Posted by:on February 23rd, 2015
I learned that Rodney Mullen was in Wired by following J Grant Brittain on Instagram, as the Wired feature uses quite a few of his pictures. The lengthy article covers the events that led to Mullen’s first TED talk, his love of Linux, and his subsequent speaking and consulting business. Mullen obviously likes to use skateboarding as an instrument for illustration and inspiration in his new work, as it that’s where his credibility and recognition comes from. He draws parallels between skate culture and tech culture. It’s all very interesting, in a warm fuzzy way, but none if is paradigm changing or particularly new for that matter. It’s important to remember that the job of a professional speaker is more or less to inspire, often times through getting an audience to adjust their thinking a little. It’s the equivalent of removing a few pieces in a log jam or loosening up a few strands in a knot, hopefully allowing the listeners to attack their problems successfully with a new prospective, or at the very least, make them believe they can. On the front page of Wired there’s currently an opinion piece by former competitive skater and NHS team member Kathy Sierra. Sierra’s opinion piece dwells on sexism in the skateboarding world at the expense of everything positive that skateboard culture has to offer. The important thing to note, there is no singular skateboard culture. Rampant sexism certainly exists, but it is in no way indicative of the entire culture, or even the entire industry.
Sierra’s op-ed quotes Concrete Wave publisher Michael Brooke:
“When sidewalk surfing hit big in the 1960s, both males and females skated,” he says in the piece. “However, the late 1970s saw a mass extinction of parks and a narrowing of the industry … Once the industry decided it was going after one thing, it started checking these boxes: males—check; males under 18—check. And as it hit each check point it was reducing the population it was going to appeal to.”
Was there an industry wide decision made in a smoky back room somewhere? We’re not going to sell skateboards to women anymore? Was it a decision that brands all reached independently? I can’t believe that. Sexism in skateboarding didn’t just suddenly pop up after the skateparks closed. The 70’s saw a lot of female as prop in their ads, well before they were in trouble. Sexism in skateboard sucks yes, but it’s hardly the dominant theme. To confuse X-Games, Dew Tour and MTV portrayals of the sport as the actual industry and greater community is a mistake. Amongst young adults, skateboarding has a thriving reputation as a means and crossover with an artistic movement. We’ve all had our fill of “skate-art,” right? Too bad. It’s not going anywhere.
Kathy Sierra’s criticism of sexism in skateboarding is valid, to be sure, but it seems mostly rooted in her own disappointment after suffering a career threatening injury and finally recovering to return to a competitive sport (freestyle) that didn’t exist anymore. That’s just sour grapes. Her situation has more to do with the way the industry exploits and throws away talent. That’s a theme explored in the Kevin Pearce documentary Crash Reel. It’s snowboard centric but the attitudes and lessons apply to skateboarding as well. To say the tech world shouldn’t take cues from the skateboard industry because of sexism is myopic. The industry itself is majorly fragmented between downhill/longboarding and the street/vert driven markets despite crossover, with additional major fractures in demography within these disciplines.
To that end… If anyone is still reading this, I’ve had it in the back of my mind for some time now to try and recruit a female contributor to Skate and Annoy, to offer a different perspective. We have our fair share of meatheads that visit the site, which can be expected given the name, so it wouldn’t be without it’s challenges. Thick skin would be helpful. If you’re interested, or no somebody who would be, please contact Skate and Annoy. I promise there will be absolute wage equality. What’s 100% of zero?
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