I used to lead mountaineering courses for one of the largest outdoor schools in the country. During staff trainings, new instructors often asked about the difference between our curriculum and the curriculum of other outdoor schools. The program director’s response was always the same: the world does not need more climbers and mountaineers, it needs more compassionate people. That was our motto. We taught compassion–along with inclusion, integrity, craftsmanship and leadership–through activities in the wilderness. In rethinking the theme of this blog, I asked myself something similar: does the world need more women recreating in male-dominated outdoor activities?
Not if the means to acceptance in the male-dominated sport is through sex appeal and image.
Not if the means to acceptance in the male dominated activity is through self-depreciation.
I didn’t want to include the above video of Hazel Findley in this post because I like her so much. At the moment, she is one of the strongest women climbers in the world, and also one of the strongest climbers in the world. Period. This winter, she actually received a lot of slack from the climbing community for calling out climbing models (particularly Sierra Blair-Coyle) for perpetuating sexism–particularly the problem of women being appreciated for their image instead of their skill–in the climbing community. Her initial post on the topic (which you can read here) was incredibly thoughtful, but she received so much backlash from other climbers that she eventually retracted most of her points. It makes me wonder if, on a subconscious level, the negative reaction her comment received from the dominant culture had something to do with why she closed the above interview (an interview about some of the hardest routes in the world that she has recently climbed) by essentially calling herself a dumb blond. Self-depreciation in women, after all, is often a deflection of “attention from underlying structures of domination” (Clark 22). This is going to sound radical: the world does not need more women climbers (or mountain bikers, skiers, ultrarunners, paddlers, paragliders, base jumpers)…the world needs more women in the spotlight of the dominant culture, actively turning it on its head.
So, where am I going with all this?
In this blog, my main goal is to inspire more women to seek out adventure in wild places. I am particularly interested in encouraging women to travel by means–and in areas–most frequently used by men. Through observations of both land and people, early European explorers contributed to “empirically informed discourse about both man and nature” (Rubies 257). This blog is sort of a 21st-century version of an explorer’s journal. I intend to make observations about the southwest and the people–both the men and women–who recreate in it.
As women participating in male-dominated athletic activities, our marginalized position is incredibly complicated. If we can do an activity as well as a man, and look hot doing it, we are told we are special. This feels good. But when the dominant culture blatantly–or even unintentionally–excludes us, doesn’t listen to us, calls us a clutz or a spaz because of something we did in a stressful moment, our feelings are hurt. We need to act–and react–with intention to make situations better for us and for other women. Then, we need to think critically about the layers of privilege and marginalization extending out in a million different directions from us.
Women are minorities in many of the activities I write about on this blog, but the opportunity to participate in these activities still places myself–and other women like me–in a position of privilege. Inside the dominant culture. Inside the safety of the real margins. When confronted with blatant (and often unintentional) sexism, it is easy to forget that we are privileged simply by having the time to recreate, to afford a mountain bike, to have the opportunity to learn to climb technical routes. I believe it is our duty as women in positions of marginalized privilege to look out for each other, to encourage more women to participate in our activities, and most importantly, to use our positions of privilege–inside and outside of the male-dominated athletics we participate in–to advocate for other people on the margins.
This is going to sound even more radical: there is no point in women fighting for equality, respect and a voice in male-dominated athletics unless the fight also promotes, respects and includes other marginalized voices. Many places of recreation in the southwest are under criticism and controversy because of the privileged class’ belief of entitlement to the use of sacred lands for their recreational pleasure. The San Francisco Peaks, and specifically the Arizona Snowball’s use of reclaimed water on these sacred peaks, is a prime example of this. As a woman, as a voice on the margin in some of the activities I write about, my mission is to acknowledge other–even more marginalized voices than my own–present in the areas I explore.
The southwest is filled with voices that have long been silenced by the dominant culture. In the words of James Clifford, “…if contemporary migrant populations are not to appear as mute, passive straws in the political-economic winds, we need to listen to a wide range of ‘travel stories’ (not ‘travel literature’ in the bourgeois sense’)” (Clifford 38). The world does not need more women simply participating in the recreation of the dominant culture. It needs more women becoming stronger advocates for themselves, as well as better listeners of–and advocates for–other people typically excluded from the recreational elite in this country. The word does not need more climbers, mountain bikers, skiers, paddlers, rafters, ultra runners, paragliders, base jumpers. The world needs a more compassionate dominant culture. It needs recreationalists advocating for marginalized populations and for the environment. It’s up to us women to listen, and to lead the way.
Links to Work Cited
Rubies, Joan Pau . “Travel Writing and Ethnography.”
Clifford, James . “Traveling Cultures.”