The Great Gender Debate

So it’s always been a bit of a hot topic the whole men vs. women debate. Generally when it comes to sport men will tend to have an upper hand, their muscle to fat ratio, their height and their hormones will always tend to put the men in favour of being fitter, stronger and faster. That doesn’t mean men are better athletes, you look at women’s ability across agility, teamwork and accuracy based sports and the top end female athletes beat the men hands down. Realistically those kind of agility and accuracy based sports aren’t mainstream media gold, they have a dedicated following and won’t ever be as popular as men’s football until equality exists. There’s a lot of media hype about women in sport, the new Sport England campaign called ‘This Girl Can’ is supposed to inspire women to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome, that women should be participating in sport not with a goal that they will end up a skinny size 8, but that an hour of sport a few times a week should be viewed as a fun, social, health benefiting activity without the goal of being thin at the end.

This Girl Can Campaign Poster

This Girl Can Campaign Poster

Shouldn’t that be a message for anyone though, not just targeted at women? Shouldn’t men also be target of healthy living campaigns. The World Health Organisation says that 35% of men of 34% of women are classed as overweight but there’s no male specific campaign from Sport England, why are the women being singled out as unfit, or non participators? In adventure sports men outweigh women massively, why are there so many more male participators of adrenaline or adventure sports than women? For every female kayaker there will be 4 male counterparts. The numbers of female participation seems to drop as the risk increases. In hillwalking for every 1 woman there is 1 man, in traditional rock climbing for every 1 woman you will have 5 men, in alpine or winter climbing that reduces to 1 woman to every 9 men. Is it that women just don’t fancy the more extreme side to the climbing world, maybe our mothering instinct points us in the direction of having a family rather than extreme sports or is it that somehow they are being put off.

I’ve certainly had negative interactions in climbing because I’m female. Things such as male climbers coming up to me while I’m taking out a novice male friend and totally ignoring me while asking my male friend for beta assuming that he’s the one leading or the knowledgeable one. Having 2 male climbers come up to me and a female friend racking up at the bottom of Bruvers and saying ‘you do know that’s a HVS don’t you’…my initial reaction was what an incredibly patronising pair of twats while they scuttled off round the corner to climb a HS. Or at the bouldering wall while topping out having males say ‘you climbed that really weirdly’ then watching them fail at a brutish attempt to thug their way up it.That is not to say that all men are brutish, arrogant and patronising idiots, all of my male climbing partners are wonderful human beings, encouraging and fun to be out in the hills with. Maybe a few negative encounters shouldn’t outweigh the thousands of positive ones, and I’m sure it works both ways.

Hazel indlay

Hazel Findlay, all round goddess on rock

Within my own work, adventure sports, there is a huge number of female only courses. Is that because women need to be segregated and taught in a different way to the men, just like Sport England are saying women should be encouraged into more sport, where as men aren’t, even though as a nation we are overweight equally? I’m not saying the campaign is bad, it is a wonderful initiative that will hopefully get women into sport, but shouldn’t there be a male counterpart? Imagine the outcry of sexism if there was a male only climbing performance weekend, but women only climbing and paddling courses seem common place. Is that not being sexist against both genders, that somehow women need to be taught differently, but men don’t get a choice how they want to be taught. Even though these female only courses sit slightly uneasy with me they do seem to be getting a lot of media attention.

I recently counted the number of pictures in a climbing, paddling and biking magazines that where recognizablely a female and then the pictures of men, they could be part of adverts or main pictures(but if they where too small or unrecognisable then they didn’t count!) Heres the stats:

Climbing- 38 male, 4 female (1 as part of a climbing wall advert)

Paddling- 28 male, 5 female

Mountain Biking- 58 males, 2 females (though one was stood in the background faded out and the other was a tiny picture in a montage)

If women are to be inspired to take up new and exciting sports like climbing, fell running, kayaking, mountain biking etc…then surely they need to see good role models out there pushing it for the ladies in the media. And there are so many amazing role models doing just that Hazel Findlay, Shauna Coxsey, Ashima Shiraishi, Sasha DiGiulian, Lynn Hill, Steph Davies, Ines Papert and Caroline Ciavaldini…just some of my personal role models. They’re out there climbing uber hard and terrifying stuff in every climbing genre…bouldering, soloing, big walling, sport climbing, alpine, winter…so why aren’t the women getting as many column inches and pictures as the guys. It doesn’t seem fair. Maybe the lack of females wanting to push it and get into the ‘more dangerous’ aspects of climbing is because female role models are getting very little of the limelight. In the climbing magazine they accounted for 10% of the photos, in biking its 1.7%! I know personally and talking to a lot of other female climbers/bikers/paddlers that they’re put off when the sport seems completely unattainable or male dominated, it takes a lot of guts to walk into a bouldering room full of men and try working new problems.

Ashima Climbing

Ashima, climbed V12 at age 9 and at age 11 is one of the few women to have climbed V13.                                 p.s-she’s also climbed 9a+!

Life is an uneven playing field, women often feel like they have to better, stronger, slicker to be listened to, or put on an even keel with a male. This is apparent in everyday life the gender pay gap is one example, but i have also felt the wrath of blatant sexism in the workplace and during playtime. Seems like an unfair field. From personal experience and talking to other female climbers that when the girls go out together to climb that the atmosphere is not one of trying to keep up or somehow gain the medal of competence, it’s a more nurturing environment, one where there is no playing field, we are there to climb, be outside and climb as hard as we wish too. Maybe there is thought behind female only coaching sessions after all. I personally know I am am massively inspired to climb by seeing a female achieve and also that I get a kick from being in a female only party. Recently while climbing Dream of White Horses with Emily we stopped and chatted about how we thought it was sad that female only climbing parties on remote or harder climbs are very rarely seen. That it’s nearly always a guy and a girl and the natural assumption is that the guy is leading the girl or that they guy is more knowledgeable. I think that’s sad.

Emily on the Final Traverse

Emily on the Final Traverse

Over the last few weeks while writing this blog post I have become quite entangled and caught up in this idea of equality but not just in climbing. Not just when people at the crag assume girls can’t climb hard, or that the male in the group is the most competent, but in everyday life. Why are men chastised for wearing skirts or pink, why are men who dance, do ballet or like hairdressing seen as ‘gay’? And why does society think that we are anywhere near equality? Yes we are more advanced than the days when women couldn’t vote but we are taught from a young age by our society that girls should be pretty and boys should be good at sport and strong. So much so that nowadays this ingrained image from the mainstream media means women are still not getting their fair share of being on the front a magazine or column inches about the amazing stuff their doing.

This blog post is not supposed to come across as a ‘male bashing’ more addressing the fact that women are out there doing mega hard routes and we should recognise them for their awesome achievements just as much as the guys!


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