A blisteringly honest account of everyday sexism in snowboarding
Opening Photo: Matt Georges
“If you can collate your thoughts about the injustices you perceive into a 1000-ish words then we’ll take it from there. Just be prepared for the inevitable assholes in the comments I guess!”
Just be prepared for the inevitable asshole in the comments. Though I’m steeled for the numbing frustration of reading the reactions of a ruthless class of men, I will still be hurt. I will open Facebook and refresh the Onboard page with a stomach on the verge of an acidic revolution. Those inevitable assholes will drive me sick with worry, then sick with rage.
And after my feverish emotions subside, I might corner myself with guilt by playing into the entire game. But my mistake – my only mistake – would be not to write this at all; to ignore the injustice in a bleak attempt to please the unpleasable patriarchy.
So, write I will.
“One of the biggest injustices is that people (men, often) just don’t get it. They don’t realize that there are such disparities because they [men] are normal and what everyone else is judged against. And I always say that you can’t be what you can’t see.”
– Jen Gurecki, CEO of Coalition Snow
So subtly do instances of sexism pass by in snow sports, that it might not even occur to men that they were there. Like, every time I’ve been in a group of avid skiers and snowboarders (both male and female) and the guys will only engage in conversation about the sport amongst themselves; or the ads that feature female athletes in their bras, and male athletes rotating a perfect 720; or when guys turn only to the female in their riding group to film them.
“Women and men are not physically the same, and those slight differences can cause men to disregard women completely”
I could rant about the little things that challenge women each day on the hill, but let’s dive into the real issue: women and men are not physically the same, and those slight differences can cause men to disregard women completely.
I got into an argument with an old roommate about female freeriders. He was a filmer for a local girls crew, and though he admitted they were good riders, he argued that they would never be as good or as exciting as the men. We went back and forth for a long time, until he finally hit me with something I can’t argue with: women are not as physically capable as men. We can’t build as much muscle as our male counterparts. It’s just not possible.
This conversation happened over a year ago and I’ve been thinking about it every day since. Every day, his stupid, mustachio-d mouth opens and tells me I’m not good enough. Every time I get on my board, his vulgar speech repeats in my head. Every mistake I make – every slip up, every fall, every injury – has been a justification of his bias.
He’s right. I’m not good enough.
I would normally try to convince myself otherwise. Any debate about the intelligence or roles of a typical woman I would tackle head on. But his argument about physicality is one I can’t dispute, because he’s right.
What his argument does – how it’s haunted me – is tell women that we don’t belong. We don’t belong next to them on the lifts, down the chutes, or dodging trees on powder days. And we should give up all dreams of ever conquering those park features.
I moved to Tahoe with a boyfriend. We would ride together – or rather, I would follow him around the rolling slopes of Northstar and watch from the sidelines – as he hit some impressive park features. The first time I rode without him, after our breakup, I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I wasn’t good enough for the park, and I wasn’t good enough for the backcountry. I felt limited.
“His argument haunts me. We don’t belong next to them on the lifts, down the chutes, or dodging trees on powder days”
The mountain I had grown familiar with suddenly seemed foreign. I could hear Jim Morrison whispering “people are strange, when you’re a stranger” as I strapped in amongst crowds of uninviting peers. I would leave the mountain after a few laps, hoping no one would see my embarrassing slip-ups, and trusting that for the rest of the day – off the hill – I might feel like I fit in.
The last time I rode, I sat in the over-crowded parking lot of Squaw Valley for an hour, boots on, chest tight with anxiety. My mind was ringing with the thought of my ex-roommate seeing me carve down a mountain, and the juicy gossip he’d surely take home to tell his girlfriend.
If I were a guy, I always think, would it be like this?
If I were a guy, would other guys invite me to ride with them because they saw me as a peer rather than a female?
Would people look at my falls as ‘sending it’ or proof I shouldn’t be there?
Would I have to worry about breaking the fucking ice ceiling every time I stepped on a board?
Even worse than the hang-ups my roommate left me with, were the ones he gave his girlfriend. After living in a mountain town for more than a year, she opted out of ever getting on a board, despite my constant encouragement. Her reasoning? “I don’t want to be one of those girls who just follows their boyfriends into the park. I would want to be really good and I know that I won’t be.”
He bent the mind of his own girlfriend to this absurd standard. She remains the stereotype: the girlfriend sitting on the sidelines. This further cements women’s natural position in men’s minds, though she was only doing what she thought was right based on the pressures men put on her.
I say fuck that. I pledged long ago to myself never to let a man rule me, my thoughts, my body, or my actions. So why would I let one rule my favourite pastime? In the wise words of Charlotte Scott, “bitches deserve respect”. So let’s move forward, middle fingers pointed to our sexist roommates, ex-boyfriends, and backward male leaders.
That morning at Squaw, it took me over an hour to unhinge my body from my car and re-arrange my thoughts from destructive to neutral. But I got on the lift, and I rode.
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