On Facebook just after Thanksgiving I watched a video that Oregon Research sponsored called “Where the Wild Things Are.” The film features a few young guys hanging in a bar, complaining about the weather.
“Where are all the ladies?” One of the guys asks.
For the rest of the video, we find out. They are all over the mountains, trails, rocks, snow, blasting down steep mountains, doing a split on a line over a deep valley. Crashing, getting up doing it again. Hands wrapped in tape. Unstoppable.
My friend (who is likely in her twenties) said, quite understandably, “I love this video.”
I would too, except the producers didn’t exactly draw an accurate picture.
While I get the marketability of primarily beautiful slim young white women to sell their gear and make their point, let’s get real here.
As REI’s Force of Nature campaign rolled out this year as a powerful statement showing women in the outdoors, it took a very long time (September, by my watch) before I saw anyone older than perhaps thirty featured in the ads in outdoor magazines.
To their credit they did produce wonderful videos of very athletic – NOT SLIM– powerful Black women running marathons and showing us how it’s done without looking like a starved model. They took this effort seriously. Better than most.
However Oregon Research’s film, like many others I’ve seen this year, doesn’t showcase women of color or age or size.
Forgive me, we’re out there. In force.
Especially out here in Colorado.
Any time I walk into an REI or outdoors store, I am guaranteed to see plenty of very athletic women of my vintage (I’m almost 65) and women of size and color shopping for gear, coats, knives, crampons, gloves, beanie hats. Sleeping bags and glacier glasses and everything else you can imagine to get and keep us outside in the wild. My girl cave is stocked with adventure gear for at least six sports. I forget. I keep adding more.
It frustrates me at times that an entire generation seems to believe that everything they are doing is somehow new. It is new to them, but not to women like me, and many more who preceded me. While I give every single bit of credit to those uber athletes who are pushing the bar higher, we women have been out there in the wild a very long time. Just because now we can see it on Instagram or social media doesn’t make it new.
It makes it visible.
There’s a fundamental difference. Women like Margo Talbot of Canada, now 53, who was among the very first female ice climbers. Everest sheroes, some now gone like Junko Tabei, who braved everything to get to the top of the world. They didn’t have cell phones to record every moment. That wasn’t the point. The point was the experience. They paved the way for all the rest of us.
When I read stories about women traveling across the West solo in a pickup truck and running into obstacles, it’s the same experience I encountered thirty years ago doing the same thing. Because the obstacles largely haven’t changed. Women have. Back when I did all that solo adventuring, it still “just wasn’t done.”
My friend would argue that Millennial men are different. Yes, some are. They were raised by a generation of pretty potent women. Enough of them are just that much different that they don’t have the same issues when their girlfriend or wife wants to ski some epic lines or climb a crack that is way beyond their own competency level. What a breath of fresh air. But we still have a very long way to go.
These young women inspire me. Watching them excel in the wild world gives me great pleasure and in many ways it’s a motivator to keep at it. However, there’s a piece of me that would like to see both greater diversity in these depictions of “wild things,” as well as a recognition of the moms and grandmoms who were scrambling over rocks and climbing cracks and hurtling down snow walls long before anyone could say “cell phone.”
This year we’ve seen some real progress. Not only has the outdoor industry finally figured it out that girls play too, even Outdoor Magazine has cleaned up its act. They’ve started to feature athletic women on its cover and have backed off doing ridiculously sexy photo shoots when writing about accomplished women (as it has in the past). Why? Because we women are also subscribers. And we spoke up.
It’s been one heck of a year so far. It’s progress. Women are even taking ownership of their bodies back through the MeToo campaign. It’s a sea change, one hopes. As women also openly take their rightful places in the wilderness as competent, trained guides, avalanche experts and group leaders, the balance has shifted. No longer can the National Park Service tolerate years of sexual abuse and harassment of its female guides in the Grand Canyon. That ship has sailed, gentlemen.
When we have matured as a society to recognize that minorities, older women and those who can’t fit into sizes 2-14 are also epic adventurers, we will have earned a pat on the back. Just one. When we start making clothing and gear to fit plus size women adventures, well hallelujah.
It’s coming. Been a long time but it’s coming.