Is Snowboarding Sexist?


Last week we posted this piece on the new Whistler Exposed calendar, which triggered a debate on Facebook about the depiction of women in snowboarding. Becky Gibson was one of the most opinionated commentators so we invited her to write an article sharing her thoughts.

Helen Schettini showing the world how badass female riders can be

Words by Becky Gibson

An industry-wide double standard currently exists in the way women are depicted in snowboarding. Right now, women’s snowboarding is in great shape with incredible riders and more product choice than ever before. However, the ‘sex sells’ mentality is still apparent, undermining the skill and achievements of these amazing snowboarders. Progression and creativity are two words that have always been associated with snowboarding, so surely this double standard shouldn’t exist at all?

Snowboarding media focuses heavily on, and pitches content to male snowboarders. It rationalises this by saying there are more male snowboarders than female. Current statistics are vague but they suggest that 30% of the world’s riders are female – possibly higher in the UK. That is a significant proportion but in Whitelines’  issue 110, there were so few mentions of women snowboarders you’d be forgiven for thinking they were non-existent.

Snowboarding’s depiction of women is lazy & sexist. It’s out of sync with how progressive women’s snowboarding is right now.

Out of curiosity, I counted the number of pictures of women riding. There was one – Aimee Fuller. Most snowboarders are everyday punters who want to read and watch inspiring features about the world’s best riders – whether that’s Jeremy Jones or Jenny Jones. The gender of the person performing the mind-blowing trick or tackling that backcountry line shouldn’t matter. Media coverage should appeal to, and be representative of those actually on the hill.

The industry as a whole sends a mixed and confusing message. In October this year, Whiteline’s Facebook page hosted an insightful debate about the representation of women in backcountry snowboarding. In the same month, I saw an advert for a snowboard shop that had a pair of women’s breasts covered by a pair of snowboard boots. Did I not get the memo? What do lady lumps have to do with snowboarding? They may feature in après hot tub shenanigans – I’ll give you that – but they have zero relevance to snowboarding. Maybe Roxy’s next ad campaign should feature a Playgirl- esque hunk with a snowboard covering his schlong.

Often, a barely dressed woman is still used as decoration on snowboards. Remember the Sims Fader featuring porn star Jenna Jameson released in 2003? I’m sure some of you have some very fond memories! Yes, women look lovely naked but it feels very dated, overused and unimaginative. In the 10 years since the Fader was made, the depiction of women on board graphics has remained static yet women’s snowboarding has progressed significantly – Helen Schettini, you are now my new girl crush. It feels as though the industry isn’t keeping pace with this progression and wants to rely on tired old clichés. Occasionally this cliché is wittily reversed. I chuckled at the wonderfully moustachioed naked bloke on GNU’s Pickle Stallion board (still not my board of choice- I’m hoping Santa brings me a Jones’ splitboard).

It’s not all the industry’s fault. Some of the fault lies with us, the everyday punter. Flippant comments litter the way snowboarders describe each other’s riding. “She rides like a dude” and “she can really keep up with the boys” are two classic examples. They aren’t meant maliciously, but are they really the best phrases we can muster to express how good our female friends are at snowboarding? Snowboarding’s subculture includes its own language but there is still a reliance on these tiresome phrases to describe talented female shredders.

Snowboarding’s depiction of women has got lazy and, at times, is sexist. It’s out of sync with just how exciting and progressive women’s snowboarding is right now. This isn’t unique to snowboarding, or even sport, but it’s a societal problem: sexism and lazy depictions of women are everywhere. It’s not surprising that a resurgence in feminism is happening. To clarify, I am one of them, I don’t hate men, nor do I wear dungarees!

A recent online comment said that if you don’t talk about something it will cease to exist. Nice concept, but it doesn’t work. What’s wrong with ruffling a few feathers anyway? It’s up to the industry, the media and the punters to collectively challenge and change any misjudged depictions of women. Then maybe one day the depiction of women in snowboarding will respect and reflect just how badass they really are.

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