You’ve seen them in your neighborhood. Girls who skateboard on their driveway for a few minutes then retreat back into the house. Usually in pairs. Or worse, the girls you see sitting around at the skate parks, you guessed it, watching the boys and not skating.
Girls are socialized to do and be many things these days. But let’s face it: by the time middle school rolls around, most girls are scurrying back into the cultural molds we build for them. And no matter how egalitarian our culture has become, today’s molds tend to be hyper-sexualized, and more based upon attitude and appearance than substance and skill. In their maturing, some girls turn away from the skills they worked so hard to build before they hit puberty, like athletics, hobbies, and just being themselves.
Small girls get a positive message all the time, one that seems to be “express yourself, be strong, be athletic.” And to be fair, they are more receptive to it than their teenage counterparts.
Then comes puberty. Some girls, not all, lose their willingness to be “out there” and to be seen as competing. They have learned to drop back and let the boys compete with each other. To succeed in this culture of older boys, a teen girl needs to be willing to develop a thick skin. It’s no longer an encouraging environment. So, being socialized to be team players and encouragers, many girls give up skating altogether.
The other part of this withdrawal may be due to the culture of skating itself. Perhaps parents don’t encourage their girls to skate and girls don’t embrace it because media targeted at skaters tends to be macho, counter-cultural, and drug/alcohol-focused. Pick up any skateboarding magazine at the bookstore and you can clearly see this trend. If women are seen at all in some of these popular magazines, it’s usually in the advertisements.
Some boarders embrace this image. Not generally a culture you want your pretty 12-year-old daughter to be a part of. And let’s face it: a small percentage of skaters are not very good citizens. There are laws against skateboarding in my town because some boarders are destructive of property, and not careful around pedestrians and cars. I (roller) skate, and I see some of the best skating surfaces in town (big parking lots mainly) off limits to any sort of wheels. We have one skate park here in Edmonds: it’s outdoors here in the great northwest where it rains most of the year, and it’s generally not populated with skaters. So if you want to skate here on a rainy day, you have to drive to an indoor park.
Change the culture
So what’s a girl to do? Luckily, there are girls’ skating organizations around the country that offer events, contests, prizes, road trips to other skate parks, and summer camps. If your girl loves skating but tends to shy away from the skate park, check out a girls’ organization. It takes some driving and coordination on the part of parents, but these groups work hard to encourage girls, and the girls who attend have a great time. In our area, Skate Like a Girl runs a summer camp out of the Bellevue Skate Park, and various weekly events for girl skaters on the west coast (they also have San Francisco and Portland groups). The leaders are highly-skilled, very encouraging young women with a gift for reaching girls. One of their instructors is currently featured in the MTV documentary series, True Life, as a female skater attending the yearly “Skatopia” bash/competition.
Parents can help by taking their girls skating and establishing behavior expectations. Girls can help by skating together for a confidence booster, and creating their own skate culture, which they are already doing. The culture promoted by Skate Like a Girl tends to be strength, athleticism, safety, taking healthy risks, and trying your best. There are a number of skating ‘zines and websites for girls and women. And talk as a family about skating culture, and what works with your family: some skater girls dress in “counter-cultural” attire, some sport hair with colors not found in nature, and some of the older girls are tattooed. Keep in mind that hair color grows out, clothing fads are just that, and after she’s 18, the tattoos are her problem. Girls with pink hair can still be ”A” students. Best of all, this culture is not hyper-sexualized. It’s about strength and skill, not high heels and push-up bras.