May 26, 2014

Applying #yesallwomen to Action Sports in our Little Mountain Town


In our little mountain town sometimes it takes a few days for big news to be spread around, despite the advent of the Internet and 24-hour news networks. A stabbing-shooting spree at UCSB in Santa Barbara, CA on Friday has become more than your typical shooting (saying that feels disgusting) because the killer posted videos to YouTube prior to his rampage and wrote a personal manifesto detailing his hatred of women and “beautiful people” for starving him of the love, affection, and sexual attention he thinks he deserves. A hashtag, #yesallwomen, has emerged in response and is trending as women have shared their stories exposing the different levels of misogyny and sexism intrinsically woven throughout our society from domestic violence to walking down the street.

This isn’t a political issue, or one where one group is trying to dominate the other through feminist charges and outrage. This is a basic issue of equality and respect so important that it’s almost laughable, if you have a weird sense of humor like me, that a hashtag needs to exist to help sway some opinions and change people’s habits that have been reinforced by society and pop culture. This is an issue that some men say doesn’t affect them, or “not everyone is like that.” Kind of like when your friend says “I’m not racist but I have this hilarious Mexican joke,” as told to a bunch of white guys. Or when, “at least you’re a girl and can get what you want” is said off-handedly to a woman looking for advice as if that can be assumed. This is an issue where you might think, “I get it, it’s bad, but why do you have to bring it into our beautiful world of action sports? Let the politicians and feminists sort it out.”

While you might think it’s a stretch to apply a social media hashtag that formed as a response to a brutal mass-murder directed at women in California to the world of action sports and its culture, it isn’t. #yesallwomen relates to the institutionalized misogyny that exists in our culture that people pretend doesn’t exist, even here.  We act as if national headlines of equal pay and violence against women need not apply to us because “we’re already above that and we’ve moved on” in our holier-than-thou mountain towns. This crap happens on chairlifts, bike trails, bus rides, in the local ski town bars, and most importantly, in our schools all the time.

Around here you don't make assumptions. Here Francesca Pavillard-Cain hitting a cliff in competition at Snowbird. Photo: Mike Schirf

Around here you don’t make assumptions. Here Francesca Pavillard-Cain hitting a cliff in competition at Snowbird. Photo: Mike Schirf

Just a week ago I found myself in mild disbelief of a guy trying to explain the intricacies of a certain ski area (ours) being better than a certain other (theirs) to a couple women new to Colorado at the Eldo. He starts off his point to people he had literally just met by approximately saying, “Well, I think it’s fair to say that you probably aren’t charging that hard, and you’re girls, so you probably won’t understand this…” Was it the earrings, the good-looking smile they carried, or their tight-fitting jeans? The women he was addressing laughed it off rolling their eyes and I found that to be surprisingly gracious of them.  At the same time, what else is a woman supposed to do? Take this in-the-grand-scheme-of-things small offense as a charge to battle the injustices of our culture and put this bar patron in his place? No, it seems as if occurrences such as these have become so commonplace in women’s lives that it is easier to just laugh it off instead of being called that “bitch”.  In related happenings, I know it is commonplace for a woman to say, “I have a boyfriend” or to give a fake number to a pressing suitor at the bar than deal with the continual advances when “I’m not interested” doesn’t seem to work.

You can extrapolate this same blatant-“but OK” sexism along the scale from the bar to athletic competition. On the Freeride World Tour, there has been 1 male-only competition every year for quite some time.  The organizers say that it’s due to time and venue constraints, costs, and general bullshit.  Maybe it’s the fact that as fans of the sport, we are used to watching men dominate the big screen, and the guys running the competitions think that the men are the real entertainment and the women are only here to be fair. Apparently, and this is officially hearsay, that’s actually what happened because when the idea of a male-only tour was suggested it was shot down by female and male athletes alike. But after winning that small battle the same athletes, male and female, allow for a male-only event to take place and females to be paid less on the podium.  Let’s just swipe that under the rug, shall we? It’s as if we are made to feel that it’s OK that event organizers do that because they have the money and they are the ones pushing the sport so we all should just go along with it. That’s wrong.

 Above is the trailer for “Pretty Faces”, and all-female ski film by Lynsey Dyer. The title is questionable, but is funnily ironic.

Reeling it back into our own little world at the end of the valley, we’ve got to do better.  I’ve worked on a job crew where a woman was told to wear different pants so that she didn’t look like a yoga instructor. I work for a resort that held the Silver Queen pageant, a “family-fun” event full of awkward moments where women raced slalom in bikinis and rode a bull in evening wear to impress mostly male judges and win a ski pass. I coach in an alpine ski program that boasts approximately 20% female participation across the board in enrollment and at competitive events between the ages of 7-18.

Brittany Barefield, currently a junior at CBCS, on top of the podium at Aspen Highlands earlier this year. She was one of 2, -I repeat - girls on the freeride team in a ski town.

Brittany Barefield, currently a junior at CBCS, on top of the podium at Aspen Highlands earlier this year. She was one of 2, – I repeat – 2 girls on the freeride team ages 12-18 in a what is known as a ski town. Read about how her and Josie Byron crushed this year.

How does that relate? When common culture has looked at women as objects for millennia that you (if you’re a man) should possess, this has inevitably led to people’s behavior and characteristics being defined as such. Why push your daughter, sister, friend, or mother to take up action sports when they should probably just focus on being pretty and attractive so that they can be picked up by a man who will take care of them? Why stop your male and even female friend for a second who doesn’t think it’s worth checking out the Women’s DH runs at the local race because they aren’t as fast?  Or why don’t you give your buddy a little jab in the ribs when he says he can do the same tricks the women are doing in Olympic slopestyle? These rhetorical questions are there to just make you wonder, are you going to do anything about it or just let it slide and therefore reinforce what is already so damaging?

For me, a male and a freeride coach, this is most worrisome in our youth. Our pop-culture and mass media objectifies women with one hand and paints feminists as man-hating crazy bitches with the other, as if it’s their fault they’re angry. I know I had my own prejudices as a youth and then a teenager and I feel lucky enough to have had experiences to lead me to believe otherwise and break a mold.  But I know there are countless boys out there obsessed with looking strong enough, whether physically or financially, to get the girl and countless girls thinking that they need to be quiet, subdued, and pretty or the boys won’t like them. That’s a generalization of common practice throughout our country, but the underlying message is there.  A friend of mine, Francesca Pavillard-Cain, said, “Kids are constantly plagued by bad stereotypes of women in action sports and boys and girls alike unknowingly spread these stereotypes.” Relating back to my job as a coach, she continued, “this leads to smaller enrollment for girls in training programs and therefore smaller amounts of women continuing their sport as an adult, pushing themselves, and progressing their sport.”

Women in action sports are fighting more than just being viewed as “naturally inferior” to men. They are fighting more than just being “not pretty enough” to be selected for an athlete team for a big company when women are often selected on their looks over athletic merits.  They are fighting more than just being written off at the bar as someone who doesn’t understand the thrill and rush of adrenaline in action sports because she is “just a girl.”

#yesallwomen relates to the fundamental core of our culture where everybody is affected by the double standards between men and women allowed to exist in our society and often unknowingly reinforce it.  These women and girls in action sports, in our very own town, are fighting for the right to be equal and given the same opportunity afforded to the next athlete. They are fighting to just be who they are within our society of institutionalized sexism and misogyny, which undeniably exists. They are fighting for a culture where this conversation doesn’t need to happen anymore. We’re all a part of it, and it will take all of us to move on.

About the Author

2. Will Dujardin
Will Dujardin is our content editor at West Elk Project. He competes in big mountain competitions and coaches the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team. Skiing is his life and he likes to mix it with other fun things like DH mountain biking and traveling.