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Skateboarding in Dude Space: The Roles of Space and Sport in Constructing Gender Among Adult Skateboarders

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Abstract

This study aims to address how, to what extent, and under what conditions may those who are not cisgendered as male do the work of negotiating access to male sporting space. In doing so, it brings together critical geographies of masculinity and the critical literature on skateboarding to address the role of particular kinds of skateboarding spaces in either reproducing or potentially disrupting gender segregated, patriarchal skateboarding cultures. This project is offered not only to challenge patriarchal practices and values, but also to step beyond theory and actually examine how sport environments might be designed and sited so as to enable a wider range of gender performances and more inclusive spaces. Specifically, my research suggests that certain types of skate environments can somewhat lower women's barriers to entering the gender charged realm of skateboarding if and when those responsible for those spaces take patriarchy and the needs of noncisgendered male skateboarders seriously.
25
ARTICLE
Sociology of Sport Journal, 2017, 34, 25 -34
https://doi.org/10.1123/ssj.2016-0044
© 2017 Human Kinetics, Inc.
The author is with the Department of Geography and Environ-
mental Studies, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.
Address author correspondence to John Carr at carrj@unm.edu.
Skateboarding in Dude Space: The Roles
of Space and Sport in Constructing Gender
Among Adult Skateboarders
John N. Carr
University of New Mexico
This study aims to address how, to what extent, and under what conditions may those who are not cisgen-
dered as male do the work of negotiating access to male sporting space. In doing so, it brings together critical
geographies of masculinity and the critical literature on skateboarding to address the role of particular kinds
of skateboarding spaces in either reproducing or potentially disrupting gender segregated, patriarchal skate-
boarding cultures. This project is offered not only to challenge patriarchal practices and values, but also to step
beyond theory and actually examine how sport environments might be designed and sited so as to enable a
wider range of gender performances and more inclusive spaces. Specically, my research suggests that certain
types of skate environments can somewhat lower women’s barriers to entering the gender charged realm of
skateboarding if and when those responsible for those spaces take patriarchy and the needs of noncisgendered
male skateboarders seriously.
Cette étude a pour but de savoir comment, dans quelle mesure et dans quelles conditions, les personnes
n’étant pas des hommes cisgenres négocient leur accès dans l’univers sportif masculin. Pour ce faire, elle
réunit les géographies critiques de la masculinité et la littérature critique sur le skateboard pour examiner le
rôle de certains univers particuliers de cette pratique dans la reproduction, ou dans l’éventuelle rupture avec
la ségrégation genrée, des cultures patriarcales du skateboard. Le but de ce projet n’est pas seulement de
contester les pratiques et les valeurs patriarcales, mais aussi de dépasser la théorie et d’examiner vraiment
comment les environnements sportifs pourrait être conçus et localisés de manière à permettre une plus grande
variété de performances en fonction du genre et de devenir des espaces plus inclusifs. Plus spéciquement, ma
recherche suggère que certains types d’environnements dédiés à la glisse pourraient contribuer à réduire les
barrières que rencontrent les femmes pour entrer dans la sphère fortement genrée du skateboard si et quand les
responsables de ces espaces prendront sérieusement en compte le patriarcat et les besoins des skatebordeurs
qui ne sont pas cisgenres.
Scenes From a Day in the Life
of a Skatepark
By 6:30AM Sam arrives at an urban skatepark in the US
Pacic Northwest.1 Easing toward 40, he is typical of
many who will use this space today. White, male, father
of two, he often arrives early to have some quiet time
skating before going to his job designing software. A
series of skaters joins him over the next two hours. With
one exception, they are all male, ranging in age from mid-
twenties to early forties. Staying from fteen minutes to
an hour before leaving for work, they briey acknowledge
each other with a nod or a few quick words upon arrival,
and then quietly set about getting in their morning runs.
Exchanging a minimum of words, the skaters tacitly
negotiate the order in which each of them will take their
turn for a run in the bowl that will last anywhere from ten
seconds, to three minutes, ending when the skater soars
up onto the deck or falls down.
This morning the exception to both etiquette and
the preponderance of men at the bowl is a single female
skater, Jessica. She lives nearby and decided to give skate-
boarding a try after watching people skate the bowl. She
has made friends with a couple of the morning regulars,
who have helped her develop some basic skills. When
she falls, she starts her run again. Nobody hurries her,
and only the two skaters she has befriended address her
or take any overt notice of her presence, notwithstanding
the breach of etiquette that her long runs, and resumption
of her run after falling would normally represent. As with
her presence at the park, her departure is—to all outward
appearances—ignored by the four other male skaters
gathered at this point.
26 Carr
SSJ Vol. 34, No. 1, 2017
By 9:30 the bowl is quiet, and for much of the morn-
ing the park sits abandoned. An hour later, two fathers
walk through the park with a group of children between
the ages of four and eight, boys and girls, none of whom
have skateboards. The kids slip into the bowl together,
running around, using the curved walls of the bowl as
a slide, and taking turns riding around the bottom on a
two-wheeled scooter. After fteen minutes they are done.
By 5:00 skaters of a wide variety of abilities, rang-
ing in age from mid-teens to mid-thirties, begin to lter
in. All of them, except for one well-known and accom-
plished skater named Annie, are male. A rotating crowd
that ranges as high a 40 people now develops to watch
the action, including parents with kids and a number of
elderly residents on their way to or from a nearby retire-
ment home. A group of four girls, ranging from 5 to 9
years old, watch with visible excitement when Annie
drops into the bowl to pull a series of expert grinds and
aerial maneuvers.
By 6:30 the tone of the session has changed.
Approximately a dozen highly skilled male skaters—
mostly in their twenties—dominate the action. Pulling
bigger, faster, and more technical moves and more often
wearing extensive tattoos instead of protective gear, they
barely wait for the preceding run to end before dropping
in. While Annie continues to skate, other less-capable
skaters are now holding back. As the session heats up,
emotions run high among those still skating. One skilled
and aggressive skater begins yelling “fuck!” louder and
louder as he repeatedly fails to land a challenging move
that involves soaring several feet up over the deck and
back into the bowl backward. Oblivious to the group
of parents standing a few feet away with half a dozen
children, he continues to bail out of his landing at the
last instant, and then haul himself onto the deck cussing.
After twenty minutes, he retires to the bench to drink a
beer and talk with friends. As evening sets in, the session
cools down and a broader range of skaters participate.
Even so, the only skaters to use the bowl after Annie’s
departure around 7:30 are male.
Introduction
I offer the preceding vignettes from a day in a skatepark
to introduce and frame a number of more broad-ranging
arguments about the nature of gender, public space, and
skateboarding. Skateboarding has long been recognized
as reecting and reproducing patriarchal norms (Borden,
2001; Rinehart, 2005) with skateparks often criticized as
only serving young men (Carr, 2012). Given the increas-
ing number of public skateparks being built not just in
the US but around the world (Howell, 2008), the time
is ripe to evaluate the roles these often publicly funded
sites of sport can potentially play in the reproduction,
complication, and challenging of dominant gender roles.
While my research provides additional evidence that
skate environments—both public and private—are often
intensely male coded and exclusionary, this is only part
of the story. Just as gender is malleable and contingent,
“male spaces” like skateparks are likewise contingent.
This study aims to address how, to what extent, and under
what conditions may those who are not cisgendered as
male do the work of negotiating access to male sporting
space. Such work is essential not only to challenge patri-
archal practices and values, but also to step beyond theory
and actually examine how sport environments might be
designed and sited so as to enable a wider range of gender
performances and more inclusive spaces. Specically,
this project suggests that certain types of skate environ-
ments can somewhat lower women’s barriers to entering
the gender charged realm of skateboarding if and when
those responsible for those spaces take patriarchy and the
needs of noncisgendered male skateboarders seriously.
Contextualizing Skateboarding,
Gender, and Space
This study draws on data from over a decade of partic-
ipant-observation, ethnography, interviews, and textual
analysis to bring two developing literatures into conversa-
tion. The rst is critical geographies of masculinity. This
work explores, “the contested constructions of gender
identities and how these are constructed, negotiated and
contested in different localities or places and how this
changes over time” (Gorman-Murray & Hopkins, 2014,
p. 4). This research traces how gender roles and inequality
are negotiated and reproduced in specic spatio-temporal
contexts, and how those contexts inuence the negotiation
and reproduction of gender roles. The second literature
is multidisciplinary, sharing a curiosity about the spati-
ality of skateboarding. While researchers are beginning
to examine the roles that gender plays in skateboarding
culture, recent work on the geographies of masculinity
calls for a revaluation of ways the production of maleness
is enabled and informed by the spaces and performances
of skateboarding.
Most research addressing the ways sociospatial rela-
tions enact and reinforce gender inequality is rooted in the
traditions of feminist geography, which has “provided the
space, context, approaches and tools for geographers to
critically research and explore the relationships between
masculinities and place” (Gorman-Murray & Hopkins,
2014, p. 3). While the relationship between feminism
and masculinities studies is complex and often fraught,
since the 1980s a number of theorists have argued that
the study of masculinity can provide a productive terrain
within feminism to interrogate problems such as patriar-
chy, heterosexism, and homophobia (Wiegman, 2013).
Under this perspective, “to leave masculinity unstudied,
to proceed as if it were somehow not a form of gender, is
to leave it naturalized and thus to render it less permeable
to change” (Thomas, 2002, p. 61). If research on male-
ness is to contribute to feminist projects, however, it must
address both how masculinity is negotiated and how it
impacts those outside its socially constructed boundaries,
lest such work produce a “feminism without women,
that reies male privilege (Modleski, 1991).
Skateboarding in Dude Space 27
SSJ Vol. 34, No. 1, 2017
Accordingly, researchers have begun to examine the
ways that identities and ideologies of gender are inevitably
linked to sociospatial contexts within which discourses of
power, inequality, and difference are manifested (Carrigan,
Connell, & Lee, 1985). And as the individual traverses
these coded temporal spatialities, the very nature of gender
must be understood as dynamic and unstable. “Since the
performance of masculinity interrelates with space, place,
and time, that is, the same person can reveal a different
kind of masculinity and/or femininity at different times
and in different contexts, it is more appropriate to speak
of masculinities,” (Van Hoven & Hopkins, 2009, p. 492).
I offer this contribution with the belief that, “it is only in
the situated, empirically grounded analysis of actual men
in actual places that we can grasp the shifting dynamics
of [gender] power” (Hopkins & Noble, 2009, p. 813).
Given the emerging understanding of gender as
spatially contingent and uid, there are several reasons
to reevaluate skateboarding and skate spaces as sites
for the interrogation of maleness and its impact on the
“non-masculine.” First, skateboarding is intriguing not
just as sport—long recognized as an essential site for
the construction of masculinity, competitiveness, and
aggression (Matthews, 2016; Messner, 1990)—but as a
particular kind of sport. Like other “alternative” sports
(Laurendeau & Sharara, 2008), skateboarding has long
been positioned by practitioners, critics, and researchers
as transgressive, lawless, and opposed to conventional
competitive athletics (Nolan, 2003), and thus character-
ized by an alternative articulation of masculinity (Beal,
1996, 2001; Karsten & Pel, 2000). Given the widespread
association of skateboarding with resistance to conven-
tion, an investigation into its gendered spatio-temporal
dimensions promises insights into both how masculin-
ity may potentially be transformed, and how alternative
performances of masculinity may reproduce dominant
ideologies of gender.
Secondly, there are few sports where the interre-
lationship between play and place is so intimate. Per-
formances of skateboarding are inseparable from and
always dened by their environments. Skateboarding is
inherently “about” a specic site and its terrain, as no two
skate spots are the same. Moreover, the cultural value and
meaning of a move or trick often depends upon where it
takes place, including whether the site is legal or illegal,
public or private, purpose built or repurposed (Carr,
2010), as well as the location’s history of policing and
regulation, its appearance in skate videos or “parts”, and
the association of prominent skaters with certain features.
Accordingly, skateboarding offers a rich yet understudied
set of environments in which to interrogate the constitu-
tive relations between masculinity, sport, and place.
Third, skateboarding informs and is informed by
transnational media networks through which representa-
tions of skate culture are rapidly disseminated. Thus, an
investigation of skate spaces promises to address Hearn,
Biricik, and Joelsson’s call for geographies that interro-
gate the ways masculinity operates across scales (Hearn,
Biricik, & Joelsson, 2014, p. 37).
An undercurrent of curiosity about gender has
accompanied the rise of critical literature on skateboard-
ing. Perhaps the most sustained focus has been provided
by Beal’s research interrogating gender identity negotia-
tion among skaters (Atencio, Beal, & Wilson, 2009; Beal,
1996; Beal & Wilson, 2004). Arguing that skateboarding
is characterized by “non-hegemonic or alternative form of
masculinity,” Beal highlights the ways skating involves
“participant control, self expression, and open participa-
tion which differ greatly from the hegemonic [patriarchal]
values of adult authority, conformity, and elite competi-
tion” (Beal, 1996, p.205). She acknowledges, however,
how her male respondents “maintained the privilege of
masculinity by differentiating and elevating themselves
from females and femininity” (p. 209). These included
asserting their perceptions of difference between male
and female appearance standards, physical abilities,
and cultural expectations to explain and naturalize the
absence of female skaters in the study area. Although
male skaters denied that skateboarding is a “male only”
activity, these patriarchal discourses directly impacted
Beale’s female interviewees. These young women
uniformly reected upon the many barriers that male
expectations and framings placed upon their participation,
self-presentation, and performance while skateboarding.
Subsequent research has explored the way that gendered
norms within the culture of skateboarding allow male
practitioners to accrue social capital, while marginalizing
female practitioners as less “authentic” (Atencio, Beal,
& Wilson, 2009).
Similar research with young women in British
Columbia, Canada, examines how their experiences as
skateboarders t within feminist frameworks (Kelly,
Pomerantz, & Currie, 2005; Pomerantz, Currie, & Kelly,
2004). These authors argue that the female skaters they
studied created expanded subjectivities for girls that
consciously resist the patriarchal discourses Beal’s young
male skaters reproduced. The authors celebrate their
respondents’ tenacity in working together to develop
their skills and challenging male framings as a form of
feminist activism by which these young women “were
able to resignify what the label ‘skater’ could mean”
(Pomerantz et al., 2004, p. 549).
While such work provides essential empirical and
theoretical insights into the inseparability of gender and
skateboarding, it also leaves important openings for
further investigation. The role of place in constructing,
reinforcing, and/or disrupting gender norms lay outside
these authors’ disciplinary approaches, remaining under-
explored and under theorized. And much prior research
is premised on the existence of a hegemonic articulation
of masculinity—reflecting this framing’s popularity
when much of this literature emerged (Van Hoven &
Hörschelmann, 2005). The current study embraces more
contemporary work recognizing a “plurality of mascu-
linities,” within which “modulations in the gender order,
are arguably intertwined with spatial variations” (Van
Hoven & Hörschelmann, 2005, p. 9). By centering the
fundamental interrelationships between space and gender
28 Carr
SSJ Vol. 34, No. 1, 2017
in keeping with contemporary research in the cultural
geography of sport (Bale, 1996, 1996; Van Ingen, 2003),
this work examines how specic sporting environments
may reinforce certain types of masculinity and potentially
create openings for less patriarchal sporting cultures.
Methodology and Limitations
This study is based on over a decade of research at
skateparks and other skateboarding sites throughout the
US, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand. It incorporates
formal interviews, informal conversations, ethnography,
and participant observation at approximately sixty differ-
ent skateparks, backyard skate features, informal street
“spots,” and ood control ditches. The majority of the
eld observations and interviews this work draws upon
come from an intensive period of study in the Pacic
Northwest of the United States from 2003 through 2008
that continues to the present.
That said, my analysis is limited by the same personal
characteristics that have enabled my entrée into skate
spaces as a researcher, namely my identity as a cisgen-
dered male, white, able-bodied skateboarder. My ability
to comfortably move within and conduct research at these
sites been enabled by my own privilege. And in doing so,
I have tacitly accepted and sometimes reproduced some of
the performances of masculinity that I critique here. My
hope is that the increased access and insight that I gain
from my position as simultaneous insider and critic may
help offset the bias I bring to the study.
Likewise, my pool of respondents—adult, self
identied female and male skateboarders—by deni-
tion imposes limits on this study. I cannot address the
perceptions of young people, beyond the few young
women who have publicly spoken out regarding vari-
ous skatepark projects during my research. Nor can I
address the perspectives of those who have been held
back from even trying skateboarding by its gender
coding. Likewise, I cannot speak to the experiences of
skateboarders who are not cisgendered male or female,
as I have not knowingly encountered any skateboarders
who are “out” as transgender.
The Sites of Skateboarding
The following analysis revolves around a loose tripartite
typology of skateboarding terrain while recognizing that
some skatespots combine aspects of multiple “types.”
Three general genres of skate spaces may be identied
as sharing similar characteristics of ownership, control,
and accessibility. The rst of these are non purpose-built
environments, skated without the permission of their
owners. These can range from neighborhood sidewalks
and downtown stairways to empty swimming pools
and drainage ditches. Skating these environments often
involves infringing upon owners’ property rights to
exclude outsiders (Carr, 2010). These spaces are typi-
cally nonexclusive, unregulated or under-regulated, either
illicit or illegal, and range from the highly visible to the
hidden. The very “transgressive” nature of skating such
spaces has both given skateboarding much of its outlaw
allure and provoked much of the scholarly celebration of
skateboarding as an alternative and disruptive approach
to an urban environment that is increasingly focused on
capital reproduction, place marketing, and the regulation
of young people (Borden, 2001; Mitchell & Staeheli,
2005; Stratford, 2002).
The second type of skate environment consists of
environments privately owned by skaters or businesses
catering to skaters. Most typically these are mini-ramps
or “halfpipes,” simple wooden “U” shaped structures,
although skaters have invested in homes with back-
yard swimming pools, purpose-built skate bowls, and
even “street” style skateparks, sometimes as part of a
commercial venture, or small private club (Dougherty,
2013). These tend to be exclusive, privately regulated,
legal, and out of public sight—although commercially
operated skateparks obviously have a higher level of
visibility. These spaces have largely eluded scholarly
attention likely due to the inherent barriers to researcher
access, as well as their association with private and thus
“non-urban” space.
Finally, there has been an explosion of purpose-built
publicly accessible skate environments, with a tenfold
increase in the US between 1997 and 2008 (Howell,
2008). These range from single skate elements, to larger
simulacra of regular street furniture such as benches and
hand-rails, to massive complexes incorporating a variety
of ramps, bowls, and terrain. They tend to be publicly vis-
ible, nonexclusive, legal, and either state regulated or oper-
ated as part of a nonprot organization such as a YMCA
or church. Such spaces have begun to receive attention
in the planning literatures and in critical urban studies.
Much of the planning literature addresses proper siting,
design, and landscaping for public skateparks to reduce
risks to nonskaters, reecting broader concerns around
order, visibility, and criminality (Freeman & Riordan,
2002; Manchester, 2002; Rankin, 1997; Spohn, 2002). In
contrast, a smaller body of critical work interrogates the
ramications of the state’s creation of skateboarding envi-
ronments in the name of keeping skaters off the streets.
These works range in foci, including studies that explore
the ways skateparks manifest ongoing struggles between
skaters and property owners over access to the city (Carr,
2010), examine the political and generational struggles
that result from different approaches to locating skateparks
(Carr, 2011), and critique the mobilization of skateparks as
tools for the disciplining of young skaters under neoliberal
doctrines of responsibility (Howell, 2008).
Skateboarding, Space and Gender
Patriarchy, Skateboarding, and Space
It is difficult to overstate how much skateboarding
remains an intensely masculine gendered activity, or
the profoundly imbricated nature of space and gender
Skateboarding in Dude Space 29
SSJ Vol. 34, No. 1, 2017
within skate culture (Porter, 2003). While skateboard-
ing culture is not monolithic, there are demographic
and media dynamics that reinforce gender bias among
skateboarders. 83% of all frequent skaters in the US
are male, and 87% of frequent skateboarders are under
25 (SFIA, 2014). Participation rates only tell part of
the story. From the start of its popular growth in the
1970s, representations of skate culture in the media have
expanded along side, and often in advance of skateboard-
ing practices themselves—with many skaters inspired
to try the sport by skate media (Weyland, 2002). And
because skaters typically see competition as antitheti-
cal to the unstructured freedom of skateboarding, skate
media documenting informal, uncompetitive performance
has long been an essential conduit for conveying trends,
personal status, and cultural codes. Such media have long
been a “boys’ club” with women either excluded from
an increasingly transnational, advertiser-driven network
of skateboarding media, or presented through images
that “(a) play on gender stereotypes and the maleness of
sport itself, (b) push toward the objectication of girls
and women as a naturalized stance, [and] (c) pander to
a sexual-object view of women that is both misogynist
and matriphobic,” (Rinehart, 2005, p. 12). Thus, with a
few exceptions, skate media provide both new skaters
and long-time practitioners with a continually renewed
repertoire of images that reproduce skateboarding as an
insular set of spaces and performances of almost purely
male athleticism, sociability, and heroism. The resulting
skate culture is often a barrier for female skaters. As one
interviewee, a woman skater in her early 20s noted, “I
don’t like how exclusive skateboarding is. Historically
it has been really dude focused and white focused. The
culture isn’t really my culture. And I don’t want to make
it my culture.”
At the level of embodied practice, the patriarchy
within skate culture often manifests in a particular com-
municative code, coupled with a more general “male
gaze” toward women. Throughout my observations and
interviews with skaters, one of the uniting motifs that has
repeated is the existence of what appears to be a trans-
national communicative culture of skateboarding that is
characterized by a constricted communicative repertoire.
In most skate environments, silence predominates with
a few exceptions. It is rare for a skater to comment on,
praise, or even communicate with somebody who is
skating or just nished a run. Failing to make a trick or
falling is usually met with apparent indifference by other
skaters, unless the fall is particularly hard, in which case
expressions of concern are cursory. That said, it is not
uncommon for friends to berate a male skater who is
struggling with a move that they think he should be able
to make, or to joke over how hard a fall was. The only
positive reinforcement a skater will typically receive
for an especially strong run will be a few muttered
compliments afterward, or for the most extraordinary
performances shouts, snaps, or the sound of boards being
slammed against the ground. As one respondent, a male
professional skater and skateboarding team manager half
joked: “For a lot of people in skateboarding it is their
outlet for getting away. It’s basically like a lot of people
in skateboarding are depressed and don’t like life…. And
they skateboard as their only escape, so if they see some
happy motherfucker, like clapping around, they really
don’t like that.
For many female respondents, this communicative
code presented a strong barrier to skating among men.
One long-time skater and gender-inclusive skate camp
organizer noted how her attitude toward the dominant com-
municative codes in skate spaces had changed over time:
Respondent: I can kind of feel OK about being there now,
in ways in which when I was younger just being there felt
terrifying. Like, that nothing was happening. So, someone
did not have to say something to me. It’s the same thing
with these teenage girls. Nobody has to say anything to
them for them to feel intimidated. Whereas now I don’t
feel intimidated.
Interviewer: How much is that about how people com-
municate at the skateparks?
Respondent: Yes! That is why it is so fun to be at a skate-
park with [the girls in my camp], where we are teaching
and encouraging each other. Like “oh, you got hurt? Take
a break. Listen to your body.And I will say all of those
woo-woo things. And all of these guys will hear it and
someone will make fun of us for it. But it puts a wedge
into the harshness of skate culture.
Indeed, this respondent had consciously created her
skate camp as a space to foster a more supportive, vocal,
and empathetic gender inclusive culture, in conscious
resistance to this male normative communicative code
of silence and apparent indifference. Another female
respondent, a long-time skater and skatepark advocate
explicitly tied different communication patterns to
broader gendered approaches to skating:
And women skate in a different way. Guys really
seem to push each other to the point of just calling
each other names if they are not pulling something.
Where girls, I don’t want somebody yelling at me.
I want more of a nurturing situation, more support.
I don’t want to be intimidated when I am just trying
something out.
Similarly, the prevalence of patriarchal and sexist
imagery in skate media is reected in the persistence
of a specically gendered male gaze toward women in
skate spaces. As a long-time male skater and skate-camp
organizer noted,
Girls don’t like to be put on the spot in front of all
the guys. Just like old people or beginners don’t want
to go out with rippers. Girls don’t like going out in
front of big crowds and being judged . . . Because,
skateboarders, whether we are skateboarding or…
most men are… well, men are pigs to women, you
know. Women are there for us to look at and gawk at.
30 Carr
SSJ Vol. 34, No. 1, 2017
Given the paucity of female skateboarders repre-
sented in the media and the lack of women who skate,
the heightened potential to be subjected to the scrutiny
of a sexualizing male gaze while skateboarding—or even
just while in a skate space—can be a powerful barrier for
female participation.
The masculine normativity of skate media and com-
municative practices is reinforced by spatial practices
of skating that facilitate gender segregation, especially
in skater owned facilities. Noncommercially operated
private purpose built skate spots often—though not
always—form effectively masculine gender enclaves.
Reecting the ways social networks can reinforce gender
segregation (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001;
Stoloff, Glanville, & Bienenstock, 1999), these “invite
only,” or even “membership only” skate spots are spheres
in which women are often either physically absent, or
present only in a limited number of roles—the spouse/
partner passively watching or trying out skating as part
of a relationship with a male skater. Such environments
may even serve as physical analogs to patriarchal media
spaces. As one organizer of a semi-illegal user built
skatepark explained,
DIY parks tend to have more of a clubhouse feel.
You aren’t in a pretty city park surrounded by moms
with baby strollers and seniors watching the skating.
They are a place built by skaters where you can hang
out and relax, listen to loud music, say whatever you
want and have fun without sweating about what other
people think.
Private, for-prot commercial skateparks tend to be
an exception to this dynamic. These facilities are often
less gender segregated as their operators have strong
nancial incentives to draw in as many skaters as pos-
sible—and by extension the families of younger skaters.
This is not to say that patriarchal language and behavior
is not in evidence in these spaces, but rather that they
are often countered by more inclusive practices and
discourses.
Even nonskater owned, nonpurpose built, “public”
environments can exhibit this tendency to gender segre-
gate. Reecting long-standing gender inequality in safety
and perceptions of safety in public spaces (Hille, 1999;
Pain, 1997), some female skaters felt excluded from
drainage ditches, alleys, and other urban environments.
As one female skater and activist I interviewed explained,
“girls don’t want to skate a loading dock, or risk getting
busted by the cops in order to develop her skills. Unless
you have a safe place to learn, women are not going to
get into skateboarding.” Another young woman noted,
“I just feel exposed. You can slam. Somebody skeezy
can come up and get in your face. It’s just not really
comfortable, you know.” That said, a small number of
respondents nonetheless found themselves drawn to the
freedom of street skating as well as the ability for create
a women-centered skate site in more uid public spaces.
As one female skater stated,
I love parks, but I love what it means to be a street
skater a little bit more. I feel it is a little bit more like,
I’m skating because I want to and, even if society
doesn’t support what I am doing, I am skating and
you don’t have to have all this money to build a
skatepark and go through all this bureaucratical crap.
Indeed, one respondent in her early twenties noted
that it can be easier as a woman to street skate than as
a man. “There are times when there is an advantage to
being female, where we weren’t kicked out of places
that boys would have been kicked out of. We were at one
church parking lot… And people came looking around
and, I am assuming, were going to kick us out until they
saw we were girls.” For these respondents, however, the
draw to skating the street is not a more gender inclusive
experience, but rather the ability to skate separately from
male skaters.
While purpose built skateparks can be spaces for
alternative and less highly gendered approaches to skate-
boarding for men (as discussed below) public facilities
are often highly gendered as well. When asked about
the barriers to creating a more female inclusive skate
culture, one woman respondent critiqued culture of local
skateparks, including:
Getting like, lots of remarks, and people being shitty
towards me. Saying awful things and being sexist
and, then there is just this idea that if you are not
hardcore then you are not a skater. And so there is this
exclusive thing going on where, if you are not willing
to draw blood every time, you don’t make the cut.
In light of this masculinist culture, it unsurprising
that many female skaters seek out their own gender segre-
gated skate spots, rather than dealing with the patriarchal
barriers to sharing skateboarding spaces with men.
Skateboarding and the Spaces of
Alternative Gender Performances
Notwithstanding its dominant patriarchal culture, the
actual performance of skateboarding and certain forms
of skate environments can enable essential spatial open-
ings for transforming conventional masculinity—even if
that transformation does not immediately translate into
a more gender-inclusive culture. As a sport premised
neither upon competition nor adherence to established
rules, skateboarding inherently offers an alternative to
conventional masculinity in sport. As one skatepark
designer argues, skateboarding:
is a whole other way of participating in sports on a
different level. And as Warren Miller put it, “there are
no losers.” And word that there is no loser travels fast.
Baseball team, there is a loser. Soccer there is a loser.
Field hockey there is a loser . . . With skateboarding
you make your own rules and you control your own
space. And that builds a community of respecting
other people who are [skating].
Skateboarding in Dude Space 31
SSJ Vol. 34, No. 1, 2017
Akin to sports that are often female gendered such as
gymnastics, gure skating, or competitive dance, prestige
in skateboarding comes from individual style and grace in
movement, as much as strength or technical prociency.
The ip-side to skateboarding’s dominant commu-
nicative code of silence is that it enables its mostly male
participants to take turns performing for each other in
an environment in which learning, improvisation, and
frequent failure are uncritically taken as the norm. While
encouragement is rare, discouragement and negative
judgment from those outside one’s circle of friends is
equally rare. Even relatively unskilled skaters will com-
monly get more approval for mastering a new move than
accomplished skaters will receive for pulling advanced
moves that are already part of their “bag.” In over a
decade of participant observation, I have never heard a
more accomplished skater openly disparage a less capable
skater during a skate session—although my respondents
and other female skaters quoted in the literature certainly
have. Arguably, the gendered code of silence within skate
culture has evolved specically to provide a safe space
in which male skaters can struggle with new challenges,
overcome fear, and repeatedly try and fail free from any
sense of judgment beyond their own judgment of them-
selves. And in this way, skateboarding has the potential
to offer male skaters a raried space in which personal
expression, vulnerability, noncompetitiveness, creativity,
and a particular form of nonjudgmental support from
peers can be counted upon—in contrast to more gender
normative spaces of sport (Matthews, 2016; Messner,
1990) and masculinity in general (Hearn et al., 2014).
And while I am hesitant to assert that the fostering of
such “alternative” masculinities will lead to more gender
inclusive skateboarding cultures, my own experiences
with some communities of older skateboarders supports
this possibility, as discussed below.
Indeed, the same communal, noncompetitive,
creative, and unstructured aspects of skateboarding
that enable “alternative” performances of masculinity
are frequently cited by female skaters to explain why
they are drawn to such an otherwise gendered sport.
One interviewee, a female skater in her 30s celebrated
skateboarding for often providing a shared identity that
overwrites potential differences of race, class, age, and
gender: “If you are at a skatepark, the kids do not judge
each other that way. Nobody says ‘he is a…’ No. You
just skate. It brings people together. There is no teaming
up on other people. You are just another skateboarder.
I don’t really think about our differences. I think about
bringing us together.
Another respondent who runs a female and gender
queer friendly skateboarding camp praised the individual
and creative aspects of skating:
I play sports. And that is like, the more aggressive
you are the better... Which is great. I love being
aggressive. But it was just harder to make [those
competitive sports] your own. Whereas with skate-
boarding it is much easier to make it your own.
Which is why so many people like it because it is
individual.
And one self-identied woman wrote to in support
of a skateboarding project in the US Pacic Northwest
by stressing the positive social aspects of skateboarding:
I used to skateboard ... Skateboarders are sort of
counterculture but they are actually a good bunch.
There’s a lot of support and comradeship and it does
help youth who don’t t in with traditional organized
sports to have an athletic outlet and also a way to
express themselves . . .
While none of these quotes are intended to diminish
the very real patriarchal barriers female skaters face, they
do suggest that the performance of skateboarding offers
both male and female skaters a profound experience of
noncompetitive individual creativity—and occasional
community identity—that cannot be fully eclipsed by
the exclusionary gender coding of much skate culture.
Spatio-Temporal Openings
for Non-Patriarchal Performances
of Skateboarding
While the performance of skateboarding may potentially
create openings for alternative approaches to gender in
some circumstances, these openings are often spatio-
temporally contingent. Specically, a number of female
respondents indicated that the existence of public,
purpose-built skateparks is essential to building an alter-
native culture of female skateboarding. Publically acces-
sible skate spaces, however, are not sufcient to create
openings for those who are not cisgendered as men to
negotiate a place for themselves as skateboarders. Rather,
if skateboarding environments are to provide a more
porous space for a broader range of gender performance,
the needs of those who are not typical male skaters must
be foregrounded.
Throughout my interviews, women consistently
stressed the need for skate spaces that are legal, safe, and
publicly accessible to open skateboarding for themselves
and other women. One skater, a mother who had been
skating for over a decade and was starting to teach her
daughter to skate, stated,
If there are more skateparks, there would be more
women skateboarding. Just a safe place to go and
gather and skate. Like a coffeehouse. You get
together with your girlfriends and skate. A place to
meet. Just a regular spot … It’s just not safe to go
skate the alleys. But the more girls you see skate-
boarding, the safer you feel. How are you supposed
to nd the other women skating if there is only a
couple of them out there?
While having a gathering place is essential, a number
of respondents indicated how important it is for skate
spaces to feel safe. Reecting the importance of envi-
32 Carr
SSJ Vol. 34, No. 1, 2017
ronmental signals to women’s perceptions of safety in
public space (Koskela & Pain, 2000; Madge, 1997) my
respondents tended to prefer orderly facilities situated
among the kinds of diversely populated, park-like settings
of other common sports facilities such as tennis courts or
soccer elds. As has been documented elsewhere, there
has been a growing movement to integrate skateparks
into multiuse, “green” public spaces, like any other
recreational facility (Carr, 2011). This “playground”
approach stresses the importance of green space, water
fountains, bathrooms, and other amenities in creating age
and gender inclusive facilities. Locating skateparks near
other high use spaces is essential to creating a sense of
safety by projecting a sense of “eyes on the park” that
can preclude crime and disorder (Fiore, Heinicke, Ragel,
& Weigel, 2005). Thus, proximity to well traveled side-
walks, homes, active green space, and other recreational
activities helps avoid the feeling of being in a “skatepark
in a box” where trouble can occur unseen, and without
the possibility of help. A number of female interviewees
specically identied this “playground” approach as
essential to creating a more woman-friendly culture of
skateboarding. For example one female skater praised
a recent Pacic Northwest facility for making skating
there “more of a community experience. Especially for
families … It has skate features. There is a playground,
a drinking fountain, and a eld. So, it is this great all-
around thing. And a place to have contests and a meeting
spot.” Indeed, in over ten years of observing a range of
skateboarding environments in a spectrum of sites, the
only public locations where I have observed groups of
women regularly meeting to skate have been in public,
purpose-built facilities in or near public parks or other
“green” spaces.
Likewise, I have consistently observed subtle but
important differences in communicative codes, behavior,
and gender attitudes between public, purpose-built skate
environments, and other types of skate spaces. While
skating in a public “playground” like setting never pre-
cludes experiencing sexism, the very openness of such
places and their temporally shifting patterns of use can
create essential openings for a more inclusive culture of
skateboarding. Because a public skatepark will see very
different sets of users over the course of a day, and from
day to day, it can offer a broader set of temporal open-
ings for those who want to avoid being exposed to more
patriarchal practices by male skaters. Indeed, I repeatedly
heard from the organizers of female centered or multigen-
der skate camps how important it was for their programs
to have access to public skateparks during times when
there are fewer men around so as to be able to help new
skaters develop skills in a private and supportive setting.
The tendency of public skateparks to draw multigen-
erational groups of skaters is also important for helping
at least “tone down” sexist and homophobic language.
A number of respondents observed that older skaters
often have a tempering effect on younger skaters simply
by their presence. And with the maturation of the rst
waves of skaters, many of whom are now in their 40s
and 50s, there are more parents who actively skateboard
with their children. I have repeatedly observed and heard
skaters reiterate that the presence of a variety of practi-
tioners outside the predominantly male, teen norm has a
disciplinary effect that not only changes communicative
norms, but discourages low level trouble and encourages
a greater degree of civility toward female skaters and
nonskaters. When skateboarding occurs in licit, shared
community spaces, skate culture is rendered more public,
more permeable, and thus less exclusive. This is not to
say that public skateparks in themselves are a cure for
patriarchal cultural norms and performances in skate-
boarding. Rather, they render that culture less insular.
Similarly, I have studied several privately owned,
purpose built skate environments that most fully realize
the promise of skateboarding as offering both alternative
spaces of masculinity and the fostering of nonpatriarchal
skate environments for women—notwithstanding the
broader tendency of such spaces to gender segregate as
discussed above. The privately owned spaces that success-
fully foster less rigidly gendered local skate cultures tend
to be owned and used predominantly by older skateboard-
ers who actively seek explicitly or implicitly to create a
more positive, encouraging, and inclusive environment.
For example the owner of a backyard skate ramp in the
U.S. southwest nicknamed the “Retirement Home” (as
a joking reference to the mostly 30–50 year old skaters
who frequent it) has described at length the measures
he has taken to ensure that a more emotionally mature,
supportive, and thoughtful cohort of skaters frequents
his sessions. These have included building a core group
of mature skaters from a broad range of life experience,
creating informal “Junior Varsity” hours for less accom-
plished skaters who are developing their skills, limiting
notice of upcoming sessions to keep out louder, obnoxious,
and disruptive “kooks,” and asking regulars not to bring
friends back who have displayed too much “attitude.
This approach has provided an environment that is far
more expressly supportive and encouraging than encoun-
tered at the average public skatepark. And while sexist
language and jokes are still common when only men are
at a session, the prevailing culture is able to rapidly shift
to accommodate the regular appearance of female skaters
and children. As one interviewee, a female skater in her
mid-twenties noted, “I think the Retirement Home is one
of my favorite places to skate. There is just this positive
vibe... everybody has been really helpful and supportive,
without treating me like I don’t know what I am doing.” I
have observed similarly gender inclusive, alternative skate
cultures fostered at private skate spots across the US, most
notably at a private backyard skate bowl owned and built
by a female skateboarder and her husband, a skater and
concrete former in the US Mountain West. In such spaces,
the ability to “grow your own” skate scene enables older
skaters to create much more gender inclusive cultures as
an integral part of fostering a meaningfully alternative and
less patriarchal space for skateboarding.
Skateboarding in Dude Space 33
SSJ Vol. 34, No. 1, 2017
What Lessons Does Skateboarding
Offer Studies of Sport, Space,
and Gender?
Beyond the ramications that it may have for those
dealing with the concrete challenges of designing, locat-
ing, building, and regulating skateboarding spaces, this
study may offer broader lessons about space, sport, and
“alternative” masculinities. Perhaps most importantly,
when it comes to understanding the role of gender in
sport, place always matters. The challenges involved in
negotiating male spaces of sport for those who do not
self-identify as cisgendered male are often substantial.
At a practical level, designing, locating, building, and
administrating any potentially gender coded space—
whether a skatepark, gym, or basketball court, should
involve talking to potential users who do not t conven-
tional user demographics and actually implementing
their feedback. This can mean not only talking to female
users and noncisgender users, but also the young, the old,
and those who due to religion, race, language uency,
etc., may be excluded on account of dominant spatial
codings. Although gender performances are profoundly
spatially contingent, the fact that a given sport space is
commonly understood as male space does not mean that
it must always remain so.
Likewise, the fact that “alternative” sports are
often intensely gendered does not mean that they must
remain so. Indeed, the very aspects of skateboarding
that make it appealing to male practitioners—freedom
of expression, noncompetitiveness, spatial transgres-
siveness—likewise attract practitioners who are not
cisgendered males as well as those who are, but are
uncomfortable with conventional masculinity. By
offering sport freed from the boundaries of conven-
tional organized competition, skateboarding and other
alternative sports can attract practitioners of all gender
identities who, by their participation have the potential
to disrupt even intensively patriarchal athletic cultures.
This, however, is work that must be actively and con-
sciously performed. Indeed, it is incumbent upon all
male skaters to reject the persistent patriarchy that
characterizes so much skate culture.
Given the continued investment of municipalities
in public skateboarding facilities—for example in the
US Pacic Northwest alone the major cities of Portland,
Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, have both adopted
city-wide master-plans for skateparks—the opportuni-
ties to use these facilities to serve increasingly broad and
multigender user groups are substantial. Similarly, the
growing number of older skaters creating their own local
“scenes,” creates essential openings for skateboarders to
make essential interventions into skate culture, rendering
it more accessible for a broader range of masculine and
feminine performances. And, if both types of opportu-
nity are embraced, there is real promise for transforming
the gendered culture of skateboarding.
Note
1. This section is based entirely on ethnographic observations
and is a composite of events occurring over several months.
Likewise, many individuals described are composites of actual
individuals observed. All identiers have been changed to pro-
tect the condentiality of individuals’ identities.
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This paper draws from a new materialist interpretation of Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird to analyze how Queer and Indigenous skateboarders develop critical and community-responsive ways of knowing and being. This analysis is contrasted with the implications of skateboarding’s Olympic debut to theorize how non-dominant groups build self-supporting enclaves in spite of concerted efforts to regulate and exclude them from public life. Skateboarding is herein conceptualized as a critical pedagogy which enables participants to reclaim space, achieve self-defined learning goals, and challenge the authority of oppressive institutions built upon what Angelou calls “the grave of dreams.” Key words: skateboarding, decolonization, new materialism, queer theory
... Others saw the sand as a double standard waged against skateboarders and BMXers when other mainstream sport recreation areas remained open (Child, 2020). Sporting community and government interactions are rendered especially troublesome given that lifestyle sports are sometimes depicted as a "site of social resistance" (Beal, 1995), carry an "outlaw allure" (Carr, 2017), and often push back against authority figures. If lifestyle sport communities have an anti-authority ethos, then it is crucial to understand the types of communication that will be effective given these constraints. ...
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... Les Skirtboarders sont certainement conscientes que, étant donné l'absence de couverture médiatique des skateuses, elles ont réussi à créer leur propre espace dans l'univers médiatique des sports en documentant leurs expériences en ligne. Mais, plus qu'un simple moyen de construire leurs propres identités de genre, leur blogue défend aussi une cause sociale : promouvoir la participation des femmes et des filles au skateboarding et changer leur représentation médiatique puisque ces dernières, perçues comme des intruses dans les territoires masculins de la rue et des parcs de planchistes, demeurent marginalisées et sexualisées autant dans la pratique de ce sport que dans ses représentations médiatiques (Atencio, Beal, McClain et Wright, 2016;Carr, 2017;Beal et Wilson, 2016;Donnelly, 2008;Kelly et al., 2008;Rinehart, 2005;Wheaton et Beal, 2003). Le sens du devoir qu'elles ont d'accroître la visibilité médiatique des skateuses en publicisant leurs propres activités à cet égard s'explique par l'absence de couverture médiatique, mais aussi par les commentaires fréquents qu'elles reçoivent de jeunes femmes depuis le début de leur projet Web (comme le montrent les commentaires sur leur blogue ainsi que le nombre toujours croissant d'amis sur Facebook et de courriels) (MacKay et Dallaire, 2013bDallaire, , 2014. ...
... New materialist research is not, however, limited to observable phenomena, as Barad (2007) calls for the analysis of agential becomings to center ontological considerations adopted from feminism, queer theory, and critical race theory. Thus, the assemblage of skateboarding must also consider the interplay between the misogynistic and heteropatriarchal world views of skateboarders who predominantly identify as cisgender straight men (Beal, 1996;Carr, 2017) as well as the physical, emotional, and intellectual labor of women and LGBTQ skaters who, mostly by having fun skating, counter, contest, and queer skate culture. Still, skate culture would cease to be(come) if the aggregation of wood, metal, and plastic that we perceive as the skateboard was removed from the assemblage. ...
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This paper draws from a new materialist interpretation of Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird to analyze how Queer and Indigenous skateboarders develop critical and community-responsive ways of knowing and being. This analysis is contrasted with the implications of skateboarding’s Olympic debut to theorize how nondominant groups build self-supporting enclaves in spite of concerted efforts to regulate and exclude them from public life. Skateboarding is herein conceptualized as a critical pedagogy which enables participants to reclaim space, achieve self-defined learning goals, and challenge the authority of oppressive institutions built upon what Angelou calls "the grave of dreams.”
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