Glasgow Parkour Girls in Edinburgh with their parkour girls
By Fiona B
For those who haven’t heard, Glasgow Parkour Girls will be hosting a 2 day training event for women* only. We thought it would be appropriate therefore, to take this opportunity to directly address a question we are regularly asked: why don’t you let men train with you?
Firstly, we’ll begin by pointing out that this isn’t a hundred percent true. We do train with men. We actually quite like (training with) men! Some of our favourite (training) people are men. But it is true, that there are some times in our training (like girls’ jams, girls’ class or the above mentioned Clamjamfrie), where we aim to have women only spaces.
We do recognise that a hundred percent women only space is not always feasible in parkour. We train in public spaces, and we know therefore that men may be at out spots. We also recognise that we may bump into male practitioners while out training, we share the same spots after all! And we don’t mind that. Despite the fact girls jams are advertised as women only, we would never make anyone unwelcome. As many of you know, there are no women coaches in Scotland at the moment, so girls’ class is always taken by a male coach.
However, we believe it is important to strive for women only training spaces sometimes, and we think it is important that we are allowed these spaces. Anecdotal evidence and research has shown that many women feel uncomfortable training alongside men. This is due to many complex and intersecting social issues. Parkour, and sport in general, is often portrayed as a masculine pursuit. The media image of who does parkour often features a large, muscular man, who can easily perform feats that require incredible mental and physical strength. While this image is alienating to potential practitioners of all genders, it is particularly relevant to those who are not men. A women only environment allows women to try parkour in a more relaxed atmosphere, were they may feel less self conscious or nervous.
Female athletes face different issues in their discipline to their male counterparts. There are general physical differences, such as strength, distribution of weight, body shape, etc. For example, many parkour women have a different understanding of climb ups: most beginners lack the upper body strength to learn them, and many women find their breasts to be a hindrance to the movement. Many women menstruate, which can effect their athletic output over their cycle, but this is very difficult to discuss, let alone get advice on, from male coaches. It’s not just physical differences that are present, but also mental ones too. In my experience, women face more fear and self-doubt, many women are turned off by competitive or aggressive tasks (such as ‘chase situations’). While this is a generalisation and not essential to every female practitioner, these differences (which are due to the socialisation of young children) are present in many women practioners.
Some people have suggested to me that the creation of women only spaces is unfair to male practitioners. I don’t think so. Women are in the minority in parkour, and there have been many times when I’ve gone out training and been the only women there. As a friend and (male) practitioner once said “Every jam is a boys jam”. Women’s uptake and participation in sport in general is lower than men. The reasons are complicated, and often to do with societal ideas of gender roles. For example, even from a young age we encourage young boys to play rough and get muddy, where as young girls are often presented with gentler sports, or even discouraged from sports entirely. Women face different societal pressures which men do not, and these act as barriers to women’s participation. Therefore creating women’s only spaces seeks to readdress that imbalance and allow more women to comfortably enter the discipline.
I don’t think women should only train together for all of their training. I think training with a wide variety of different people is important to develop in parkour. However, I would have never started parkour if there hadn’t been the option of a Girls’ Class, and it took me a while before I felt comfortable to train with men. Because of this I will always advocate for women only training spaces. I know how amazing and helpful the male community is, but I understand the feeling of intimidation towards training with a large group of men. I would hate for someone to miss out because they didn’t have a chance to fall in love with parkour because there wasn’t a situation where they felt comfortable to do so. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need these spaces, but we don’t live in that world, not yet. And until we do women only spaces are important to attract new practitioners and strengthen the women’s community.