She will never be second place

Posts like this are some of my favourite on AOW, because I feel like we really get to know someone from the community. This post by Siobhan isn’t the first post she’s written for us, but it is the one where I feel like I’ve really got to know about her, and what makes her tick.

It’s sad, that even in our generation, there are still things that we think, as women, we can’t do. That Siobhan grew up not believing that she could do things in her own right, makes me sad, but I know that she is not the only one. The good news is though, that Siobhan is proof that we can change the way we think…

When I was, I think nine or ten we studied ancient Egypt at school.  I dreamt that an Egyptian princess was being forced to join a human pyramid of dead bodies as a sacrifice to a god.  I dreamt I was saving her from death by killer snakes.  I woke up and was a bit freaked out in real life by the snakes but I had no fear in the dream.  I have no memory of if I was male or female in the dream, I just know I was the protagnaist, the hero, the one who got the girl (but, you know, ew) and slayed the baddy and saved the entire village.

When I was fourteen all I wanted was a skateboard and a guitar.  I wanted to play guitar and skate.  I loved music and thought skateboards were all kinds of cool.  My parents scrimped and saved and got me a skateboard.  It was a weird shape.  I spoke to the skaters at school about what I might be able to do with it, as it was not narrow with two kick flips as the modern ones were, it was a fish tail board, and they said it was more for getting from A to B.  I thought that made it weird but that it would be good to learn on.  I was quite excited. On the day before my 15th birthday the following February I kissed the guy who would become my first boyfriend while standing on that very skateboard. That was one of the last times I used it.

I was shy at school and not massively popular.  The music I loved was not cool, and then when it was, then I was not anyway.  I was a little bit isolated, my confidence and when my boyfriend said that girls who skate were weird and he did not want to date a skater, I quit.  My brother was really upset for me, he said it was so cool that I was a skater – he saw it suiting me, but I quit.  This boyfriend also decided that as he was a guitarist I should probably be a bassist instead and maybe not even a musician as I was not very talented, so it would be better for me to stop, so I did.  Somewhere around here I went from thinking that I would be a rock star skateboarder to thinking maybe I could date one.  I stopped thinking like I could star in my own movie and thought I could play the girlfriend.  I stopped wanting to write a top ten song and hoped one would be written about me.

When I first heard about Dogtown and the Zephyr  team it was all about Tony Alva.  Pretty much none of the other skaters were mentioned, it was just about Tony Alva and how he alone had revolutionised skateboarding. I read lots of articles and saw all the pictures of him skating with the girls mostly spectating.  I thought of how cool it would be to be one of those girls while somewhere a voice whispered inside about how much cooler it would be if I were like Tony Alva.  A few years a later the Dogtown and Z Boys documentary came out and I discovered that there had been other people on the team and that there had been a girl on the team.  That girl was Peggy Oki.  If you watch the documentary you will know that you could not skate with the Zephyr team unless you were great and had good style.  You had to be one of the best.  Peggy Oki was one of the best.  If you look at the famous photo of the Zephyr Team at Del Mar in 1975 you will spot Peggy crouched at the front with a giant smile on her face.  She won the girls championship and was told she was better than some of the guys in the championship.

When I first read about Peggy Oki I was about 21 and I genuinely thought it might be too late for me. At 21.  So though knowing about Peggy allowed me to dream I stamped down on it, partly because I thought it was too late, partly because I was scared and partly because a part of me still thought this was not what girls were allowed to do.  I stayed stuck like that for a long time.

When I was 23 I got really into climbing.  I’d always liked climbing up the walls in my parents’ house and in my houses and halls as a student and it felt like a natural progression.  I was scared but I found I got better every day.  It made me feel strong and like I could do anything.  I was less interested in being better than other people than I was in being better than myself.  I got looked at weirdly by some of the other climbers but once I got going I did not care, and found that I often got support from others when trying to tackle a tricky new route or style.  When I got injured I had to stop, and then found a crippling fear kept me from returning.  Part of that was fear of failure and part of it was again the fear that maybe this was not something I was supposed to be doing.

A couple of years ago I watched 20 Seconds of Joy .  It is about base jumper Karina Hollekim and it made me feel restless.  I wanted to climb the walls of my tiny house. I wanted to fly.  I wanted to skate.  I wanted to surf.  I wanted to be doing things with my body whether I was allowed to or not.  Once more the fear took over.  I felt it was not something I was allowed to do.  I did not start climbing again.  I did not go back to my parents’ house and find my skateboard.  I just stopped and let life drag me back in again.

Two years ago I stumbled upon the Longboard Girls Crew and this video  and those feelings came back again and once again I did nothing.  I’m too old, too girly, and too female even though, um, these are all women here.

My brother in law’s girlfriend is a former BMX champion.  The evidence is all there that this is something I can do.  That me being a girl is no obstacle.  I can be the protagonist in my own life.  I can be the hero.

Last night I watched Dogtown and Z Boys again and followed it with Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.  If you look at the list of skaters in the Bones Brigade yes they were boys, but when I watched it I did not think “How cool would it be to have been Tony Hawk’s girlfriend?” instead I thought about how cool it would be to see if I could skate, the way I’ve always wanted to,  If I could like Amy surf the North Shore, if I could get back into climbing?  The fear is still there, I still have no guarantees that this time I will do it, but I have no more excuses.  30 is not too old, being female is no impediment.  I can be the hero of my own life.  I’ve asked my parents to find my skateboard.

Categories: Life, Life Experience
36 interesting thoughts on this

36 Comments

  1. rachel JHD
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Enjoy rediscovering these joys & skills Siobhan & may you inspire younger girls/women who are just starting to get interested in climbing or skating. Years ago I used to volunteer at a youth club on a Girls’ Night evening whose role was just this that girls can do anything, we went rock climbing, biking etc
    Reading this slightly reminded me of this article http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/08/i-hate-strong-female-characters

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Fantastic article, thank you for sharing that. It reminds me of the brilliant quote from George RR Martin: in response to being asked how he writes female characters so well he answered “I’ve just always considered women to be people”

      Hell yes, George. Women are people, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, sometimes wrong, sometimes right. Just people. Just like men.

      KL xx

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        The New Stateaman is my new favourite Twitter read. I’ve learnt & thought so much through it.

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        I LOVE that quote. It maybe sums up why GoT is one of the few ‘fantasy’ type genre that I enjoy – decent female characters.

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      I loved that article when I read it. Thanks for sharing it more widely. It really resounded with me.

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      This article is brilliant. And sums up my feelings on a lot of YA fiction I’ve read recently!

      • Katielase
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        Interestingly, I think this is one of the things I DID like about Book 3 of The Hunger Games, because Katniss didn’t stay simply ‘strong’, she completely lost her shit and hid in cupboards, and got all messed up inside her head with no idea of how to fix herself, like any normal person would do under the circumstances. To me that felt more honest than when she was simply bad-ass all the time.

        KL x

        • Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

          I gave up at book 2- that’ll learn me.

          Px

  2. Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Fancy teaching me to skate S? I’ve never tried despite also being a huge Zephyr team fan (I’ve got the tshirt so obviously I will be awesome, no?)

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      When I get better! At the moment I am still a bit prone to having a stance that gets me knocked off! I need to use my bum to my advantage to help me stay on (this basically means sticking it out and getting low as I turn!). Once I get capable of staying on my board then I can totally hang out and show you what I do know!

  3. Posted September 5, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    If there’s one thing we can try to teach the next generation of women – as well as ourselves and our own – It’s that as women, we can do anything and everything (except pee standing up because eww), and that we are the protagonists in our own lives.

    Dave would probs be ok with you borrowing his skateboard if you can’t find yours.

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      I found it! I’m going out with M next weekend. He got so excited by me being back into skating that he is getting back into it. We have spent many an evening trying to find a cool new skateboard for him and playing Skate 3 on the Playstation as “practice”. It has been great.

      We’ve also been watching EVEN MORE Skating documentaries, TED talks and so on. It is EXCELLENT.

  4. Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I love this Siobhan! I hope you do go out and be you, and love every moment. You’ve made me feel happier in my own skin just by reading this.

    KL x

  5. Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    This really resounds with me. I was similarly a girl into what were perceived to be conventionally boy things throughout my whole childhood and into teenage years. Never played with dolls, always played with cars. Then grew up and wanted to be a rock star just the same as you! I’m pretty sure I stuck at the guitar thing for a long time because I had such a great role model in my dad, who also played guitar and would encourage me by getting me to jam with his band (all blokes in their 40s and 50s who were much more patient and encouraging than boys my own age might have been). I never really came across anything to put me off my stride through years of playing in bands, even though it was quite apparent I was in a minority as a girl. I think I may have been quite damning of girls who didn’t have the confidence to try forming a band, for a lot of my early twenties I refused to play gigs which purported to support women in music (shocking I know!) because I felt it was patronising and fostered segregation more than integration. That’s still true in some respects, but I could have been less of an arsehole about it. I think women in music movements these days are a lot less militant and more all-embracing and forward thinking anyway, simply because there are a lot more women in music these days, which is just fantastic and long overdue.

    Oh my god I could go on about this for years….

    I have also wondered if I am too old and now being a mum whether it’s too late for me to start a new band. I don’t see any of my male peers having this issue – they just do it! So maybe I have finally succumbed to those fears in some way. I do love playing covers but there’s something powerful and freeing about having something to say and saying it through art/music… I think that’s the same for the physical power of things like surfing, skating and climbing. I think that’s what we both chase, Siobhan, unless I’m wrong! I feel that’s what I’m searching for anyway.

    This is very deep for a Thursday morning! Great post.

    Px

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      I blame my shit school and my dickhead ex for turning me into a ‘princessy’ girl age 16 and turning me off cars and guitars and beung a hippy and other ‘non girly’ things. I so wish I’d been string enough not to cave into that pressure!!

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

        Amy I always think of you being extremes of girly and boy-y. Like a power princess. Welder extraordinaire!

        Px

        • Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

          Thanks P. Nowadays I think that’s true! I just wish I hadn’t shut the ‘boy’ half of me off for so long.

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      I am in no way a rock star, I grew up wanting to be a musical theatre performer, but the power thing, of skating, climbing, any physical strength and challenge, I totally get that. There’s something about using your body, relying on yourself, that is hugely liberating, that makes you feel strong, but not just strong, strong in yourself, proud to be yourself. I learnt a lot about that from you P, and this post has reminded me about it (thank you Siobhan!). It really doesn’t matter what you’re supposed to be, the freedom and power to do what makes your heart soar, that’s the thing. Whether that’s baking, or kick-boxing, or base-jumping.

      KL x

      • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        By the way, I will never base jump. I will climb and abseil but I will never base jump. Or go pot-holing again after I discovered I was REALLY claustrophobic. Being up high and feelingspace and freedom – yes, being in a hole and going through even smaller holes no. Actually in comparason to pot holing base jumping is starting to look really good (even if death is a pretty likely outcome).

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      You are not worng – that is so totally it P! And I would love you to start a new band. And I know we’ve never met yet but you are always a rock star in my eyes. x

  6. Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    This is so inspiring Siobhan. I love the thought that we are never too old to achieve what we want to achieve and that we can do anything no matter what our gender. Good luck with getting back on that skateboard again :) x

  7. Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I love this post – it’s the only one recently (as a non-mum unmarried person) that I’ve read it and thought “yes. I totally get this”. It just clicked for some reason. I’ve been thinking about how I used to be too, albeit from a different angle, more of a confidence one, and am trying to work to get that back.
    You have totally helped me put all of my recent thoughts into perspective, so thank you!

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Thank you! I was a lot less confident when younger (and that is a whole other thing) but now I’m hitting my thirties with a lot more confidence so I think I’m kicking myself for missing out and making a point to get back out there. I hope you can get your confidence back – at least enough to meet me for a coffee in Edinburgh soon (ish). xx

  8. sally
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I am 46 and have just started scooting from canary wharf tube to my new office, its easier to carry on the tube than a skateboard.

  9. Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    This is brilliant, something I am an absolute supporter of – I wish there weren’t ‘boy things’ and ‘girl things’ to do, much like the stupid boy/girl divide on toys that a lot of us are trying to fight at the moment! (http://www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk/)

    Maybe it’s because I had a younger brother and grew up in the countryside but my youth was spent climbing trees and cycling over ramps and mounds in the woods (even with my leg in a cast) and I never considered them boyish things, they were just fun things but I can see now how I might have been considered a ‘tomboy’ in my dungarees (which once had the ass ripped out when jumping out of a tree!) and running about with a supersoaker 2000 (a prize from the Disney Club which my brother was SUPER jealous of)!

    I hope you have lots of fun getting back into your skating hobby! I just want to go outside and play now ;) xx

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Ah I can still see that adventurous spirit in you now Bex! You had a super soaker? That sounds incredible! I want to go outside and play too!

  10. Fee
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    This is brilliant – I hope the skateboarding goes well!

    I always wondered why we were split into girls/boys for most PE at school. Until your late teens I’d say girls/boys are pretty much the same size and we didn’t do a lot of contact sports anyway. Hmmm.

    I was a serious long distance runner and swimmer at a fairly high level until my mid teens when there came a choice between continuing my training to reach the holy grail of Olympic trials or spending more time on my social life. I made what I now think to be the wrong choice. I miss the feeling of strength and just being exhausted from physical activity I enjoy (of course there’s other ways to do that, ahem) so you have inspired me to get back out there.

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Oh do get back out there! I’m loving feeling me from doing this. It just feels free and gives me more confidence in LOADS of other areas (which is great as today is being totally hectic and I’m being in control of about 32 spinning plates and trying to keep them all from smashing round my sandaled toes). So please do! It is brilliant!

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Oh Fee I had a similar crossroads (not with sport) and I’ve beaten myself up about it for years. Lately I’ve started to realise that if I’d signed my youth over to something else I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I think I might have regretted the other choice even more. Be kind to yourself.
      Px

      • Fee
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        I met my husband in a pub when I was 19 so I try to think that all my choices up til then lead me to the life I have now… no Olympic medal but a great life nonetheless! Xxx

  11. Posted September 5, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Great post Siobhan – have fun getting back into skating!

    Like Bex, I don’t know if it’s because I only have brothers, but when I was growing up it never really occurred to me that there were ‘boy activities’ and ‘girl activities’ – I played with dolls and climbed trees, I joined the cub scouts and not brownies (but later went to guides), I went to football matches and also played the violin. These were just things I was into growing up.

    This is a timely post for me as I’m going back to Guiding as a helper/leader next week, partly because it’s where I got to experience so many activities that I, whether boy or girl, might not have got to do otherwise, and I think some girls especially need that help to get the confidence to try, say, abseiling or canoeing. Or being the rock star. I’m looking forward to it!

    • Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      This is excellent. One thing the comments have reminded me of is Eddie Izzard talking about being a transvestite tomboy (or male tomboy) e.g “running, jumping clmbing trees, putting on make-up while you’re up there” but I think it is more than that – and less to do with labels? But his material on this is pretty funny anyway…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPML-n1kRnY

  12. Posted September 5, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    I just wanted to say I love your writing, and I hope you enjoy doing the things you are starting to do again!

    I think my parents were good at making me (and i guess my sister and 2 brothers feel the same!) believe that whatever we wanted to do or become when we ‘grew up’ could be a possibility. I guess it’s when we start considering or caring more about what our friends or partners think that we possibly start narrowing down our options.

    I do think that children should be encouraged to play with whatever toys they like (I like your link Bex!) and we recently bought our 2y old nephew a play food and cooking pan set to go with his play kitchen, and it was so hard trying to find one that wasn’t pink! (Although I don’t think he would have noticed the colour to be honest!)

  13. Beth
    Posted September 6, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Siobhan I love this. It has really resonated with me and you’ve started me thnking about jumping on my metaphorical skateboard! Enjoy it and please can we see some pics? Bx

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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