Feminism on wheels

Several female skaters took an unapologetic stand against the male-dominated skate culture.

Philadelphia resident Shannon Sexton, 32, is an active member of Shred the Patriarchy. Margo Reed | TTN
Philadelphia resident Shannon Sexton, 32, is an active member of Shred the Patriarchy. Margo Reed | TTN

They’ve got their hair pulled back and helmets on, and they’re taking over the halfpipe.

Shred the Patriarchy is a feminist skate group that has been grinding a spot into Franklin’s Paine Park – for women. Home for summer break from Oberlin College in Ohio last May, philosophy student Sky Kalfus was feeling left out of the skateboard culture due to her gender and decided to do something about it.

The Facebook site went up: invitations were sent out to LGBTQ groups and anyone who identifies with being female, to take a stand against the male-dominated culture of skateboarding. Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. and Sundays from 4-6 p.m. became the official meet-up times, where Shred the Patriarchy asserts an unapologetic and empowered attitude on wheels.

“It’s incredibly easy to ‘not fit in’ at a skate park,” Kalfus said. “What if you are afraid for your body? What if you’re a tiny girl who likes to wear dresses? The idea behind getting a bunch of girls together is to support each other in doing something very contrary to what we feel is acceptable, which is to take up space in a skate park if we don’t skate that well.”

Kalfus describes skate culture as a do-it-even-if-you’re-terrified style of learning experience that is intimidating to newcomers, female or not. Shred the Patriarchy slows things down and opens a how-to dialogue.

An organized ride over gender limitations is a new concept for Philadelphia skate parks, and it  caught the attention of Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund. Street Level, a fundraiser gala hosted by the fund, will be held on Oct. 1. The fundraiser aims to shed light on the faces that make up the skate community, through an event that will honor people making a difference and encouraging the “positive outcomes that can come when you foster someone’s passion for and excitement about skateboarding.”

“We are honoring Sky Kalfus, someone who has created a community at Paine’s Park, and has done it as a way not only encourage people to skate, but to support the interest of people who may feel intimidated or feel unwelcome in the space,” Josh Dubin, executive director of Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund said. “[Shred the Patriarchy] is a supportive environment for people to learn and connect.”

With school back in session, Kalfus will not be able to attend the gala to accept the honor on behalf of Shred the Patriarchy, but will look to some fellow lady skaters who have been keeping the group going.

Shannon Sexton has been skating Philadelphia for 15 years, and was one of the first members to join STP.

“When I first moved here, I would go years without seeing another girl skater, and now I’m seeing them all the time,” Sexton said. “It’s been awesome seeing four, five, six girls at the skate park. That used to never happen.“

As a facet of the crew’s all-inclusive nature, Sexton applies her skills as a skate and snowboard instructor to educate newcomers.  Welcome is extended to all skill levels, from the boardless to the board masters.

“People from all different backgrounds and places and ages can be on a skateboard,” Sexton said. “I’ve met so many different kinds of people because of skateboarding and that’s definitely what Shred the Patriarchy is all about. There’s absolutely no exclusions.”

While the group is small, Kalfus hopes keeping up with social media will encourage the Shred the Patriarchy to grow. With the accessibility of an open, public skate park that is located on the Schuylkill River Banks, most members have just stumbled upon the grassroots movement.

Margo Reed | TTN
Margo Reed | TTN

Ciara Wright, a University of the Arts student, was new to Philly when she got involved, and happened upon STP with a group of male skate friends.

“We were hanging out down at Paine’s skate park one night and I was sitting on one of the benches with my board leaning up next to me, watching all the dudes pulling these crazy tricks,” Wright said of her first Philly skate park experience. “A girl comes over to me with a huge smile on her face and asked if I was there for the all-girl skate night. I wasn’t but ‘all-girl skate night’ sounded like something out of my dreams or a ‘90’s Riot Grrrl Zine,’ so I said yes.”

Lashondra Jackson, a 30-year-old skater-in-training, wasn’t sure if her age would prohibit her experience.

“Shred the Patriarchy was exhilarating,” Jackson said. “I am a plus size woman and most people fat shame me and tell me I’ll break the board, but I don’t let their comments bother me. They’re just trying to oppress me anyway. I showed them.”

The girls of Shred the Patriarchy band together under the inherent exclusion they feel when entering what is seen as a male’s world, and redefine the need for tough skin required for the sport.

“If Paine’s Park contained exclusively girls, decked out in skinny jeans and Vans sponsorship gear, not wearing helmets and doing the gnarliest grinds, the skate park would still be a really intimidating place,” Kalfus said. “It’s not just boys that make girls not want to skate. It’s skate culture, which is heavily fashion oriented, brand oriented and machismo oriented.”

When they aren’t learning new moves to show off, the girls of Shred the Patriarchy just simply hang out. Kalfus wanted to not only create a safe space for women to be hardcore and exercise ownership of skate parks, but also an empowered set of friends. Kalfus emphasized that Shred the Patriarchy is a group of skaters that live in the “real world.”

“When I post pictures of the group on Facebook, not skating, just chilling, the purpose is to say: ‘Look at us. We look like you! If you were here, you’d fit right in.’ Any girl who wants to try the park should just start showing up,” Kalfus said. “Girls are totally shredding, and you don’t need to be on someone else’s terms to skate. You can be good on your own terms.”

Brianna Spause can be reached at brianna.spause@temple.edu and on twitter @BriannaSpause

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