Women and Parkour

Women parkour


Stacey (S.G.) Larner is a writer, librarian, Masters student and mother of three children. She lives in Brisbane, Australia, where it is far too humid most of the year. Time management is her specialty.


It is late afternoon and cold winter shadows soften the harsh geometric lines of the urban landscape. On a weekday, this little pocket of the city would be a hive of activity; it’s Saturday, however, and all the shops are closed. It’s eerily deserted. We’re the only people taking up space, here, but why are we here, exactly?

We’re here to learn parkour.

Parkour is a discipline of movement developed in France in the 1980s.[1] One of the aims of parkour is to “be strong to be useful”,[2] and it is differentiated from freerunning which contains an element of self-expression and acrobatics.[3] When I first saw a video of three women doing parkour[4] I had an emotional response. That, I thought, is what I want to do. That is what I want to be. It would take me another year before I would feel confident enough to do anything about it.

I stand with five other parkour traceur wannabes, markedly different. They’re all young and male. They have that kind of effortless fitness of masculine youth, of being encouraged to run and jump and climb trees instead of being warned against wrecking their clothes or hurting themselves. I was never an active child—I read books while my brother played tennis, and skipped physical education class as often as I could get away with it. My fitness journey started late, after I had my last child. Parkour is not an obvious choice for me.

I’m 37 and have spent the last fifteen years slowly unpacking and dismantling the lessons I absorbed quite unconsciously from society. I have three children, two of them girls, and part of my motherhood journey has involved actively embracing aspects of womanhood society deems “dangerous”. From my birth choices, to my evolving relationships, I’ve navigated the world from some fringe positions and while it has been challenging at times they’ve been relatively hidden, in the personal-political sphere, rather than the public-political sphere.

Parkour takes place unapologetically in the public sphere, involving the co-opting of public spaces designed for other uses. There is no doubt parkour is a male-dominated pastime. In my class, the ratio is 7:2, and the other woman is an instructor. As far as I can tell, I’m the oldest, but I manage to keep up. The gym work, running, rockclimbing, and hiking have all helped me attain a level of fitness where I now feel comfortable standing alongside these young men and boys. I don’t, however, accept that testosterone is the reason more male people seek out parkour—rather, it is the gendered nature of outdoor space that determines this skewed participation.

Part of the socialisation process of girls and women is learning to take up less space. Women seem to perceive constricted space for movement, as if our bodies are artificially confined.[5] Our girls are taught, through thousands of small lessons, how to move through a male-dominated world without attracting attention for the “wrong” things. Exuberant physicality is something we tend to avoid in public spaces.

Risk-taking outdoor sports are considered masculine even in progressive Westernised societies. Academic Luisa Stagi notes that parkour is “particularly significant” because it is conceptualised as a risky sport, it takes place in public spaces (generally in cities), and involves co-opting such spaces.[6] In Stagi’s study of female traceuses in Genoa, the interviewees referred to the feeling of embarrassment in performing parkour in public spaces, especially the first time.[7] One noted needing to demolish walls in her head, fighting against herself. This goes beyond simple fear of failure, which I’m sure my male counterparts experience as well. This is a deeper understanding of place, and women’s acceptable behaviour, and that public spaces are not our spaces.[8] This is a sense of unease fed by a lifetime of socialisation that warns us not to violate these rules lest we invite danger.

I know fear of violence is not exclusive to women. I’ve spoken with men who’ve experienced moments of fear that they will be the victims of violence. But only girls have been taught that by transgressing the boundaries set for them by society, they are to blame if something bad happens to them. Only girls hear repeatedly, through the familiar rhetoric after a woman is attacked in public, they are inviting trouble by taking up public space.

I have a friend, Jo Bailey, who is an ultrarunner. She frequently runs long distances, in National Parks and on trails, alone. A quick Internet search on women running alone brings up a story in a women’s running magazine warning of the dangers. Jo is outspoken on the topic. “If something were to happen to me there would be questions about me being out there in the bush alone, especially as dark falls. Why? Because I’m a woman.” We don’t limit men in the same way. There is a simple reason women are underrepresented in outdoor sports. The message is clear: women, this is not your space.


Parkour is said to transform your relationship with your surroundings. You begin to see the world differently, feeling through your eyes.[9] For women, increases in spatial awareness, and development of intentionality towards our surroundings, challenge us to say, “I can”, rather than acquiesce to the self-imposed, “I can’t”.[10] It is dangerous indeed to begin to break down the walls of self-limitation. Dangerous women take up public space.

I assess the height of the bench I’m about to jump onto. The others have already started. In my head, I run through likely worst-case scenarios. Smashing my teeth is top of the list. With a wry grimace at my own self-doubt I avoid the instructor’s gaze and jump. To my surprise, I make it, with room to spare. My body is capable of more than I fully understand.

Stagi claims that female bodies in parkour are subversive because they reclaim subjectivity while transgressing gender and space boundaries. Like the traceuse in her study, there are walls in my mind I have to destroy. Physically and mentally, I’m unlearning all the lessons in bodily inhibition described by Iris Young.

Take back your bodies, women, take back your space.



[1] Mould, O. (2009). Parkour, the city, the event. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27, 738-750.

[2] Stagi, L. (2015). Crossing the symbolic boundaries: parkour, gender and urban spaces in Genoa. Modern Italy, 20(3), 295-305.

[3] Kidder, J. L. (2012). Parkour, the affective appropriation of urban space, and the real/virtual dialectic. City & Community, 11(3), 229-253

[4] Check out http://www.see-do.com/

[5] Young, I. (1980). Throwing like a girl: a phenomenology of feminine body comportment motility and spatiality. Human Studies, 3, 137-156

[6] Stagi, L. (2015). Crossing the symbolic boundaries: parkour, gender and urban spaces in Genoa. Modern Italy, 20(3), 295-305.

[7] Stagi, L. (2015). Crossing the symbolic boundaries: parkour, gender and urban spaces in Genoa. Modern Italy, 20(3), 295-305.

[8] Stagi, L. (2015). Crossing the symbolic boundaries: parkour, gender and urban spaces in Genoa. Modern Italy, 20(3), 295-305.

[9] Saville, S. J. (2008). Playing with fear: parkour and the mobility of emotion. Social & Cultural Geography, 9(8), 891-914.

[10] Young, Iris. 1980. Throwing like a girl: a phenomenology of feminine body comportment motility and spatiality. Human Studies, 3, 137-156.