On being the only female at the skatepark: The pressure, bullying, and the sexism

Guest post by Laurie Lawless

As a lone female in a skatepark full of men, you stand out. They make comments. They laugh. They criticize. But most upsetting is that harassment and unwanted advances are encouraged when you are a singular women around a large groups of men.

My last visit to the skate park I encountered an inline skater. He immediately began to egg me on. Coming up to me constantly, trying to get me to perform tricks I’m clearly not comfortable with, or capable of, at my skill level. When I refused, he would not back down. It was like arguing with a second grader who was mad he wasn’t getting what he wanted, so he just kept coming back.

Ughhh. Flashbacks of elementary school come back to when you tell someone a boy is picking on you: “oh, it just means they like you.”

Trying not to go it alone again, I asked a coworker to come with me to the skate park the other day. I was super excited to have the company. But, I’m there for not even ten minutes when the same bully starts up again. This time he’s more aggressive about his intentions. He makes comments such as, “I know you have one between your legs, but don’t be a pussy about dropping in today.” I flatly told him his rude and vulgar comment wasn’t appreciated. He laughed it off and apologized.

Later on, he starts to “reassure me” after I wiped out, by touching my arm to ask if I’m okay. He does this two more times. Each time I pull my arm away. The third time I was sitting on a ramp and he touches my knee. I jump up and skate away. Meanwhile, there are about thirty other men at the skate park. All of them witnessing this, none of them doing anything. If nothing else I heard a few snickering from the other side of the bowl.

Of course I could have just told him to fuck off and leave me alone. I could have scream and yelled. But then, I’m the bitch. I am the one causing problems. I am the one that has to worry about this incredibly persistent male’s retaliation, and what that looks like — because there would most certainly be some sort of “punishment” for getting serious about leaving me alone.

I’m not sure what that looks like for him. Maybe he would call me names. Maybe he’s an innocent guy who’s a bit misguided. But, I don’t know. I don’t. And that’s the scary part.

So at the end of the day, I smile, I ignore, I try to move away. I practice avoidance techniques similar to dogs, so I can continue about my day and just try to skate.


Update:

In an awesome update, Burlington, VT Parks and Recreation saw this posted and did something! Together we are in the process of creating advertised women’s skate nights at the skate park this upcoming summer! Furthermore, I will be working with the city to help them educate city officials on street harassment to make both the skatepark and city safer for women. Thank you for publishing my story, Offbeat Home!

Do you have tips or advice for being the only female at the skate park? How do you handle the pressure, the bullying, and the sexism?

Comments on On being the only female at the skatepark: The pressure, bullying, and the sexism

  1. I’d tell him to fuck off and leave me alone, but I give zero fucks about being called a bitch.
    Maybe point out a male face planting when he comforts you next time and tell him ‘that bloke needs you to rub him better more than I do’… Then say ‘now fuck off and leave me alone’ 🙂

  2. Wow Laurie, I’m so sorry to read about your experience in Vermont. It sounds terrifying. I’m an adult skateboarder and I’ve skated at hundreds of parks all over the country in the last 10 years (although never in Vermont) and can honestly say I’ve never encountered anything like that. I’ve skated alone and with others, all with no issue. I wonder if befriending some of the other (passive) male skaters might announce to the harasser that you are part of the group and not to be messed with? I wouldn’t hesitate to seek assistance from others at the park if you feel at all threatened again. Most of all, I hope this doesn’t dampen your passion for skating or cause you to form negative stereotypes of skateboarders. Most are very supportive and encouraging, and very willing to welcome a woman among them, appropriately.

  3. Why do you care so much how you are coming across to this obnoxious male? Too bad if he things you are a “B”

    If it persists, I’d call the police. He and his silent “friends” will take you very serious then.

    • Sometimes a pushy jerk will get violent. A lot of women will try to give the least confrontational response to unwanted attention because they don’t know what sort of response they will get. Will the pushy jerk leave? With they verbally abuse you? Will they physically assault you? No way to tell, and if they are violent, the police likely won’t get there until you’ve already sustained injuries.

      • Agreed. Each situation is different, but being silent to a pushy jerk isn’t always a better option either.

        I wouldn’t start full blast when some guys get the hint at a shrug, so people need to read the situation. And I definitely wouldn’t recommend making a scene if it’s just the two of you alone at the park. But if there are other people around, I don’t see the problem with asserting yourself if the guy doesn’t get the hint.

  4. Is it possible to find allies in some of the other men there? I have seen discussion elsewhere on the internet that men might be afraid to intervene, as some women find being “defended” equal upsetting. You could also try something polite but direct — I’m sure this is not your intention, but your attention is making me uncomfortable. Would you please leave me alone.

    Not sure if it would help, but it might be worth a try. Sending you virtual support!

  5. I get it! And I have not yet figured out how to negotiate this either. The challenge I find as woman in male dominated fields (agriculture, and volunteer fire fighter) is that I need most of my male colleagues to be allies. That means I am very careful how I call them out on their bs, not because I care what they think of me, but because when I need their help, I need their help and I feel like I cant afford to piss some of them off…..The result is that I dont call them out as much as I probably should, or only call out the ones who are less valuable to me. Is that weird or what?? I am new in my job and on the FD right now, and my hope is that with time I will get more established, need less help, and be in a better position to call men out on their sexism regardless of how it pisses someone off.

    Twice in the last few months I have been on a fire scene and the homeowner made a comment about me being a woman. Most recently, it was “you are the prettiest one on the crew”…WTF is that supposed to mean??? I responded with “Thanks I guess, but pretty is not part of the job description”.

    I try and remind myself that in these situations being strategic is important, but that being nice or polite is not. In the skate park these men are not your colleagues you have to work with everyday (ie. they have nothing that you need), so don’t worry about making a scene and getting a reputation as a crazy bitch!!! Just do it anyway, and consider that you are doing them a favor by giving them an important education. Either that or pepper spray the idiot next time he touches you.

    • My knee-jerk response to, “You’re the prettiest one on the crew.” is. “Yeah, but Bob’s dick is bigger.” but then I’m a smartass and missing that brain/mouth filter.

  6. I get it!! I was the only female that ran construction for years, and I found that a quick wit and being able to say “f*** off” will get you a lot further than much else. Sometimes guys are just oblivious to the “ignore them and they’ll go away” vibes that we try to put out.

    I had one guy once tell me “you never smile in the field, why are you not smiling?” to which I looked around the group and said “wow, no one is smiling here, are you calling all of them out too?” the guy turned red, apologized and NEVER pulled that stunt again.

    Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. And also figure out what you’re willing to fight for and what your not. What I mean by that is, I don’t care if someone calls me a B, I’ll call them something back and laugh it off. To me that isn’t something that bothers me, and now the guys I work with know that that kind of stuff is not a big deal. But them making me feel uncomfortable by saying I’m pretty or “let the men work” type comments….I speak up and I make sure I’m heard and then the guys know where my boundaries are. A lot of the guys have told me that they were afraid of being too blunt, too rough, too rude, etc. when I first started working with them, and that they appreciate that I have made it clear what I’m cool with and what I’m not. On the other hand, one of my coworkers likes hearing how pretty she is, so for her she likes those comments, but curse around her and she flips out. But at least the guys know that when she’s around the language needs to be PG but they can tell her that she looks nice.

    Overall, it won’t change overnight, but once guys see you around and know how to act around you it will get better. And I feel like it’s made me a better person, I now know how to stand up for myself and I’ve gained a lot of respect from the people I work with.

  7. I’ve been playing derby for 2 years, and running practices for the last year, and I’ve never skated in a park.

    I skate outside all the time in the summer, so I feel like skate park is the next step. Plus, I’ve been following the Chicks in Bowls Instagram and oh man do I want to do that.

    I wanted to try when the skate park is empty (not sure if it ever is), to avoid embarrassing myself at something I’ve never tried before, but I didn’t consider that the sexism would be this bad. Ah well, being the feminist I am, this only makes me more determined! I maybe won’t go alone though. See if I can get anyone on my team to come try it out with me.

    • Based on my experience this kind of encounter is rare. Mornings are the best time to visit a park if you want it to yourself. Weekday mornings are typically best. Summers are crowded when the kids are out of school. Good luck! I follow the Chicks in Bowls too. They’re rad.

  8. I don’t skate, but I work in a men’s prison, and the sexism is so bad. And surprisingly, not all of it (or even most of it) from the inmate’s themselves. Myself and another workmate are just starting up a women’s support group on site, both to support women, and educate the men (inmates AND staff) about appropriate interaction with women. We also want to talk about how we are able to keep our femininity (if that’s what we want) while still be successful and safe, as we’re expected to be more “manly” if we want to survive in this environment, which is such BS. I’m so excited to be standing up for feminism in a “man’s world!”

  9. I’m so happy to see the update! That sounds awesome! I hope the women’s skate nights are a success! Hopefully they can bring out other women who are interested in the skate park, but maybe aren’t brave enough to go alone. Kudos for speaking up, and jumping on an opportunity to make things better!

  10. Maybe the city could schedule women’s self defense classes. Maybe the classes could include an info session from a police officer or attorney on what is considered harassment, the best way to handle it at the time, and what the options are for a restraining order, filing a complaint, etc. I’ve heard that in some places all unwanted touching (even on the arm) may be considered harassment or assault as long as you’ve made it clear the advance is unwelcome.

    Great job on getting action from the city so quickly!

  11. I know this isn’t where you live, but maybe this could be a springboard for the women’s skate night. We have a big roller derby contingent in my town, but the parks are still male dominate with the added fun of being “seasoned skaters only” attitude. Wanted to take my 13 year old son to learn to skate (board) and was warned to avoid peak hours because the veteran skaters don’t take to newcomers well. I’m glad there’s been a change already for you and hope it’s just the beginning and you can skate your heart out without problems!

    http://www.refinery29.com/2016/04/108693/moxi-girls-roller-skating-club Moxi Girls Roller Skate Team

  12. Wow. It’s great there are now women’s skate nights, but so terrible it’s even needed. It’s not addressing the problem – if anything it might make it worse, because it implies that women can’t skate at the “normal” time, only at their special segregated time.

    It sounds like the male skaters need some education (though they should already know not to harass people! But maybe they don’t realise the consequences of their actions). The ones who watch and do nothing probably don’t know what they should do, and as there’s so many of them they could all waiting for someone else to step in. The snickers may have been the awkward laughter people have when they’re in an uncomfortable situation and don’t know how else to react. The one whose behaviour is the worst may just be pushing you to establish boundaries, or actually like you but be really bad at flirting. It’s worth spelling out for him that you won’t stand for his behaviour, and also making it clear to the others that he’s out of line.

    Perhaps the Parks and Recreation people can do something to make it clear harassment isn’t acceptable? I know signs around the skate park or lists of rules are likely to be ignored or graffitied over, but even if they only help a little bit it’d be worth it. It’s not fair for the victim to be responsible for stopping others’ harassment.

    The real problem women face in this situation is not knowing how far the man will go – whether it’s just a few thoughtless comments or whether he’ll turn violent if he thinks a woman is standing up to him and needs to be put “in her place”. That’s something people often don’t realise; that it’s impossible to predict how a stranger like this will react and so it can be scary trying to figure out how to deal with the situation. Good luck.

  13. Hey! My name is Stephanie. Skater of 20+ years from Boston. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! It’s terrible that you’re simply trying to enjoy yourself and you have to deal with harassment. Please don’t let them discourage you. And please feel free to find me on fb. I run a community called New England’s Female Skateboarding and are planning to a few session meet ups in VT this summer. We also have a social media pages but a private group that if you’re interested in allows you to connect with other female skaters ranging from age and ability. Keep kicking ass cause you do have a army who will support you and fight for you <3

    • I second Stephanie and can say that New England Female Skateboarding is an open, harassment free Community and I can thank them for giving me the support and encouragement to skate. #damngirlyouskate

  14. Just ask him to teach you a trick. If he cannot, then he is the loser. And if so, you get to learn an epic skate trick.

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