Cover image: Author Lisa Verwys and her friends enjoying late spring skiing in the Colorado high country. All images by Lisa.
Recently I went backcountry skiing with two female friends in Rocky Mountain National Park. We got a dark and early start in order to hit a classic couloir above Emerald Lake. As we skied back into the parking lot, we were thinking about burgers and beers and celebrating a fantastic day outdoors. But before we could even get our skis off, we got the dreaded question:
“Where are your men?”
Other popular variations of this question that I regularly hear are “Are you bringing a guy with you?” and “Wouldn’t you feel safer if a man went too?”
These questions come from both genders and a wide range of ages. While I understand that these questions likely come from a place of concern, they also feed into the cultural assumption that women are somehow inferior, weak, incapable, or in need of protecting.
Finding strong, knowledgeable, and athletic women in the outdoors is actually quite common. So why do many act surprised when they come across a crew like this without any men around?
This attitude is reinforced by the underrepresentation of women in outdoor films as well as the lack of options for quality, functional women’s outdoor gear and clothing. As a whole, women are often confronted with the idea that they don’t really belong outdoors. Or if they do, they should stick to safe terrain or be sure to bring along a man for safety and to do the heavy lifting.
Ladies, I’m gonna let you in on a secret: we’re out there. A lot of us, actually. In fact, 49% of outdoor participants are female. That’s amazing! Some of us are breaking gender barriers, some of us are breaking out of our comfort zones, all of us are showing up and getting out.
So if women are half of the general population and half of outdoor participants, how do we get past the idea that women shouldn’t or can’t be outdoors by themselves? How do we inspire confidence in one another? How do we get more gear made with women in mind?
En route to the Emerald Couloir.
I’m a believer in the multi-pronged approach of strength in numbers, telling your story, leaving feedback, and not taking any guff.
1) Strength in numbers. Get outdoors with your female friends! No, you don’t need to stop adventuring with dudes, but there’s a lot to be said for the dynamics of an all-female group. Decision making tends to be more inclusive, snacks are better, the atmosphere is supportive, and it’s inspiring to see people of your gender accomplishing their goals.
2) Tell your story. We need to get people stoked on seeing women ripping big lines, holding their own backpacking and hiking, and just being total bosses outdoors. We aren’t going to get equal recognition if we don’t make it clear that we’re out there. Plus, while there are plenty of awesome women who don’t need any confidence boosting, there are also plenty of awesome women who do! Let’s be positive role models for each other.
3) Leave feedback. Patronize brands and stores that you think do a great job of making and marketing gear for you (like Oboz!). Let the companies know why you are or aren’t buying their products. Let them know what you’d like to see in the future. Get your friends to play too. I’ve had many a lament session with adventurous female friends about the design of everything from skis to backpacks to jackets to gloves, but nothing is going to change unless the companies hear it. Don’t accept fewer features or pay more for less just because you’re a woman. Buy men’s gear if it works better for you (let’s be honest, not everything needs to have a gender specific design).
4) Don’t take guff. This might be the most difficult one to master, but it’s also one of the most important for your own self-confidence. When you hear comments like “shouldn’t you go with a guy?” or “women shouldn’t do that kind of thing,” don’t let them slide. The more you internalize these types of comments, the more likely you are to fall prey to self-doubt. Advocate positively for yourself and your abilities in the outdoors.
Good luck, ladies. Keep being amazing; I can’t wait to see what you get up to!
Lisa Verwys is an equal opportunity outdoor partner and a feminist. She is still searching for an ice climbing pack without dragonflies on it and hopes to never hear the phrase “Why don’t you take a guy with you?” again. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram and on her blog.