It had been weeks since the trip, since we’d all sat around the campfire. And I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it yet—exactly why that particular trip felt so strikingly unique. Until I sat over donuts and coffee with another friend a few days ago, and she asked about the trip. “You know what?” I said, only realizing it as I spoke, “It was amazing. There were six of us, all women, and it was nothing but positive and supportive. Not one person said one thing negative about anyone, anywhere, the entire time.”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that’s unique. Women can be catty and judgmental, and shared schadenfreude can cloud over a conversation like the creeping fingers of a cold front. I’ve seen it throughout my whole life, and we outdoorsy women are not immune. I’ve found myself doing it, too, pointing fingers or judging instead of asking bigger questions or giving a woman the benefit of the doubt. The Internet and social media makes this even easier. We question others’ authenticity, we make snap judgments, we leave angry comments that we’d never say to a person’s face. And why?
A couple weeks ago a New York Times opinion piece, Why Women Compete With Each Other, asked that question. The author, Emily V. Gordon, laid out a couple different theories as to why women undermine and undercut each other, competing in indirectly aggressive ways. She concluded: “We aren’t competing with other women, ultimately, but with ourselves — with how we think of ourselves.” Evolutionarily, our need to compete is outdated, she says. “But we don’t need to lower the stock of other women, either for the future of the species or for our own psyches.” And the thing is, we’re in a place right now where we really can’t afford to lower the stock of any women.
Over lunch last week, a friend and I were lamenting how few women’s stories were being told in this year’s Reel Rock Film Tour. We discussed how women are portrayed in the media, and how women are still generally underrepresented in the outdoors. And I said, Maybe we’re coming to a turning point. Many of us found our way to climbing, camping, mountain biking—or the outdoors in general—through a male friend or family member. But now it’s a part of our own identity. And the more we bring other women along with us, the more women will continue to feel at home in the outdoors—and the outdoor industry. The more women will feel like they really have a real stake in things. Like making climbing films. Or heading up outdoor companies.
But this hinges on one thing: Our ability to support and uplift each other. Outdoors women are diverse and complex—as are men. For example, for some of us, being able to climb as hard as a guy but dressed all in pink is the picture of happiness and equality. For others, wearing pink feels like a dreaded stereotype to be shed. Can we put aside our differences and support each other as fellow humans who find value in our outdoor experiences? Women have enough shit to deal with. Let’s not be that shit for each other.