Telling Women's Stories - Women's Climbing Symposium 2017!

The subject of this year's Women's Climbing Symposium was Inspiration, so I was excited to find out more about what inspires the women at the WCS by running an interactive session where we asked the women in the room to tell us their views. Along with Emine Guler of Holdbreaker, our aim was to encourage more women to engage in public debate about the outdoors. We told our own stories and facilitated a feedback session. The results were fascinating, and especially useful for those who would like to engage more women and encourage them into sport and the outdoors.

I began by talking about why it's important to increase the representation of women in the outdoors and outdoor related media. The images we see and words we use are important. They teach us about our role in society, especially young women and girls. Men and boys pick up on these messages too. It’s particularly important in the outdoor industry, because we know that fewer women participate in sport, and one of the ways to inspire women and girls to take up sport is to show them positive role models.

As Claire Cain Miller points out in her article From Sex Object to Gritty Woman, we are seeing positive change. “In 2007, the top-selling Getty photo for the search term “woman" was a naked woman under a towel... In 2017, it’s a woman hiking a rocky trail in Banff National Park... She’s wearing a down jacket and wool hat.”

But there's still some way to go. A recent advert for Billabong, a major surf brand, went viral for it's blatantly sexist images. For 'Mens' the image shows an active, sporty, skilled, brave person on a board. For 'Womens' the model is semi naked, immobile, and faceless. I don't recognise myself, or any of the active women I know in that image, and it's not one I would have chosen, but all of us can make a difference. Whether we're sharing pictures being active outdoors, joining discussions online, responding to surveys, or by attending local area meetings of organisations like the BMC, we have the opportunity to join the discussion and set the tone.

As Sally Hinchcliffe, writer and cyclist explains, “There are as many opinions as there are people voicing them… We are not all mothers, timid, short, slow, or unable to tell one end of a spanner from the other. Some of us are even worried about our hair. The fact is, women, like men, are a wonderfully varied bunch. If all we ever do is have one token woman… we’ll get just one perspective on all this variety… We’ll lose out on the experience of women who are out there and doing things, and getting tired of not being heard, or being told their perspective isn’t relevant.” The Guardian Bike Blog

billabong sexist advert.jpg

The brands and organisations that represent and serve the outdoor community also have a responsibility to listen, and ensure that women are accurately represented. In some cases I believe we are seeing a real willingness to change, although in practice they don't always know how. For that reason we finished with an interactive session, discussing with the room how they prefer to communicate in a variety of situations. I hope it might be a useful starting point to help inform discussion about the ways we engage with women.

Here's a summary of the three main points we learned: 

We want to know we've been heard! Particularly when asking for information or making a complaint, we want to receive a response. The preferred methods were emails, twitter, live chats, or over the phone.

We like to have private conversations! Especially when planning events or seeking information, the preference was for dedicated closed discussions, for example in Whatsapp and Facebook groups. Public discussions, and talking in public would actively put some people off. 

We like to celebrate! When we have achievements or events that we're proud of, we like to share them! The main ways to do that were by telling friends in person, or using Instagram, Facebook, and our blogs.

Thank you so much to the Women’s Climbing Symposium for giving me the opportunity to present along with Emine and meet so many amazing women (read Emine's speech here). Thank you to the women that came to the talk and were willing to shout out and share their opinions! Everyone’s views are important, everyone’s achievements are worth celebrating, and all of us are inspiring. We can sometimes be so busy trying to have our say and make our voices heard, this session reminded me how valuable it can be to listen.