064. Naomi Honey and Melissa Way: Women’s experience, societal impact, and unsolicited advice

Podcast episode


Craig: Welcome to the Movers Mindset Podcast where I interview movement enthusiasts to find out who they are, what they do, and why they do it. In this episode, Naomi Honey and Melissa Way discuss the importance of women’s experience in parkour what that means and how society impacts it. They delve into the unicorn syndrome, the polarization of genders, and how community leaders can help get more women involved. Naomi and Melissa tackle why women’s only events are important, how to create a welcoming environment and their experience with unsolicited advice. But first I’d like to ask you, what platform do you use to listen to the podcast? Please let us know by heading to moversmindset.com/survey. Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.

Melissa: I’m Melissa Way.

Naomi: I’m Naomi Honey.

Craig: Melissa Way is a member of the Movers Mindset team who works behind the scenes to help produce the podcast. Known to the team members as our guest advocate, she communicates with guests to coordinate interviews. In addition to her work on Movers Mindset, she is a traceuse and coach in her local community. Welcome Melissa.

Melissa: Thanks Craig.

Craig: Naomi Honey is both a parkour and life coach. Naomi began coaching with parkour generations in 2012 alongside of business career before quitting her desk job altogether a few years ago. She now runs her own life coaching business, Flytality, where she helps people make the life changes they really want. Most recently Naomi has become interested in Brazilian dance as a part of her movement practice. Welcome Naomi.

Naomi: Thanks, Craig. I don’t want to target at you exactly, but so why is the women’s experience important for us to talk about?

Melissa: I think the women’s experience is important to talk about because it’s less talked about, or it’s discussed, but not necessarily understood. And it’s important to discuss because there’s kind of questions around it, right? Like everyone’s asking, oh the the ratio in parkour, or in many things really, but specific to parkour in this case is like, “Oh there’s so many less women, and why is that?” And discussing the experience of women in parkour is a great way to kind of start answering that question. Whether that’s just through understanding, or working out ideas on why that is and how to change that is a great starting place to just open it up and discuss.

Naomi: Yeah, I really agree. I mean I kind of feel like the minority experience in anything in the world and society and whatever is important to talk about because there are always hidden things that those people experience. And it can be very good and can be problematic. And the only way to discover and to change anything is to get it heard, get it talked about.

Melissa: So we just kind of defined what we call the women’s experience in parkour. And now I think it’s important that we go into kind of what is that? Why are we defining that as something different? What are we talking about when we say women’s experience?

Naomi: Yeah, absolutely. So I mean there were so many things like, and everyone’s individual experience is completely different, of course. The thing I always think, so when I’m coaching, and when I’m encouraging women to come and to start parkour and to continue and so on, there are a few things.

Naomi: So one is the progression curve I think is really different for women than for men. Partly because it’s just how we’re structured physiologically that women usually start out less strong. They’re rate of strength increase is generally slower than men’s. They’re a bell curve of course, but the bell curves are slightly different, and they overlap and la, la, la.

Naomi: But we generally start out, they’re strong, we develop strength less quickly. We are less physically robust. And then that just doesn’t matter because you follow your own curve. But as soon as you’re in a realm with other people whose curve is different, then it can be quite scary, and it can be quite daunting. And particularly I think it’s quite easy to go, oh my goodness, I’m not as good at this because I’m not progressing as quickly.

Naomi: And to not realize, oh no, this isn’t to do with me as an individual. It’s partly to do with my gender and just how my body develops physically. But it has a really big impact on where you feel your place is in the group, and how other people treat you, how you treat yourself, all of that. That’s one thing that I just always think is huge.

Melissa: Yeah. I think that’s a good way to define the experience just because everyone is following their own path, and it’s different. But sometimes we feel like, oh, I’m not keeping up, or I’m not good enough, or I’m not progressing. And it’s just having something to compare yourself to. Right? It has nothing to do with you. It’s just looking at something else, and saying, why am I not that?

Naomi: Yeah. Because we naturally, I mean everyone, just naturally benchmarks themselves against other people. And we look at our progression, not just in terms of what I could do last week, but also other people. That’s just a really human way to look at stuff.

Melissa: Right. And it’s not just coming into the thing, it’s what you’re bringing in with you. The mindset you’re coming into it with, or the expectations you’re coming into it with, whether that’s on yourself, or on the activity, or from society on you. And all of those I think play a particular role in how we view ourselves in that space.

Naomi: That’s one thing that I really remember was a massive learning for me from starting parkour, that when I was a teenager and early 20s, before I discovered parkour, when I was young, I was very active and sporty and so on. But then you hit sort of late teenage years, and I started to only look at my body in terms of what it looked like. That was my only relationship, really, or conscious relationship with my body, how I feel about it was related to, am I happy with the shape and the size and that?

Naomi: And then starting parkour just changed it completely because suddenly I had a new measure, and it was what can my body do? And that changed so much. Because I really remember when I was younger, I always thought my arms weren’t skinny like some people’s… oh, it just sounds so ridiculous, but I remember I had that in my head as a benchmark. And then suddenly when I was doing parkour, and when I got my first pull up, it was so exciting. And then suddenly I had new measure of, oh my God, who cares what they look like? Look what they can do.

Craig: What is an arm supposed to look like? What is a functional arm? It’s not skinny and slim, right?

Naomi: Exactly. And it’s just like, oh, I can do this. This is so great.

Melissa: And I think that’s something society doesn’t teach, not just women, but anyone, society doesn’t value what you can do. Right? It’s all about, oh, do you look a certain way? How can you change how you look? Or you go to the gym to aesthetically change your body, or you’re losing weight for this reason.

Craig: Sculpt.

Melissa: Yeah, exactly. It’s not necessarily health centered. It tends to be aesthetic centered. And I think changing that mindset around that is huge. It’s a huge kind of paradigm shift for so many people.

Naomi: Definitely. And that’s been there for women for decades. I mean longer than that, how women’s bodies look have always been important. And now I think that pressure is really coming in for men as well. You see major problems with steroid use, and gym thing. And that’s something where parkour is incredible of what you look like is so much less important than what you can do. Because even people going to the gym lifting weights, so many of them, they’re measuring it a lot in how it looks. Also how much they can lift.

Melissa: Right, right. And I think the unique thing about parkour from that is also it’s not how much can you lift, it’s how functionally can you use the strength that you’re building. Right? So it is about what you can do. Not one specific aspect of it. And I think that is different from just, okay, I’m lifting so that I get that whatever particular muscle I’m trying to highlight more, I’m toning that. It’s it will be strong, it will be tone, just because you are able to do something. That ability changes the way your body functions, and that can change the look, but more importantly, that ability is there.

Naomi: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s so exciting to develop ability. It’s so lovely. I mean it is literally developing a new skill that’s it’s so much fun to do. And then it’s so enjoyable to have, and to use. And it’s lovely.

Melissa: Right. It’s unlocking potential, right? It’s like, oh, I never knew I could do that. And suddenly I view the whole world differently and how I can interact with it, or what that ability allows me to see, or change, or do.

Naomi: Yeah. And I reckon socially physical ability like that is more accepted for men to have than for women to have. It’s considered much more exceptional for women to have. And sometimes, do you know, I remember this one, it wasn’t at a parkour class, it was another fitness class that I went to. It was super fun. It’s this brilliant thing. It’s in London. It’s called Project Awesome. It’s really good. You run about, you jump. It’s loads of fun. It’s very welcoming, embracing to everybody. All of that.

Naomi: But I remember there was bystander, and I went to this class. There was this sort of lap you ran and all that. And then, there was one point where there was basically a box jump. And quite a lot of the men were doing the box jump, most of the women weren’t because it was quite high what they could do. And I could do it. So I was doing it. And this guy, this sort of passerby who was just watching. And then he saw me do it, and he said, “Oh, you’re just showing off now.” And I think-

Melissa: Really?

Naomi: I know. Your expression was just so… Oh my God, I have such an issue with that phrase. Let’s talk about that, right? But it was so interesting. I was furious. I was so angry. And I don’t think he meant it in a bad way. I think he kind of meant it as a compliment.

Melissa: I’m sure. I’m sure it wasn’t like, “Oh, don’t show off.”

Naomi: Exactly. But that phrase, oh my God, I was incandescent with fury, and particularly because I didn’t say anything to him. And I wish I had. But I was so angry in that moment, I just couldn’t. And no way he said that to any of the guys.

Melissa: Right.

Craig: Right.

Naomi: No way.

Melissa: Because that’s not showing off for guys. Right? You’re expected to be able to do that.

Naomi: Yeah. And that’s a pressure in itself for guys. But like that, almost that phrase, that wasn’t a parkour situation, I feel like that sums up some of the female experience in parkour, of that idea that if you are developing yourself exceptionally, you’re showing off.

Melissa: Right. Well and there’s that kind of thing, and I kind of refer to it as unicorn syndrome, right? So it’s like, oh, you’re either showing off, or it’s like, oh, this is crazy. There’s this woman who can do all these things. And that’s not typical.

Naomi: Yeah. Look at that unicorn over there.

Melissa: Now you’re, oh, you’re the exception to the rule. But what is that rule, right? The societally developed opinion of what women’s fitness should be, or has been in the past.

Naomi: Yeah, totally. And that’s only when we talk about increasing engagement and getting more women into parkour, I actually think that’s a really important thing. That’s why, because why not? We’re just talking about humans developing their physical capability, and everyone can do that. And if half the population are engaging more than the other half, and there’s no reason… there we go. That’s why.

Melissa: Right. Well, and I think about too, like maybe people look at it and go, “Oh, that’s a men’s thing. Look at all the men who are doing that. This is what it looks like when men do it because it’s for men.” But that’s not the case. And is it just we haven’t seen enough women, or it’s not, not popularized, but it’s not shown as much. It’s not as visible. And is that affecting who decides that they are capable, or they want to try?

Naomi: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And that’s something, I mean, society at the moment, I find that very worrying. And if young people, particularly for kids, the adolescents, that genders are getting so polarized. And they always have been to an extent, but I think part of the drive for it is basically commercialization that-

Melissa: Very much.

Naomi: … when people want to sell you stuff, they want to put you in a box because then you’ll buy stuff relevant to that box.

Melissa: Right, right. And that’s solely for the purpose of encouraging you or getting you to buy something. Not because it’s right or correct or true, but now we believe that because that’s what we’ve been shown and taught and seen since we were, I mean, able to understand that. Since before then really.

Naomi: Yeah, yeah. Totally.

Craig: Naomi, in your discussion of that class, you brought up what I think is an interesting case to maybe unpack further. You described, I’m hesitant to say the word muggle, you just got this passerby who was watching, who made a comment that had an effect on you. And I think I hope that anybody listening, regardless of gender, would realize why that comment missed its mark. What he said made no sense. It’s objectively a stupid thing to say.

Craig: And I’m just wondering if we can maybe pick apart a little bit further about what are people thinking when someone makes that kind of comment? What was that person probably thinking. You touched on it very briefly about how that person clearly just, they’re part of a society, so they have been inculcated with a certain idea of what women are, what women can do, what women should say.

Craig: So that’s very clear in that example. But I’m just thinking, let’s circle back to that idea, and talk more about maybe a third party observer making that comment. And then also, I mean clearly, that kind of thing gets said within parkour spaces too. I say that to guys, people who are way advanced. They do something, and I’d be like, “Oh, now you’re just showing off.” And it comes from a place of like, oh, you’re killing me. But there’s an interesting thread there that I would like to go further with.

Naomi: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s such an interesting idea that generally what happens is we look at what other people are doing through our own filter. So that guy was going, oh, as far as I’m concerned, you’re now showing off because I can’t do this and you can, and whatever. And what he meant was, hey, that’s brilliant. Good job. But he didn’t say it.

Craig: Well we’ll assume that’s what he meant. We’ll assume good intent.

Naomi: That’s a very fair point. And so in a parkour context, someone might say that. Oh, you’re just showing off. It’s because they’re looking at it through their own filter. And I think the problem is that the reason it hits women particularly hard is it happens much more. Socially, people want women to be in more of a box. No one wants that intentionally. Maybe some do. But, I think it’s purely a social thing that happens. And it’s a thing that happens particularly in the physical realm.

Craig: The question that I have heard the most from, it’s mostly men just because that’s I think who most of the community leaders are, but the question I hear the most from community leaders is how do we get more women involved in parkour, and particularly in leadership roles within parkour. I’ve heard that a lot. So I’m not sure that that’s a question that would only come from men, but it definitely comes from community leaders.

Craig: And I’m wondering is that actually a question that needs to be answered? What’s wrong with there simply being whomever is in the community, just that’s who it is. And if there happens to be communities that are very female centric with a large number of women, then that community is women centric. And this community is just a bunch of teenagers. But I was like, is there actually an issue that we can identify with if it just winds up not being commingled? Is that really a problem?

Naomi: So it’s really interesting. I find it amazing and really heartening and wonderful that community leaders are basically wanting that. People who are experienced see the value, as a general rule, not exclusively, but in any area, people usually see the value. And one thing is if you look in business, there’s real push at the moment to get more women in leadership in business. And it’s understood now they look at a financial performance, and businesses that have more women in leadership roles do better financially. It’s understood as a social group, things are better when there are both genders. Not that women are better. It’s just you want a balance.

Craig: Yeah. The multiplicity of viewpoints, it winds up finding a better solution.

Naomi: Exactly. And so I think that’s really important. But then another thing that’s been shown in all sorts of areas is, to an extent, people need role models. Yes, there were some incredible people who power through without a role model and become the role model to others. But more people are able to access more success and higher chance of success if they have a role model that they identify with. And that’s been shown to be the case in all sorts of fields. And so it’s the case in parkour as well.

Melissa: Before I came to London, I was here for the WIPW, Women’s International Parkour Weekend. And before I left, I had actually probably several, like two different men ask me, “Why are you going to this event? Why is it only women? What is the purpose of that?” And I was wondering if you could unpack that idea a little because I think that’s an important notion that is discussed not as much as it could be, and to understand that idea.

Naomi: Yeah, for sure. So, right at the beginning, I had issue with women’s only classes, workshops, events. Because my view was if there was a men’s only, that would really annoy me. That would not be acceptable. And I think the thing that’s really important here is that it’s a minority group that gets together, and they’re really positive reasons for supporting.

Naomi: And if we keep that in mind, this isn’t about men, women, it’s about minority, then suddenly there is the reason because people have the same problems, and they can help each other and support each other and create a network. I think it’s massively important in a mixed environment that everybody’s welcome and supported and supportive and all of that. And all of the events, classes I’ve ever been to are absolutely amazing like that.

Naomi: So I am strong for a woman. I’m strong for a person, but in the parkour community, I’ve been training a year and a half, I’ve got pretty strong, a guy can start and be weaker than me, and within a few months, he has surpassed me in strength, in power, in bounce, in fearlessness, and it can be very demoralizing. That can be really tough. And it’s so reassuring to see other women, and go, oh, I’m totally on the right, completely normal track. And actually that’s huge to go, this isn’t me, this is us, and to have an us.

Naomi: And when you’re in a minority, so you’re just a smaller proportion in the group, that then also who are the people you might connect with, and let’s say you really connect with 10% of whoever you meet. You kind of need enough people that got your 10% around. And so this weekend, Women’s International Parkour Weekend 2019, this was the sixth year it’s run, we had 60 women participating. And people come back year after year, and they make friendships, and they keep those, and they support each other throughout the year, not just at the event. And that’s huge.

Melissa: I think you bring up a great point with the community and that aspect of connection with people who are like you, that you can see yourself in. And I also think with those people and that connection, there’s a sense of space, right? There’s this safe space and this comfortability because you relate to them. And I’m just trying to think… I think that’s really important to women’s events, but how can we take that from a women’s event and apply that to any community? And some communities already have that. But what makes that a safe space, or what creates that comfort level?

Naomi: I think there’s a thing about how welcome you feel, and how much you are engaged with when you first arrive somewhere, and you’re new somewhere. Right? And to an extent, if you turn up and there are a load of other people like you in the room, whatever we’re talking about, whether we’re talking gender, race, anything, there are people like you in the room, then there is instantly a, yeah, this is my space. I feel right here.

Naomi: And if you turn up and there isn’t that, it can still be created by the people running the room, and the people in the room by how actively welcome they make you. So there is something about that, about making sure that minorities… and you know what, this isn’t even just about women. Because this is also what about people who are less able bodied. Actually in the parkour community as a whole, I think incredibly welcomed. Come, do your stuff, and it’ll be a really welcome space. But if I were not able bodied, regardless of gender, I’d definitely feel intimidated showing up. How do we make the space welcome for everybody who is in the minority if they’re turning up.

Craig: I think that begs the question of the stereotypical space is going to be either an indoor and outdoor gym kind of thing, but it’s going to be that you opened the door, or you walk through the Gates of the park, and at first, hypothetical, you glance around and it doesn’t look like your space. So there are going to be hopefully some allies already in the space. People who would literally see you coming in the door. What types of actions or what types of setups, in other words, does the ally drop the bag, run over like, “Oh, so glad to see you,” which I think is actually not a good way to do it. It’ll immediately put the spotlight on the person who walked in. But what types of activities create that invitation, create that welcome feeling, even though you can see that the space doesn’t match your space.

Naomi: It’s such an amazing thing to think about for any situation. How do we make this welcoming for everybody? And I think to an extent it starts with the leaders. If the leaders in the room are actively making people feel welcome, go and say, “Hi, how are you doing? I haven’t seen you here before. Welcome.” One nice thing to happen. And if the leaders do it, then other people follow, always. That’s how leadership works.

Melissa: Conversely though, you have to keep in mind not everyone is the same. So there might be the first time someone shows up to a class, they’re like, I don’t really know what I’m doing. And even if they may feel like the space may reflect them, it might be more welcoming, or not necessarily welcoming, but less intimidating, just more comfortable, if they’re not immediately rushed, like, “Oh, you’re the new person, great. Welcome.” And they’re like, oh gosh, this is a lot. Right? And they just want anonymity in their arrival. And I’m just here to see what this is about. And this is not a commitment. So being careful with how you treat that as well is important.

Naomi: Yeah, for sure. Not all pile in. But I still think a smile and a welcome. Hi, how you doing? Welcome. Boom, job done.

Craig: I think we can also pivot off of that idea of how do you make people feel welcome, the next logical thing to talk about is unsolicited advice. And this is a continuous point of contention in the parkour coaching world and the inside communities. And I’ll share a little anecdote, and I’m almost hesitant to tell this story because this is an unsolicited advice that I gave, almost against, like I really have this dialed in like don’t ever do it. I did it at a situation and it turned out really well.

Craig: I was in a coached environment inside a parkour built gym, and there was, it was actually a mother of a student in the class. So it’s a woman my age, cohort, I’ll say the same age, and she’s fairly new, and she was balancing on a rail two feet off the ground. And I happened to see her, we’re in the same space. And I feel like 10 minutes of her doing it, she was making the same mistake over and over. And I’m like, I wonder if she’s ever been told the thing that I was thinking.

Craig: So I had a few minutes of unsolicited advice Craig, because I know all about this. Don’t give it. And I thought I can’t stand it. She’s driving me bonkers. If she just knew this one little trick it would save her. So I walked over, and I had to basically interrupt her training because she was busy working, and I did it as I said it, and I stepped up on the bar, and I said, “If you take your second foot off the rail, and use your leg as a counterbalance, then you have three balancing limbs.”

Craig: And I just did it real quick because I can do it. And she was like, “Oh that’s really interesting.” And I said, “Okay cool.” And I left. I think that was the key was that I said I have this thing and then I went away. Not that I didn’t think about it the rest of the class. But at the end they did a mandatory what did you like, or not like about the class? And when she spoke up I thought, oh, I’m going to get called on the carpet because I did it.

Craig: And she said, “I really appreciated that Craig took a moment to come over and mentioned,” we call it squirrel tail, “mentioned the squirrel tail bit because it was super helpful.” And I don’t think she understood that the average person might have stood there for the next 10 minutes saying, “No. Use your leg.” I think I lucked out and just managed to only give her one little piece, and then left her alone. So I don’t want to say let’s all change how we do unsolicited advice because we don’t need to be doing that.

Craig: But I’m curious to know what is the experience of, it’s effectively being lectured, like, oh, you don’t know this because you’re a girl. What is the experience of that side, and how does that play out? Are there situations where unsolicited device can be a good thing, or are your thoughts on that? How’s that for… It’s like, it’s not the greatest story.

Naomi: I love it. No, I love it. I’ve had it both ways. Do you know what, hands up, I can be terrible for giving unsolicited advice. But it’s the same thing, right? It’s the bit where you go, oh, I’ve got this thing that could really help them. And sometimes, hands up, sometimes it might not go well. And sometimes I know it does. And I’ve received it where I’ve thought just go away, and I’ve received it where I’ve thought, oh amazing, thank you.

Naomi: And I wonder if it’s such a tricky one in part, it’s to do with the person, and it’s to do with their headspace in the moment. But also in part the person who’s giving it, it’s their intention in giving it. Because if their intention is to go, oh, I’m better than you, and I can tell you something, and it’s about them, that’s really irritating.

Naomi: And if their intention is, oh, here is something that I can see you don’t know, and perhaps you’d like it, and it’s a sort of open handed gift, take it if you’d like it, but I’m not shoving it on you. And then they walk away. They go just wanted to say that quickly. I don’t want to break your concentration. You’re doing an amazing job, and off they go, then it can be really helpful.

Naomi: I remember someone I’ve had be will give me advice, “Oh you should be doing this.” And I’m just thinking, just… I’m trying hard not to swear here.

Craig: Thanks, bro. Move along.

Naomi: Move along. And then I’ve had people, I can’t remember who it was, but it was a really experienced practitioner, and I was doing jumps. And he just gave me some advice about my arms that I’d never heard before. And it changed the way I landed, and it was so useful. But I can’t remember who it was. It was in Elsfield Estate, if random guy, someone, if you can remember, thank you. And I think it’s partly that. I mean it’s partly who the hell knows what’s the recipe. And it’s partly their intention. And I agree on the whole move along, but sometimes, thank you, it’s lovely.

Melissa: I think even beyond the intention, it can be how sensitive you are to situations. So if you have good intentions, those can still go wrong. You have to be intuitive and aware enough to read the situation, and look at the person and say, okay, is this a moment that is good to give them advice? How much do you consider before you’re just like, “Oh, you should do blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Do you stand back and look at the situation because there’s the intention, and then that sensitivity I think is part of that recipe to when it could be useful.

Naomi: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s part of the thing. If the focus is on the other person, the receiver rather than the giver, you have a better chance of hitting it right.

Craig: I think it occurs to me, we’re also dancing around the whole point of what a good coach does because literally coaches walk up and give unsolicited advice all day long. And especially if it’s a large group, and they’re literally doing, I call it table touching, drive by momentary pit stops with help, that’s literally what they’re doing the whole time. And yet everybody would agree that most good coaches are showing up with the right intent.

Naomi: Yeah. But it’s not entirely unsolicited. Right? You’ve turned up for a class.

Craig: Oh, right.

Melissa: Right. That’s true. I do think I’ve been in a class where I’ve been approached and been asked, “Would you like this advice right now?” And I think that’s actually huge because that’s taking into account are you in the headspace to receive this advice? Because it’s not just the giver of the advice, it’s partly the giver, and it’s partly how they present it, and it’s partly their sensitivity. But that’s part of the sensitivity to check in with that person. So it’s showing I am aware of you, I’m aware of your situation, and I want what you want. And I’m happy to help you, but I’m happy to also move along depending on where you are at.

Craig: Naomi, is there anything else that you want to share?

Naomi: No, I think it’s just let’s get everyone who might want to be involved, involved and make it a really welcoming space. And I think that’s the only thing of just keep in mind for people who are in a minority appearing anywhere, it’s difficult. So to just actively welcome them without all jumping on them. Hello, newbie. But just, hi, welcome. It’s really important. So do that, and it’ll drip feed in. It’s perfect.

Craig: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Melissa: Thanks Naomi, it’s been awesome.

Naomi: And to you guys, thank you so much for inviting me.

Craig: This was episode 64. For more information, go to moversmindset.com/64. There’s more to the Movers Mindset project than just this podcast. Visit our website for more free content, to join our email list, or to read about how you can support this project. And I’ll leave you with a final thought from Albert Einstein. “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Thanks for listening.