Ways the Outdoor Industry Can Support Women in the Outdoors
It’s Women’s History Month! And like all historical months, it’s a good time to sit back and appreciate the accomplishments of people the month is meant to highlight. One of the things I find most inspiring about the outdoors community–and the rock climbing community in particular–is it’s the dedication to creating inclusive spaces for women. Obviously, this doesn’t mean the outdoors industry is perfect, there are still many ways women are marginalized within their particular sports. However, more women than ever are getting into the outdoors and excelling at their chosen sport.
Take Women’s Sport Accomplishments Seriously
First and foremost, take women’s accomplishments in their sports seriously. Additionally, believe them when they talk about their sport and their abilities. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to defend my climbing goals and ability to the men in my life. From climbing partners to old boyfriends, I am constantly having to justify my climbing accomplishments. If you’re looking for ways to support the women athletes in your life, first and foremost believe them when they talk about their achievements. And second, support them when they talk about their goals! Does your friend want to run a 200-mile race? Do you have an aunt who wants to climb Mt. Shasta? Encourage, don’t discourage them from trying.
Men, Keep Your Ego Out Of It
On top of believing women about their accomplishments, another huge social factor holding women back in sports is the male ego. In partnered sports like climbing, it’s all too common for men to feel like they have to be better at the sport than their female partner. If you’re a man who climbs, runs, mountain bikes, or snowboards with women, I think it’s important to ask yourself, “Do I need to be better at this than my female partners?”, “If so, why?”. There is a lot to male-dominated sports that are still wrapped up in toxic masculinity, or the belief that men are inherently better at physical activities than women.
One of the ways we can heal the division in outdoor sports is for men to challenge their internal beliefs that it makes them “less of a man” if they aren’t always better than the women in their lives. If you’re a man who doesn’t feel challenged when your female running partner finishes the uphill faster than you, great! How about the other men in your life? If you take a group of friends out mountain biking, do all your male friends feel the same way?
What about the language you’re using to describe failure? Are you using derogatory terms about women to describe your male friends who aren’t as successful as you? Saying things like, “Don’t b*tch out.” and “Don’t be a p*ssy.” are subtle and damaging ways we use language to assert that female=not strong enough. Self reflection and consideration of your female partner’s sensitivities can go a long way!
Outdoor Companies, Elevate Female Voices
When we talk about elevating female voices, it can often sound like “prioritize women’s voices over men’s even when they have nothing to say.” Which is not what I’m asking for. What I’m asking for is for women to be a part of the conversation when making company-wide decisions. Do you have women on your executive staff? Are you hiring female photographers? When looking for news stories are you focusing on and including women’s stories as well as men’s? When looking to hire for a new position are you overlooking the qualified female candidates? When sourcing athletes to represent your brand do you have as many women on your team as men?
Put a woman on the cover of your magazine, and not just during women’s history month. Hire female models for your mountain biking shoot, and use the images for more than just the women’s section on your website. Representation, as we know, matters, and allowing women to be seen and be visible in the outdoor industry goes a long way to helping mend the gender inequality in these spaces.
Finally, PAY WOMEN.
This feels like a no-brainer, but pay the women you work with! In the outdoor industry, there is a mindset of “we love what we do so people should be willing to do it for free, or for very cheap.” I’ve worked photo shoots where I’ve been rigging lines, setting up shots for the photographer, and helping scout the location – all for free. The measly offer of free gear from this company never came through and I ended up doing two days of work for free. This isn’t an isolated incident either. Very often I’m asked to show up for a photo shoot, or to write a piece, and to do it for free or in exchange for a product. Unfortunately, I can’t eat the product (well, not most of the time at least), and I can’t put gas in my van for free.
Paying women for their time and energy that they contribute to the outdoors industry is just one (VERY IMPORTANT) way we can support women in our community. If we really want to open the doors to women in this community, then we need to make sure they are valued for the work they produce.
Happy Women’s History Month!
Finally, support the women in your life to pursue the passions they have in the outdoors. Far too often do I hear stories of overprotective friends or family members who want to keep the ambitious women in their lives safe. Let your sister climb the mountain, let your mother take up mountain biking, encourage your daughter to get into climbing. The women in your life are strong, capable, and powerful, and sometimes they need a little help realizing that from the people who love them the most.
Happy Women’s History Month!