I didn’t think I was strong enough. And more specifically, because I’m a woman.
It was during a mountaineering course on Mount Baker and I was hauling a climber out of a crevasse. I kicked my crampons into the slope, hurled my body forward and the rope didn’t move. Instead my harness dug so fiercely into my hips that I feared it might dislodge something. I compared my weight to how much I was hauling and felt defeated. I’m not strong enough. I laid atop the snow and recovered my breath.
“Do you want help?” one of the instructors asked.
And I didn’t. This was mental and I needed to flip my negatives to positives. I can do this. Kick, kick, pull, kick, kick, pull. The rope moved and foot by foot, I pulled my partner out and over the lip of the crevasse.
But, lets be honest. No one has told me to my face that I couldn’t do something in the sports or mountaineering world because I was a woman. Quite the opposite. I’ve been coached and mentored to the point where I believe most of my limits are still waiting to be found.
So, where did that voice come from? That whimpering voice of defeat?
Ah yes, mountain culture. Quotes from sexist journalists and mountaineers like, “Even the toughest and most courageous of women are still the weaker sex in the white hell of a blizzard and avalanche torn mountain.” Books with titles like, “Of Mountains and Men,” and others from the “Golden Age of Mountaineering,” when women weren’t permitted on expeditions, which still dominate the shelves.
I like how one of my college students recently put it: “Gender norms are dangerous and bullshit.”
As is our “generational jet lag” and popular culture that reinforces stereotypes for all genders and sexual identities. Lots of TV sitcoms and movies do not age well when it comes to topics regarding race, gender and sexual identity. Watch a rerun or movie from the 90s or whatever decade you grew up in. Whether or not you were aware of it, those messages imprinted on you and formed a slice of your identity. A lot of it makes me cringe.
Of course there are biological differences between men and women, but biology only goes so far and I believe the mental aspects of ability in mountain sports to run much deeper. This social construct of gender and what we can or can’t do based on how much upper body strength we have is at best propaganda. And yes, it’s probably near impossible not to let that voice from mother culture in from time to time. But, put it in check and tell it to fuck off.
There is something powerful and liberating about seeing something done for the first time. Lynn Hill on the Nose; “It goes, boys!” Women need to see women completing physical tasks that were once rumored not achievable, just as we need to see our identities reflected in outdoor spaces and popular culture. Gender is just one component in the fight for a more inclusive and diverse outdoor industry. Race. Social class. Sexually identity. Mental and physical abilities. I pray, it goes, with momentum and energy, onward and upward.
And, I’m hopeful.
Check out: https://www.diversifyoutdoors.com/