Riding on the Backs of Women: Big Words and Big Realities for the Snowboard Industry

First published January 24, 2013 for Pass It To the Left

I recently attended a Masters defense entitled (deep breath) “An Analysis of White-Supremacist-Capitalist-Heteronormative-Patriarchy in the Graphics of Burton and Capita Snowboards” (by Kascindra Shewan) and while I found some holes in the authors arguments there is no question that the emerging discourse was vigorous and vivacious.

Some of you readers may indeed play a big part in the snowboard industry, many of whom are my dearest friends and colleagues. It is therefore imperative that you understand: Any investigation into the role of women in contemporary society should not be immediately deemed as femi-nazi bullshit. Rather, try to appreciate that ‘everything happens for a reason’ – the words in our language, the symbols, the conventions, the attitudes – all these exist because of the relations (past and present) between genders, classes, ethnicities and religions. I suggest that while I explore the quiet violence of stereotypes against women in the snowboard industry, do not become instantly offended. Refelect. Consider this as healthy discourse.

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All women crew (right to left): Claudia Bambi Simon, Tara Jane Hickey, Geneviève Dubé-Ouellet, Claudia Avon, Chelsey G.D.

It is no secret that the role of women in the industry is often devalued. If it weren’t for lil’ mamas pouring buckets of cash into the corporo-cesspool of soft goods, you wouldn’t even know who ½ of the professional snowboard-women in Canada are. But thank god for the Monopoly Man, because now most companies (if not all?) have some kind of female niche to target. Having said that, the top consumer of snowboard products in North America is indeed male and, get this: he’s usually super rich and super white. And this isn’t surprising – here are some ethnic/gender/class stats you may have already felt on the hill:

  • 75% of snowboarders are under 24

  • 70% are male

  • 11% of American snowboarders are members of racial/ethnic minority groups;

  • 3.6% Asian, 2.3% Hispanic/Spanish/Latino, 1.6% African American, 1.1% Native American and 2.4% Other

  • 44.3% of American snowboarders have a household income of US$75,000 a year or more

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All these numbers are from Holly Thorpe 2010 (see below) and if you read them carefully you should be at least be mildly (try extremely) unnerved. I mean, fuck, Parliament is probably more diversified than that.

So after doing a bit of my own research (academic and non-academic) on “snowboarding’ and “women” – results were diverse, but the same theme kept popping up. That is, how do women negotiate with themselves (i.e. reconcile or come to terms with) the role they play in a hegemonic-hyper-masculine community? And the truth is, it varies from person to person, experience to experience.

I think of some of the femmes I used to ride, film and compete with and they all had their own story and game plan for ‘making it’ – more often then not it started with establishing a solidarity with other mama’s because we were ‘all in this together’ – that’s right – we had to fight really fucken hard for a ‘place’ in this world. But a lot of our negotiating involved becoming more like the guys. "Wow you have a total dude style, you dont look like a girl at all" was often a compliment I'd receive regarding the more layed back style I had on rails. Typical. Bargaining with the patriarchy.

But when Kascindra brought up the question of graphics (Re: Burton, Love) on some snowboards I was curious - less about how women perceive our place in snowboarding and more about how the men do. O.K., a naked girl on a snowboard shouldn’t be a big deal, but then I started thinking – Wow…that is the EPITOME of female subjugation and objectification – you are literally making an object out of her. Check out the description of the 2011 Burton Love board – it is especially demoralizing and violent:

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Kascindra develops the violent and chauvinistic imagery of these boards where men are “smashing a girl down on a tranny, slicing her up on a rail, dragging her through a parking lot and throwing her in your truck.” So blah blah ya ya, that might just be fucken imagery…but remember Burton is the embodiment of “the white rich male in a position of power” and this imagery plays an influential role in allowing men to MAINTAIN their power and in fact PUSH AWAY any woman trying to confront those barriers.

And listen fella’s, it doesn’t stop at gender. The class struggle in the snowboard industry is abysmal. The core industry is hyper-capitalist, which is hilarious considering that snowboarding grew out of a resistance to that same institution. Ugh… there’s nothing more repulsive and nauseating than hypocrisy. I’ve joked to a few of my industry friends about unionizing, but now I’m thinking why the hell not?!

At the end of the day it cannot hurt to talk about these things – what hurts is when men and women bring up the ideas and other men (and patriarcal women) crush the subject. As the perceptive and electric Meaghan Garvey noted last week an amazing piece on Women and HipHop “just as white people do not get to decide what minorities consider to be racist, straight men do not have the privilege of telling women what should and should not offend them” – and baby, this shit offends me.

Check out:

Holly Thorpe PhD- Senior Lecturer and researcher at the University of Waikato, New Zeland.

“Women Could Be Every Bit As Good As Guys”: Reproductive and Resistant Agency in Two “Action” Sports Journal of Sport & Social Issues (February 2008), 32 (1), pg. 24-47

#patriarchy #feminism #sport

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