa to Austin, Texas during the X Games.

mahfiatvphoto

Vanessa Torres. By Nam-Chi Van and Kim Woozy

As a truly comprehensive platform for women in the action sports community, MAHFIA TV brings in other elements of the industry, like music and marketing. Through her MAHFIA SESSIONS series, Kim continues to the conversation on the need for more brands for women, by women in action sports with an emphasis on action (as opposed to posing) and camaraderie.

Check out these interviews with Kim about MAHFIA TV:
GrindTV – “Kim Woozy changing the game for girls in action sports”
Cooler – “This Is Me: Kim Woozy”

This post is a continuation of the discussion on sexism in action sports.  Click here for part 1.

When I first got into action sports, I adopted some of the culture’s misogynistic attitudes without being fully aware of it.  After all, I vehemently supported the idea that a female FMX rider could rise among the ranks of the best.  However, I still joined in the shaming of girls who seemed to be into the sport for the guys.  It’s much like the “fake geek girl” attitude I’ve seen in nerd culture, where attractive women are judged automatically.  Even though no one wants disingenuity, it’s not up to us to determine who is “real” without getting to know them.  Plus action sports wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without the casual fans.  I was lucky to have joined FMX forums run by women in the industry; plus I gave off the little sister vibe.  How we look (or are perceived to appear) shouldn’t matter, but it does.

This brings me to Kim Woozy’s TED Talk:

She made me think about the mixed reactions female action sports athletes have gotten for posing nude for ESPN the Magazine‘s Body Issue.  I am all for anyone embracing their bodies, and nudity shouldn’t be a big deal.  Plus the Body Issue does a great job of highlighting different sizes, shapes, and skin tones, as well as “imperfections” like tan lines and scars.  Nevertheless, Kim and Jen Hudak make good points in their criticisms of sexy shoots.  Why do those get more attention than actual achievements?

One of my friends posted a link on Facebook about the Body Issue, praising the use of Prince Fielder on the cover.  Someone had commented that women don’t seem to get the same treatment, citing Jamie Anderson’s cover.  While the photo of Jamie perfectly captures her spirit and personality, I had to partly agree with the comment.  Jamie’s looks are irrelevant, but the artistic choice for the photo is something to question.  She’s posing (in kind of a stereotypical modeling way too), not snowboarding.  Contrast that with the shot of Coco Ho.  It’s dynamic and more inspiring.

Jamie Anderson.  By Peggy Sirota/ ESPN the Magazine

Jamie Anderson. By Peggy Sirota/ ESPN the Magazine

Coco Ho.  By Morgan Maassen/ ESPN The Magazine

Coco Ho. By Morgan Maassen/ ESPN The Magazine

Now I don’t fault Jamie since she was not in charge of the shoot, but I hope ESPN the Magazine will consider how they depict their cover models (it’s worth noting that the other female cover model, Venus Williams, was also posing and didn’t even have a racket).

Another thing that bothered me about the Body Issue was the behind-the-scenes footage of Travis Pastrana and Lyn-Z Adams Pastrana.  First, I wish Lyn-Z was skateboarding instead of riding in the back.  I know the artistic director probably wanted a fun couple’s shot, but it sends the message that Lyn-Z’s career takes a backseat.  On top of that, they captured Travis joking about how he got to see his “wife’s tits all day”.  Although I’m sure Lyn-Z was not offended by the comment, it’s still derogatory and inappropriate to air.  It reinforces the idea that looks are the most important thing for a girl and disregards the struggles Lyn-Z has faced as a female skateboarder.  I’m very disappointed in both ESPN and Travis Pastrana.

These are little things that have a major impact.  They contribute to the misogyny that women in action sports (whether they are athletes, industry folks, or fans) face.  When male skaters and riders call each other “pussy” or “bitch”, they are associating femininity with weakness.  That, in turn, alienates the women who are already fighting this double standard of having to be attractive to get attention but not too pretty to where they won’t be taken seriously.  One thing I disagree with Jen on her critique of sexy shoots is how much it will injure a female athlete’s career. It’s less about the photos themselves (because after all, we remember the achivements of Danica Patrick and Elena Hight) and more about that ridiculous double standard and the constant objectification of women by the media and even by their peers. Who cares if some of us wear no make-up and have grease stains on our clothes while others of us wear heels on weekends and are willing to pose nude? Our love of actions sports should be what matters, and until that is the case, I will not stop fighting for more feminism in the culture.

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.