Building Skateparks for Girls

This study from the Girl Skateboarder Project at Nottingham Trent University in the UK studied the experience of girl skaters.

Here are some highlights:

We found that there were far more things that inhibited young women’s skateboarding than enabled it.

Our maps indicate that, except in woman-only sessions, girls tend to stick to the edges of the space, often semi-concealed behind ramps or other barriers. Even expert girl skateboarders worried about being ‘in the way’ of others, something not mentioned at all by men.

Young women discussed being undervalued as skaters and their abilities being questioned by male skaters. They felt they had to ‘prove’ themselves as competent skateboarders immediately on arriving in a skateboarding space, and that even expert skaters were seen as being ‘good for a girl’. They also felt constantly watched by male skateboarders, and that, while this could just indicate curiosity, sometimes it had an element of sexual harassment. 

Making Space for Girl Skateboarders

I doubt many will find these conclusions surprising, but it’s the first attempt I’ve seen to quantify the way girls experience skateparks by mapping out the way girls use them. (I would like to see the map, but this blog post contained early findings from the study, not a formal report.)

What’s interesting to me is how much the findings resonate with me, a male skater who returned to skating at 39. I also tend to stick to the edges and worry about being in the way. I don’t say this to diminish the experience of girls who skate. Girls interviewed for the study felt the general public directed disapproved of them out of proportion to skater boys. They felt like the best they could do would be “good for a girl.” And they felt like they were constantly watched by skater boys. Obviously, no male skater shares those experiences.

However, as is often the case in design, improving something for one population (skater girls, in this case) will improve them for everyone else, too. (See also: curb cuts and telephones.) For example, the author suggests that skateparks should be “designed so that there are quiet places for beginners to practice, relatively undisturbed by more expert skateboarders,” which would be great for all beginning skaters, not just girls.

For the rest of the early findings and recommendations, see the study author’s blog post on Making Space for Girls, or watch the video.

Thanks @unchartedworlds for sharing the link on Mastodon.

Published on November 17th, 2022.