Not too long ago I was very rudely eavesdropping on a conversation in which A Man said something along the lines of, “it must be shit to be a girl in snowboarding – all their gear is so patronising towards their gender”.
That’s the condensed version, anyway. What he meant was that snowboard gear for girls is very obviously marketed towards girls, like the Sex And The City box set of snowboarding. It’s the same as how, say, electric razors and Jeremy Clarkson are marketed towards men. And the reason it could be seen as patronising is because unlike Sex and the City, Clarkson and the electric razor, snowboarding isn’t something that should be quite so gender-specific. Of course, women have different bodies to men, which is why the gear is different, – but just how different does it have to be?
It would appear that the majority of brands seem to have based most of their female-orientated products on slightly insulting and somewhat outdated stereotypes about women.
After a bit of research I discovered that the people who design girls’ snowboards seem to think that girls like pink, purple, cute animals, Aztec patterns and flowers. There was a definite theme. And the products that are not obviously female-specific at first glance – like bindings, helmets and gloves – get cringeworthy monickers; either straight-up womens’ names or ones associated with things that women are supposed to use or do. Obviously these incredibly unscientific findings do not encompass all womens’ snowboard equipment, but it does account for a large majority.
Men have a lot of choice: Yeah, there are obvious ‘men's boards’ with pictures of naked chicks on them, but there are tons of other designs to choose from as well
So, why does this even matter, anyway? It’s stuff for women, so it should be geared towards what women like, right? Because all women like fur ear pads in their helmets, right? Wrong – for the record, we sweat, too, and sweat is not conducive to furry ear pads. But anyway, it would appear that the majority of brands seem to have based most of their female-orientated products on slightly insulting and somewhat outdated stereotypes about women.
I know that some women do like pink and flowers, which is why these stereotypes even existed in the first place. As a woman, I myself am partial to the occasional bit of pink and Aztec patterning, but I do feel like there should be a bit more choice. That’s something men have a lot of: yeah, there are obvious ‘mens’ boards’ with pictures of naked chicks on them, but there are tons of other designs to choose from as well. However, a girl would be hard pushed to find a stick without the slightest hint of pink or purple on it.
But it’s not only down to appearances. Let’s go back to the names thing.; I don’t think I’ve ever come across a snowboard called, for example, the Lib-Tech Stephen, or the Burton Lad, or the Capita Steel-Toed Boot. Yet women are subject to names like Vixen, Minx, Ally, Victoria, Allure… the list goes on. Why is this? Is it supposed to be empowering? Is it supposed to make a statement about the nature of the product? Or is it to save a man from making a huge mistake and buying a set of womens’ bindings because they had a general-sounding name? How humiliating that would be. Especially if he preferred them to his Burton Daves.
And before you think, ‘Who cares? Just go riding’, consider the bigger picture. Because maybe it goes a bit deeper than just categorising mens’ and womens’ gear, or designing a product that a woman will like. Because women get a lot of shit from men for being, well, shit. And yeah, generally, the standard of womens’ snowboarding isn’t as high as men’s (in this hugely male dominated industry) but it must be hard not to ‘ride like a girl’ when the fact that you are a girl is being constantly shoved in your face.
Generally, the standard of womens’ snowboarding isn’t as high as men's (in this hugely male dominated industry) but it must be hard not to ‘ride like a girl’ when the fact that you ARE a girl is being constantly shoved in your face.
If we look at the whole package, a woman’s snowboard is generally smaller, lighter and more flexible than a man’s, and it’s the same for bindings; womens’ helmets have fur lined ear muffs to keep our delicate little heads warm and there are less technical clothing options for women. It’s on the cusp of implying girls can’t ride as hard as guys. But do we really need any extra reminders that we’re generally smaller, weaker and feebler than men? And is this approach to design and marketing alienating girls who charge hard, get sweaty and don’t consider themselves very girly at all?
I know it’s not exactly the election debate, or even the helmet debate, but it might be something worth thinking about next time you visit your local snowboard shop.