hey girls, you just ruled yourself out

A town council has decided to fund a skate jam, but every single person on the promotional video for the grant application was male, and there wasn’t a single girl among the “young people” promoting the event. When a local resident (and MSFG supporter!) challenged them on this, this was part of the response:

“…..we are currently auditing the use of existing spaces…we are conscious that some spaces maybe perceived as either for boys or girls and that there is likely some future work to do to ensure that neither girls nor boys rule themselves out of their [sic] use through ‘hidden barriers’.”

A few things to unpick. First the statement that some spaces may be “perceived” as either for boys or for girls. Excellent cognitive dissonance from a council promoting a skate jam by using a video that showed only boys skateboarding.

Second: the idea that there are spaces that are perceived as “for girls”. Where? This is a serious question: the council is saying that some park and similar public places are seen as “space for girls”. We have looked really hard at this town and can’t find such a thing.

Third, the Council’s view that the girls are ruling themselves out. In other words, it is the girls who are at fault for not using the facilities; because they are “ruling themselves out”; if only they would get over this ridiculous behaviour of “ruling themselves out” the problem would be solved. The Council’s commitment to ensure this doesn’t happen signals a commitment to fix the girls. And the attraction of this line of argument is clear: if you try to fix the girls to fit the facilities and the girls refuse to be fixed, then it isn’t your fault right? You can rest assured that spending £250,000 on a skate park was the right thing to do because it wasn’t your fault the girls refused to be fixed.

Fourth, the barriers are “hidden”: are they? Really? Or is it just we don’t want to hear about them. Here are some of the things girls have told us about their experience of parks and skate parks in particular….

……it doesn’t sound nice but boys would sometimes call us ramp tramps…..

….me and my friend had a really bad experience with some younger boys …. when we were trying to skate who hurled abuse (including racial and sexist abuse to my friend) at us and throwing things at us into the bowl which was really quite distressing. We did not leave as we did not want them to think they could bully girls out of the park but at the time it was really scary…..

….The [park] in my village I never went because I didn’t feel welcome it felt like other people’s space not mine…..

…..I think the sports areas are mainly male dominated which can be intimidating ….

…..[there was] a big skate park so all the boys would be in the skatepark doing BMX’ing and stuff like that but you wouldn’t really go in there you would get looked down on if you didn’t know what you were doing especially if you were a girl they would just tell us to leave….

….if you went you’d feel a lot of tension because the people who could skate and were good at it would just skate all over including your space and just take over….. on the days it was empty we had a lot of fun….

There is nothing hidden here. These barriers are operating in plain sight. And it isn’t a pretty sight.

So perhaps we need to fix some more fundamental things before we try and fix the girls, eh?

2 Responses to “hey girls, you just ruled yourself out

  • Hi both
    You are so right skate parks should be inclusive to all. Who replied to you when you challenged that the video that the young people ,made did not have girls in it? The positive and diverse young people who were driving this project certainly did not reply…..
    I am the proud feminist mother of one of the boys who started the project for a new skate park. Our daughter is a keen (now an adult) skater, so i understand the barriers faced. I also happen to be a Social Work manager working with some of the most vulnerable young people in the UK. The project team involves both genders, and i can speak of the young people working on this project, all aware and wanting the skate park to be an inclusive space. In the day of skate park video, you can see the diversity of those currently using the skate park, younger and older girl skaters. I agree the barriers are not hidden and there is always of course much more work to do. We hope that in this progressive town the young people will get their skate park and that it will be a safe and inclusive space for all. Everyone involved understands that this takes work and does not just happen organically.

  • Hi Sal,

    Thanks for your response! I am sorry it has taken so long to come back to you. For some reason your reply only popped up this morning, even though I can see you commented 3 weeks ago. Ah, technology!

    We couldn’t agree with you more…making space for girls takes work- it doesn’t just happen organically. And fantastic that you have a team behind your project that are so committed to creating a space that works for girls as well as boys. The team’ll want to know if they’ve succeeded, so I guess the starting point is to get some base line data: what’s the gender mix on the park at the moment. If it’s any help, there is a good methodology called SoParc which provides template for measuring park usage (see link: https://activelivingresearch.org/soparc-system-observing-play-and-recreation-communities) Getting this base line data might also help with any funding bids because you could make a positive out of the fact that your project is specifically trying make a skatepark that is welcoming to girls. And having before/after data will enable you to demonstrate your outcome. We’ve also got resources on our website about consulting with girls, and we are always looking to find examples of good practice. So we’d love to hear about the routes your team uses to talk to girls and young women who don’t currently use the skatepark and what would change this.

    Good luck and we’d love to hear how your team gets on!

    Imogen; trustee Make Space for Girls.

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