A new research network has been launched, with the aim of overcoming attitudes that discourage women from running, walking and climbing in the British hills. We asked one of its members, Keri Wallace, about her own experience of the barriers to participation.
I am one of those who definitely hasn't experienced any barriers to the outdoors, and don't identify at all with people saying there are barriers, and I agree that barriers that are there are perceived rather than real generally. However, being of the age where many of my friends are popping out sprogglets, I can see that there is still a norm that women care for children more than men, and so are less likely to go out for a day into the hills than their partners are. It seems more selfish and frivolous. I see this as less of an outdoors issue and more a society issue. Even thought I don't have kids, my mum still scathingly asks if I was "just out playing myself" when I have been in the hills or climbing etc (I guide and instruct for a living - heaven forbid I might just go out and enjoy a day in the hills for pleasure!). I feel these sorts of barriers are probably bigger than anything we can change in the outdoor community. I guess I am just lucky that I have always been independent and stubborn, and shrug off derogatory comments from the likes of my mother.
I am not too sure what to make of all this. My wife and I climbed as a team then we had children , now they have both left and my wife has started climbing again. She packed in climbing as soon as she was pregnant. That was her decision. She has a very successful career.
last October we had our first overseas trip without our girls to red rocks. We continually met younger women climbing as teams together who were just flabbergasted that my wife had restarted climbing after the children had grown up. The funniest were 3 Canadian women in their early 20’s who just could not get over this and commented that their is life after children .
I'm not saying I think it's how it should be, but my observation from friends with kids is that this seems to be the case predominantly. And I suspect it's not just the outdoors, I think many women put their own interests on hold when they have kids. I'm sure sometimes it is entirely their own free choice, but I think there is also a societal pressure about the "perfect mum" being all about her kids and nothing else, and also partners who maybe aren't so pro-active at sharing the childcare enthusiastically etc. There are presumably many reasons behind it.
I am happily childless and have a fluffy eared hill companion to take with me
The article can be taken as a veiled attack on women who do not follow the so called "golden path" of climbing etc.I always step back and say climbing and the outdoors is not the be all and end all,there are plenty of other great things to do. Its one of the issues I have with articles etc like this, it assumes there are no alternatives.There are plenty equally as enriching and fulfilling.
It'd have to be a pretty heavily veiled attack, to the point of being invisible! I'm not sure anyone's trying to imply that non-outdoors options are somehow inferior. As UKC and UKH cover climbing and the hills, then of course we're going to focus on those. The thing this project, and the article, seeks to address is that far fewer women are taking up the outdoors option than their male counterparts. It is a staggering imbalance. Why is that? Is it a problem, and if so then how can a more equal balance be struck? We think these are questions worth asking, so we were more than happy to report on the launch of WITH and publish Keri's accompanying piece.
I have noticed a difference. When I was 19, in 2001, myself and a female friend walked the West Highland Way, carrying exped packs and either wild camping or using campsites. We were the only all female grouping that we saw and people commented on us being "brave" doing it on our own. We were just going for a walk, nothing exceptional. Nowadays, I see women and girls out on their own and with other women all the time. No one comments. It's good to see
> I'm not saying I think it's how it should be, but my observation from friends with kids is that this seems to be the case predominantly. And I suspect it's not just the outdoors, I think many women put their own interests on hold when they have kids. I'm sure sometimes it is entirely their own free choice, but I think there is also a societal pressure about the "perfect mum" being all about her kids and nothing else, and also partners who maybe aren't so pro-active at sharing the childcare enthusiastically etc. There are presumably many reasons behind it.
> I am happily childless and have a fluffy eared hill companion to take with me
Funny you mention this. An old male friend I used to do a lot of multi day backpacking with hung up his boots when they started with kids. Often he blamed not wanting to leave the wife stuck with 2 kids as a reason to say indoors. She was always quite happy for him to go and called him out often. I wish they would both come out and engage the kids with the outdoors but there you go. I think you're right about more pressure on women being mothers but the headspace of men do change as well. I wonder if it's more to do with changing interests after kids for men. Who knows? Like you, we're happy and childless.
There is a real practical issue for women too in the physical toll that having children has on your body. They say 9 months to grow a baby and 9 months to recover which in my experience should be a minimum expectation that doesn't factor in sleep deprivation and the practical and physical demands of breastfeeding.
I've always spent time out in the hills from being 7 years old playing on Kinder with the family to walking and climbing all over the world. I've had many comments and surprised looks about being a 'girl' doing these things (the fact that I still get called girl at the age of 41 drives me insane). I had a medical professional not take my injury seriously because of being a mother, I have continuous problems finding good quality, reasonably priced kit that fits my frame and isn't pink or purple. I've had men uninvited, give me inappropriate beta on a problem as they assume they can help or know best. Our children love being outside but we face a constant barrage of comments about them being safe and warm.
I am excited about this project, it has some rigour and clout behind it but most of all I like the fact that it is talking about equality of access. It's a subtle but important difference to looking at equality of participation.
I couldn't help think that the examples given of potential barriers to women also exist for male participation, perhaps in different ways and for different reasons but still with an impact...
Thon toxic masculinity about everywhere will discourage boys and men as well as girls and women. Confidence (in skill, ability or the individual themselves), having kids, assertiveness, strength (or lack of), fitness and body image are not female only issues.
Maybe the 'man up/toughen up' attitude gets (some) boys (and to a lesser extent some girls...) past the insecurity of not knowing something or not being strong enough through to semi-competence which then allows progression and continuied participation? Women only events/courses have great merit but I don't think segregation should be the default solution or end game...
>Together, members will look at factors that have shaped women's experiences from the beginnings of outdoor leisure in the early 1800s to the present day, and will work to produce a series of guidelines aimed at increasing female participation in the outdoors over the coming decade.
If guidelines help reduce barriers as mentioned, improving access to hillsport for women which would be great but male participation would surely also increase - a positive for the sport and overall participation but maybe not achieving gender parity.
Hmmm. You may well be a lucky enough position to be on the receiving end of the various forms of discrimination against women (I don't know if you're male or female), but I think asking for "less of this boring gender stuff" might be doing a fairly large disservice to quite a lot of oppressed, abused, or just patronised people out there. I'm not talking about access to outdoor sports necessarily, but that's quite a sweeping, potentially damaging comment you've made.
Surely the point of this sort of thing is, that its not aimed at all the people saying "there no barriers, look at me", it's aimed at all the people who aren't out there, presumably because of some kind of barrier (or just not wanting to of course.
This is (obviously) a good idea. As someone else said above female participation in climbing and the outdoors is much higher than it used to be but still low in many ways.
I've been particularly struck by how many women are bouldering indoors in the bigger cities recently. I wonder if anything could be learnt from this for the wider outdoors. (If participation had been this high 15 years ago and she'd had female friends to go with, I'm fairly sure my wife would have been likely to take climbing up rather than only being happy to come 4 or 5 times with me and then giving up...not knowing any friends who were interested was definitely an example of a barrier in action.)
However it's also true that very few of the women I see at walls are of parenting age (well, past their mid 30s anyway) so some research in to how to help them keep going after becoming mothers must be a good idea. It's hard enough as a recent new dad even without the same social barrier.
> To quote my wife - What a load of patronising rubbish. There are no such barriers. Just get out and do it, and stop whingeing. Women aren't quite as pathetic as the writer seems to think.
I am delighted to hear that there are women out there that have never had their confidence undermined by patronising comments, societal expectations, the trauma of child birth... (the list could go on).
However to suggest that that is the experience of every woman is overly simplifying an incredibly complex issue involving thousands of women who all have different backgrounds, history and experiences.
It baffles me as to why people seem almost offended by this dialogue, if you are not interested, don't join the conversation!
An interesting statistic in the article is that 35% of participants in outdoor activities are female. I wonder how this compares to other forms of physical activity?
I always thought of outdoorsy stuff as having a relatively high proportion of female participants relative to other physical activity. It is ofcourse entirely possible that I am completely wrong. In fact, it is very much probable!
I am also of the opinion that the outdoors should be, and is, available for everyone. If you really want to get it done, go get it done. Otherwise, don't.
> I've been particularly struck by how many women are bouldering indoors in the bigger cities recently. I wonder if anything could be learnt from this for the wider outdoors.
A long while ago (late '80s/early '90s), a mate, the late Ian Vincent, went to the Netherlands for a comp. He had an off-day and was quickly eliminated (unlike when he came joint 5th in the world championship). Anyway, with some time on his hands, he went on a tour of local walls. He said that, within a relatively small area, he found another four walls, all as good as the then best British wall. He said that a large part of the clientele were groups of teenage girls. This struck both of us as intriguing. In the UK, at the time, there were far, far less women climbers than now. Obviously the Netherlands is a tough place to live if you want to climb outside. But I've always wondered about those female groups. Did they carry on climbing, did they get bored with it (fair enough, if so), did they go outside, did they get support from men?
'If you can ask the question, you can give the answer' (Wittgenstein) Unfortunately, in this case, I can't.
This is a great initiative, and it hope it achieves its ambitions. It is really heartening to read of the many women out there who have never faced any barriers to participation in outdoor sport, but sadly this is not the case for all of us. I have lost count of the number of discriminatory remarks I’ve had directed at me over many years of trad climbing and mountaineering, some subtle, some not so. Thumbs up to this group of ladies for trying to pave the way for a better experience for all women in future.
I wonder if Keri sees this (or indeed if anyone else reading the thread knows) - is there an increase in women trail running? It's something I seem to be noticing more and more in the Peak, people out running often quite far into the countryside with trail vests on - and a really significant number of those runners being women. I might have thought it was maybe just a chance thing, or maybe happening particularly in my area, but last summer I was back in Helsinki, where I used to live, and we went for hike in the national park nearest to the city where I used to spend a lot of time climbing and hiking, and there were women in trail vests running everywhere there as well! If it is a trend, it's a great one.
I have started trail running in the last year or so, so there is an increase of at least 1 woman doing it!! lol I started because our dog turned out not to be the chilled dog we hoped for on the mountain and can't be offlead. So we started canicrossing. Then, as I can't run him in the summer as it's too hot with a fur coat on, I kept running myself to keep my fitness up for when I could run him again, and just got into it as a thing to do of it's own right that way.
I'm not interested in races or events, I just run on my own or with a few friends. I have been upping distances and amount of ascent and starting to feel like I might actually be able to call myself a hill runner soon!! Recently I have started doing a loop in the Ochils which is over 15km and 600m of ascent and it doesn't totally kill me (almost, but not quite!).
I feel like hill running might work well for women with childcare duties etc as you can get out and do a "hill day" in a couple of hours while the sproglet is at nursery or school etc. I don't know if this is often the case or not, but strikes me as a possibility. If this is the case, then it wouldn't surprise me to see a higher percentage of women doing it than multi-pitch mountain routes, for example.
Running a route (at least the level and downhill bits 😁), especially in ok weather, is a great way to get time in the mountains when time is limited. I often only had "half day" passes when on family holidays or weekends away.
A couple of memorable ones were pre-breakfast (Langdale Pikes in 2 hours, meeting a motorbike at the top of Skiddaw), I used to be a lot faster in those days 😁
Can't remember which year it was but I think late 80s. All of a sudden that spring there was a noticeable increase in the number of women climbers on the crag (still not as many as today but it went from rare to uncommon so to speak).
Don't know what triggered that increase, but maybe trail running has just done the same thing.
In reply to UKC/UKH News: I’d like to give a shout out here incase there are ladies aspiring to become involved with alpine climbing to the Womens Alpine Adventure Club... search it on Facebook. I’ve watched it going from strength to strength. To me it’s massively positive that there are women out there proactively supporting other womens ambitions, sharing their extensive knowledge and doing it in great environment. I think as men we could learn a thing or two from it, and reign in the navel gazing “but they could just ask us” bollocks. If they chose to ask other women, great. If they ask men, great, take it as a complement and a privilege to be aiding someone achieve their dreams. Too often we as men act like testosterone fuelled knuckleheads, allowing the “bants” and competition which is normally associated with being young (or indeed older) males to get in the way of achieving common goals. Infact I would love to see what would happen if we put young guys in a situation in which they learnt from these energetic, keen women. I’m betting the results would be stellar...
It would appear that the underlying assumption being made here is that gender parity in outdoor sports is a goal for British society.
Perhaps rephrased; If the demographic of people using the outdoors for sporting or active endeavor does not exactly reflect the intersectional distribution of society, is this evidence of lack of opportunity or something sinister or a reflection of a complex breadth of factors - of which a large proportion may simply be individual choice?
Who gets to decide where the burden of proof lies? If someone wants to spend money and effort on it, is it unreasonable to suggest that person should be the one justifying this assumption?
Jobs Head Route Setter, The Climbing Hangar - Swansea
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