Notes on Femininity in Adventure

As a woman passionate about adventure and getting out into the great outdoors, it’s sometimes hard to avoid assumptions and judgements from those around you. I’ve always struggled with the idea of fitting into a box or finding the correct label to assign to myself within this community. Nowadays, women are often told that they can no longer be soft or kind or “girly” if they want to succeed; they have to be angry and strong and fierce to earn their place amongst the men. But why can’t we be all of these things? Adventure and femininity are not mutually exclusive. Why do we have to compartmentalise our personalities to fit into someone else’s idea of what it means to be a woman in adventure?

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I want to preface this post by saying that I’m fairly new to the outdoor community and my experiences are my own - I don’t want to paint the world with the same brush. But the problems I face are inherently linked to my womanhood and I want to shed light on one story, one experience, so that maybe just one other person in the world can change how they view women in the outdoors. I recognise my privilege as a white woman and I would love to work with people focusing on diversifying the outdoors and creating a more equal, diverse space for everyone to enjoy.

I was recently asked to write a small blogpost about women in adventure, and the topic got me thinking about my own experiences within the outdoor community. I’m probably what you’d call “feminine”-looking, with long hair and invisible muscles, which means I’m frequently underestimated in the outdoors. It’s become a constant issue that whenever my boyfriend and I talk about our adventures, there is a genuine presumption that he forces me to go on these adventures with him. They presume I simply haven’t yet plucked up the courage to say “no”, or worse still, they vilify him and presume that he’s pressuring me to do things I’m not interested in. Nothing frustrates me more than that removal of my agency; the presumption that I’m unable to be there, throwing myself up a mountain, of my own volition.

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I came to the outdoor community very late, just over a year ago, and I’ve been learning the ropes ever since. In the beginning, I was determined to learn all the skills I needed as fast as I could, from setting up the tent, knowing what gear we needed, packing the bags and lighting a fire with a flint and steel. Now that’s grown into learning winter mountaineering skills, how to trad climb, and ticking off more mountains in one year than I’d previously managed in my entire life. And, even more exciting still, we’re training for a paddling expedition down a white-water river in Mongolia in the summer. We’ve had questions, again, about how much I actually want to do this, and whether I’m being blindsided into joining in. In reality, I’m probably the most excited out of the bunch! (I’m hoping though that after this trip people might finally realise that I do this for the love of it, not because a man is making me.)

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Perhaps its time we stopped asking women to justify their choices, to prove themselves as stronger or tougher than their male counterparts just so they can find their place amongst them. We should stop questioning their motives, doubting their abilities. We shouldn’t have to be loud or angry to be taken seriously; our presence in that environment and our willingness and joy of being there should be enough, regardless of who we are and what we look like. Adventure is for everyone, so let’s start with ourselves. Support the women around you, lift them up, give them space in your wild places to talk and lead and understand that they deserve to be there just as much as you.

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The challenges we face as women can often lead to disillusionment and frustration. I’d love to wild camp and have some quality mountain days with a group of diverse, happy, motivated women, hear their stories, share my own and feel proud to be a strong, soft, fierce, kind woman in adventure. A woman who chooses to be without boxes, without labels, who deserves a place in this community simply because she loves adventure. No other justification necessary.

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