Sunday, March 14, 2010

The article that never was...

This past month I attended a meeting for the provincial skydiving association. I was shocked at some of the comments of the President that were demeaning towards women. It seems that despite the technological advancements of the sport of skydiving, the social aspect is stuck in the 1960's when it comes to women's roles. This upset me. This, along with the significant amount of funding the government has issued for women in sports prompted me to write an article for the Canadian skydiving Magazine. Unfortunatly, it will never be printed because it speaks negativly about government funding and I guess is a bit 'strong' worded. I was told by the editor that if I toned it down and didn't speak against funding then it could be printed... but that would take the soul out of the piece. SO... seeing as it will never see print, I figured to put it here. At least SOMEONE other than Derek and the editor will have read it! Enjoy - and let me know what you think!

Promoting women in Skydiving, a different perspective:

By Heather Hamilton – Sociologist and Tunnel Flyer

One of the things I love most about skydiving is that when a team is in the sky, it doesn’t matter if they are male or female, it matters what slot they are, what maneouver they are completing, what role they are fulfilling. Their gender doesn’t seem to be an issue in the sky, so why, when on solid ground, does it pose such an issue.

The Government is currently trying to assist sports that have distinct minorities to up their numbers of that particular minority. Women in skydiving are a very real minority as only 22% of Canadian skydivers are women according to CSPA’s records for 2009. Go to any drop zone on any given day and you will see this very prevalently. New Government programs are being created and funding given out for promotion of the sport to women. I think promotion of the sport is great, I am all for it, but why do we have to promote the sport to only women. There are many sports out there that are drastically skewed the opposite way and have way more women in the sport than men, such as Figure Skating, and I don’t see funding being created for the promotion of men in that sport. It is because our society views women as less prone to engage in sporting activities, and in an era where women want full equality, it is suggested that this may be the way to increase equality in some sports. Retention of women in extreme sports will always be low, this is because of the makeup of what society expects from men and women as well as what the sport entails. Some would even argue it is in our genetics, in our fight or flight response or our hormones. Whatever the reason, we know that in the coming future it is doubtful to have a 50/50 split of women and men involved in skydiving.

What could be a different solution to the retention of women in skydiving is the manner in which women are viewed within the sport. Women have been known to be powerhouses, and if you look at some of the top teams in the world, they have women in them. Four way FS teams Peris Fury and Arizona Airspeed both have women jumpers (Christy Frikken & Eliana Rodriguez respectively), our very own Tropical Fish (who received silver at nationals in 2009) have a female member Monique Andrie (who is also CSPA’s newest Course Facilitator) and, Amy Chmelecki has revolutionized VRW as a discipline along with her team Arizona Arsenal. Former Canadian National 4 way teams Stratosphere had Tana Nash and Basic Instinct had Nesta Chapman (also a Course Facilitator), and let’s not forget the all female 4 way team Cat Women, as well as many other Canadian women skydivers such as Jean Aitken, Tina Buckthorp & Nathalie Gaudreault who have been involved in big way formation records. There are even more examples of the leading roles women have played in this sport when you look at the competition records (found on the CSPA website at Just look at the amazing role models women have in the sport.

Whether a recreational or boogie jumper, a junior or competitive jumper, take some time to stop and observe the drop zone around you. Listen to the remarks about gaining more altitude for a “flash” or see the all female teams use names like “Pussy Galore” (which is mild compared to some I’ve heard) and then start to realize why women may not be sticking around and why women’s participation could be so low. While having the ability to be powerhouses, on an average day at a typical drop zone, women are not being treated as such. Where else in our daily lives do we allow such stereotypes and comments? Why would we allow it to be accepted at the place we go for recreation? Time and again I have heard remarks about women’s “role” or some comment that is of a sexist nature. While all remarks are intended in fun, they have a more profound meaning for the women in our sport. It gives the impression that women are less valuable and weaker than the men in the sport, and this is simply untrue. Sociologist and skydiver, Jason Laurendeau, studied this point in his paper “Just one of the Boys” and found that while women felt like they were equal in their ability, they were not being treated or represented as such.

If we look up to the women that are the leaders in our sport, we would know that they wouldn’t tolerate or subscribe to the antics described above. They are serious and passionate about this sport and it reflects in how they treat themselves and others, and in what they tolerate. If we follow the example they have set for us and have more respect for our fellow skydiver whether they are woman or man, then perhaps women might feel more welcome and less threatened or exploited. I am all for extra funding for increasing awareness of the fantastic sport we all love, but let’s be our own advocates for women in the sport. Let’s support each other in a positive way and not in a derogatory or sexist way. This will show the public that we all are proud of our sport and that our sport is proud to have women (and men) as members of it. We are a community of diverse but passionate people, and when we are in sky it doesn’t matter what our gender is so why is it such a big deal when we’re on the ground?