I have just read the article on the female category by Lesley Gale, and would like to add a few words. I would like to state that I am not pro or against the category, but I do have some stuff to add….
Growing up I did a lot of sports, too many to mention. I loved competing with everyone and I hated when at age 11, we were suddenly categorised into different sexes. I found it less fun and whilst some things were more challenging, they didn't fit with my game. So when I started skydiving, just after my 17th birthday, and realised that males and females could compete on an open playing field, I wanted in. It was because males and females could compete together, that I wanted to skydive. Sure jumping out a plane was fun (especially the canopy bit when you're starting on raps like I did) but I wanted to compete and I wanted to compete with both men and women.
I have flown at a 25 average in competition, and up to 27.6 average in training (judged). I have never competed on a female team. I knew what I wanted, I watched others and saw how I could get there, then I did it. I knew I had to stand out and get my personal flying better so I got a job at a wind tunnel. I watched every person flying, how people coached, how 4-ways flew, what looked good what didn't, what was faster what wasn't. I went home and watched more videos, I flew at every chance I could with a lot of good flyers. I got myself enough on the scene to have the privilege to work with some amazing coaches and learn so much. Then I got on a team. I was cheeky, outwardly (but never inwardly) cocky with how I was asking, and I got on most of the teams I wanted to.
None of this had anything to do with being a girl and that was how I liked it.
So when I started skydiving I didn't see the point in the female category. I came in at a time when girls were already overtaking a lot of the guys in the sport due to funding etc. In the UK it was and I believe still is, easier to get funding being an all female team, rather than mixed. To me that is just wrong. But I had to realise that that was a problem with the system, not the category. I used to hate with a passion the female category because of that. But things change.
My thoughts at the time that still stand however are as follows…
I look at the female category in the same way as I look at feminism and 'he for she'. It's there to serve a purpose, but if we take it too far then it can become damaging in that it can cause a push of girl power that goes above fighting for equality. My thoughts that go against the category are where funds are pushed towards female teams rather than the best teams at the time who may be female. I have flown at above a 25 average, wearing 22 lbs of lead, and been fine. That's not to say that every girl will have to wear that much lead, my following team I only had to wear 6lbs with 3 guys, but what I'm saying is that we can do it. If I can, anyone can. You just have to want it enough.
I came into skydiving at a time when really, the UK, in my opinion didn't need it. I can't talk for other girls but I was never too shy to jump with the guys. The only thing that did put me off was the sexism that went on. But that would have happened regardless.
To be honest its not something that has ever happened on the 4way scene. It was more with certain instructors as I was starting in the sport. As a young girl on the dropzone I got a lot of attention. Some good, but some not so good. I remember climbing into the plane and having my bum slapped, or tits grabbed as I was practicing an exit. That shouldn't happen. I remember being told once graduating my AFF instructor course, that I should flirt with the male students as it was something the guys did to help female retention, and I could help male retention by doing the same thing (I never did).
I can't speak for other girls, but I can for me. It was something I didn't know how to deal with – especially being that young. You either go along with it and are seen as fun and having a sense of humour, or you fight it and are seen as frigid and accused of being a flirt or leading people on just by being friendly. In the end I just started trying to ignore it when it happened and that seemed to do the trick. But I do know other girls that I've seen exactly the same things happen too and have since stopped partly due to this. One also almost ended up having a serious accident after her instructor was fooling around with her.
This was over a decade ago now. Whilst it did happen as a student and young jumper, its not something i've ever experienced on the 4way scene. As a matter of fact, competing in 4way has actually given me the opposite experience and been one of the best things that could have happened to me.
So my next point is that even though in the UK as an example, there really is no need for the female category, and it seems unfair that female teams are getting funding where opens teams competing at a higher level are not (nothing against the girls here, just the system). This is not however true in other countries. Dubai as an example culturally I don't think could have guys competing with girls, in which case the argument of a smaller pool to choose for stands (where I don't think it does otherwise as people could compete in the open). Now to have skydiving open to these countries, we kind of need the category.
One thing I read from the previous article was a point about jealousy. I think maybe that could come into it, but I for one have never put too much emphasis on winning a world meet. My goal has always been to do the best I can with the best team I can and keep improving. Eventually my goals changed but what I love is competing at the top of my sport with the best in the world, and winning rounds and being in the fight. One example of this is the World Championships in Czech. That competition and the lead up to that competition taught me so much and pushed me hugely. I was super happy to be able to keep the pressure on Airspeed, despite losing it a bit in the middle, I was happy with how we reacted.
We then went on to win in Dubai and although it was an amazing competition with some great competitors, I didn't feel so good. Peoples faces have been studied on podiums and one thing that has come out is that often people on the 2nd and 3rd step seem happier that those in 1st place. So if we are doing this for the reasons of just wanting a medal, then sure, the female category may annoy some people with them being able to win with a lower average. But if we're doing it because we love it and want the personal challenges, then it really doesn't matter.
I honestly don't know. I don't see it doing any harm, but I don't believe that funding or prizes should be given when there is nothing to stop the females fighting for them in the open category, just as the French girls did, winning a silver medal at the Bedford World Challenge 2016.
And finally, I have a lot of friends that are competing in the female category. I would like to also say that nothing I have written is in any way meant to take away their achievements. I have a lot of respect for a lot of the past and present female teams and none of this can take away the huge efforts and sacrifices I know that they have made.