Jammy Dodgers

This is not a sentence that I’d anticipated writing as a middle aged woman, but over the last ten days, I’ve been to two different skate jams.  An experience which has been, er, interesting.

If you’ve not come across the idea of a skate jam before, basically people gather at a skate park or ramps to demonstrate their best tricks and compete for prizes.  Only it turns out – and this will come as little surprise to most of you – that ‘people’ actually means boys.

The first was in a small-ish town.  They’d built a new skate park, which had been completed in lockdown and so the skate jam was the rather delayed opening ceremony and part of a bigger park fun day.  Make Space for Girls were there at the invitation of the council to talk to girls about what they liked and didn’t like in the park and what they’d like provided for them.

This bit was great, it was so good after the delays of Covid to be out and talking to teenage girls, who could help the council identify which parts of the park were badly lit and felt unsafe, who explained why they told their younger cousins not to hang out at the skate park and were really, really enthusiastic about both hammocks and social exercise bikes .

The skate jam, however, was another story.  Despite being open access, and in the middle of the day, and surrounded by families watching and eating ice creams, it was almost entirely dominated by boys.  Only one girl took part, and that was in the under-ten scooter competition.  We saw an older girl on a scooter too, and she got as far as lining up with the other competitors.  I talked to her later, and she just shrugged her shoulders and said, oh, there were too many boys.  One other girl turned up with a skateboard but never took part.  So for almost the entire event, there were twelve to eighteen people on the park competing, and every single one of them were boys.

The organiser – who I will call Mr Skate Jam man – appeared to sense there was a problem because when there was a photo-op at the end of the event, he very specifically called over the four girls who’d been watching at one side of the ramp and put them in the photo.  It wouldn’t have looked great without them.  But when he said to the group as they lined up, ‘Remember, skateboarding’s for everyone no matter what your age is,’ he didn’t go on to say, or your sex or gender.

Because at this event it was clear: skateboarding wasn’t inclusive, it didn’t think girls belonged.  

If you want another insight into this mindset, take what happened during the skate jam itself.  Make Space for Girls had our stand next to a local youth charity, and one of their workers took over the skate jam PA for a moment to explain what we were doing and encouraging people to come over and chat.  And when Mr Skate Jam man got back on the microphone, he said ‘Yeah, great.  So if you’re interested in making clothes or baking cakes, go over to Making Space For Girls.’  

I despair.  

I despaired even further having been to the other skate jam.  This was in a larger town, and held later in the day, which makes it gnarlier, in skateboarder parlance.  Gnarlier seems to mean even fewer girls.  Of 50+ who participated in the competition – it was hard to say exactly as they were spread across three different locations and in constant motion, so it’s like trying to count gas particles – there were three girls, all under ten and on scooters. 

A few other girls were there with skateboards but didn’t take part.  One was disappointed because she’d been told there would be a girls’ competition, but there wasn’t.  The competition was ‘open to everyone’.  Which in reality meant that the boys crammed onto the ramps and competed; the few girls who wanted to skate resorted to using the local car parks.   The organiser of the skate jam – Mr Skate Jam man 2 – didn’t seem to find anything amiss in any of this.

I was accompanied by a pair of teenage girls who knew everyone there, so I got to talk to the skater girls and find out their stories.  And there are aspects of skate culture which they really enjoyed, a camaraderie and sense of identity which is reachable if you can get past the boys who call you a poseur – or worse – when you first turn up.  What was also notable is that many of the girls had accessed the culture through boys; for example being taught by a boyfriend or because they were a tomboy and their entire friendship group started skateboarding at the same time.  But what happens if you just want to start skateboarding yourself?  My informants shrugged.  ‘It’s too late.’

I had less fun talking to Mr Skate Jam man 2, who had organised this event to kick off fundraising for a new skate park.  Mr Skate Jam man 2 told me I was wrong to suggest that it might be a good idea to consult with local girls to find out what they would like before spending £350,000 on a new skate park.  Mr Skate Jam man 2 told me that I was wrong because his skate park would to be different; his skate park would build an inclusive community, it was going to bring prosperity to the town, everybody would be welcome. Mr Skate Jam man 2 was quite passionate (!) when he told me that I was wrong to try to deny him this journey.  

I wanted asked Mr Skate Jam man 2 why, if he wanted to be inclusive, he had run a skate jam that had made no effort to encourage girls to participate; I wanted to ask him what his plans were to make this skate park different, how he intended to build an inclusive community, that worked not just for the existing skateboarders but for a much wider group. I wanted to ask him whether he had actually collected any data about the gender break down using the current skatepark so he could see if his ambition to be inclusive had succeeded.  But I couldn’t, because Mr Skate Jam man 2 talked over the ends of all my sentences and never addressed any of the questions I asked him.  I haven’t got to be a middle aged women without learning that some men believe in their god given right to interrupt women (and let’s be honest, Mr Skate Jam man 2 was no Mike Pence) but it is still really annoying.

So it ended up being a pretty unedifying experience of the world of local skateboarding .  And as I went home, I saw two fourteen year old girls, skateboarding together on the far side of the car park, well away from the jam itself.  I asked them why they were all the way over here.  ‘Oh,’ they said, ‘It’s too intimidating.’

images from Wikimedia Commons for anonymity’s sake

2 Responses to “Jammy Dodgers

  • Belinda Gillett
    2 months ago

    Our local skatepark is in a cage behind a hedge, a place designed to create exclusive communities,. It has a plaque saying developing it was funded by a donation/legacy from a woman.

  • Puts head on desk. Weeps.

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