Last week, I traveled to NYC to be a part of Discover Outdoors’ Women in the Outdoors week. Discover Outdoors, based out of NY, guides local, regional, and international adventure trips for thousands of city dwellers since 2004. Women in the Outdoors week was sponsored by Arc’teryx, Salomon, Outdoor Women’s Alliance, Folk Rebellion, Misadventures, and Deuter. It was a week-long event celebrating the women in the outdoor community, filled with clinics, speakers, panels, films, and trips that all designed to educate, empower, and activate New York’s women.
So I was beyond honored to have had a chance to be on a panel discussion with some of the most inspiring women in today’s industry. The panel spoke to Femininity in the Outdoors and what our experiences have been, as well as how we as a community can make it even better.
A little recap from the event (from my perspective):
Why are you in the outdoor industry?
For me, there is no other industry to be in. To share my time with like-minded people is the best way for me to grow and develop as a person. Sometimes I feel as though I always know the least, but that means that I am always learning.
What does being in the outdoors mean to you?
Simply put, freedom. I value that more than anything else in my life right now. And sometimes we have to put life obligations first, of course, but ultimately (for me) the point of living is to feel alive…..and free.
How does considering yourself an “outdoorswoman” shape your identity?
I’m a pretty girly girl. My friends will tell you so, at least. I’m “feminine” in many traditional ways: I’m a homebody who loves to bake, I’m a caregiver, I can be super sensitive to pretty much everything. (You can’t name a Disney film I haven’t cried during.) But I’m also feminine in the sense that I’m fucking strong. Physically strong, emotionally strong, strong willed. I’m a city girl and I love the mountains. I like to bake and I like to climb things and get my hands dirty. It’s not one or the other. Being feminine doesn’t necessarily have to be at one end of the spectrum and not the other. It can be both. That’s how we’re redefining it. And you know who is going to see that? Other women. Young girls who are still becoming the women they’re meant to be.
What challenges have you come up against by being a woman in your profession? What can we do as a community to combat these challenges?
People often ask if I’m given flak from others because of my chosen lifestyle, especially from the opposite gender. In general, I have had great support from both men and women in my time climbing. I think the biggest challenge about being a woman can often come from other women—we don’t do it on purpose but there is always a sense of competition within genders. I’ve discussed a little bit about internalized sexism in my writing. It’s often left out of the discussion but worth talking about. It’s when a woman believes herself to be inferior or treats other women as if their worth is based on their sexual attractiveness. A quote I once heard that resonated deeply with me: “girls compete and women empower one another.” When we have enough confidence in ourselves, we stop viewing other women as the “opponent”. When we feel empowered, we can genuinely empower other women.
What role does being in the outdoors have on gender socialization? For example, how has working and playing in the outdoors shaped your concept of femininity?
As a child, I didn’t grow up doing anything outdoorsy, and so I never really thought of the great outdoors being overly male or female. Introduced to climbing my twenties, it was simply “the great outdoors”. But the more that I climbed, the more I discovered that the outdoors, just like femininity, was socially constructed. I’m reminded by this question of the saying: “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding”, meaning I quickly realized that my being a woman in no way, shape, or form would hold me back from success.
Why should more women participate in various outdoor activities? What do you think prohibits them?
Physical activity! I feel so good after a day of full mileage climbing, including long approaches and sketchy descents. Even something as simple as a romp up a flatiron or taking my dog on a walk! Endorphins are for everybody! But besides that, just getting out (no matter what your activity is) is this soul-inspiring, confidence building thing that will have a snowball effect on your entire life.
”I could never do that” or “I’m not strong enough yet” are things that prohibit a lot of people from participating in outdoor activities. Guess what? Those thoughts never go away—even when you are in top physical shape, even when you’re the best. So don’t learn how to ignore those thoughts or just turn them off. Learn how to challenge them.
What are ways that women can excel in the outdoors?
Be supportive of everyone. Not just your female companions, not just your male partners, EVERYONE. And be supportive and kind to yourself. On my first day of my first solo wall, I kept patting myself on the back and saying encouraging things to myself every few moves. This was HUGE. It made such a difference. Uplift everybody but don’t forget to be nice to yourself. Tend to you.
How do women relate to one another in the outdoors?
We all have insecurities. I don’t try to hide mine because 1. they’re very real and 2. they’re very relatable. “Oh, you were scared on that pitch too?” The same for celebrating each other’s success. Bonding with other women in the outdoors over very real experiences IS a part of the experience.
Women have historically been excluded from the “Outdoors” narrative, as the narrative was traditionally one of male conquest, dominance, and assertion of masculinity. How has this landscape changed from your perspective, and where is it headed?
We can’t forget that gender barriers exist. That’s like saying racism isn’t a problem. It’s here. It’s everywhere, even if we don’t personally experience it. So by acknowledging certain gender barriers means we have the power to go beyond them—that’s going to be badass for the history of women in the outdoors. I’d personally love to see the first all-female ascent team of the Dawn Wall on the news in the next decade, maybe less.
Because the thing about trying something that seemed impossible at one point is that when people see it, they get inspired to try, too. Instead of telling ourselves that we could never do that, we start thinking, “Maybe I can do that, too.”
How do women redefine what a relationship with the outdoors looks like?
I’m sure that there was a time when women were looked upon in the outdoors as the weaker gender, like we’re delicate flowers and need tending to. But a whole new generation of women accomplishing great things has completely taken that image and thrown it out the window. And it isn’t because we’re strong and it isn’t because we aren’t scared, it’s because sometimes we are both strong and scared and we do the thing anyway. That’s what the outdoors does for people. That’s the freedom. To feel free to be scared and strong and limitless.
A huge thank you again to Lauren Skonieczny, Emi Gaal, Lydia Kopecky, Georgina Miranda, Laurie Tewksbury, and Pippa Biddle. An even huger thank you to Caitlin Makary, who gave me a ride on her motorbike to Manhattan and ate falafel with me that afternoon.