The idea for “Pretty Good for a Girl” began percolating in my mind after trying to convey to others, with difficulty, the subtle competition sometimes found between female skiers, mountain bikers, hikers, etc. This competition is insidious, and often goes unnoticed by the other members of the skiing or hiking group (most of whom are male), and, thus, is almost impossible to point out without seeming ridiculous or catty. When I started to look at the typical gender breakdown of these groups, however, something clicked in my mind. The groups that I ski and backpack with are mainly made up of guys, with one or two women who are often described as being able to “keep up.” For most of my life, I thought that the ability to hang with the guys was something to strive for, something that elevated me above other female athletes, granting me entry into a space in which few women were allowed. I coveted the title of “girl who can hang,” and thought that these positions in the group were inherently scarce. Other women who also could “keep up,” posed a threat to my perceived status, and so I felt that I had to compete with these women in order to maintain my place within the group. This situation sounds dramatic, but remember that these dynamics play out under the surface; gentle teasing, underhanded compliments, and incremental increases to athletic intensity are all means of putting another female athlete in her place. I have both been on the receiving end of this type of manipulation and have dished some of it out to other women, and conversations with other female skiers/backpackers/hikers have confirmed to me that I am not alone in experiencing (or participating in) this harmful behavior.
This behavior harms both women involved, the instigator and the victim, because the degradation of one female athlete perpetuates the idea that women are inherently inferior when it comes to ‘outdoor sports,’ the effect of which is to maintain the idea that there are only a few spots available to women who can “keep up.” The promotion of these negative stereotypes by women through the degradation of other women serves as further confirmation to men of the validity of their patriarchal ideology. I wondered, if this type of competition hurts all women, then why do we, as female outdoor athletes, continue to drag each other through the mud in order to impress a few men? Why do we as an outdoor recreation community regard the ability to “keep up with the guys” as the pinnacle of female athletic achievement? Should we even dichotomize the abilities of female and male athletes at all?
It seems to me that these types of questions, and others like them, get at the heart of what I would like to discuss in this space. One might not consider the occurrence of sexism, ableism, racism, and other ‘isms’ in the outdoor athletic community as a major social issue, and perhaps, taken individually, these experiences are only minor inconveniences. However, I would assert that these instances encountered while hiking, biking, or skiing confirm the existence of harmful ideologies that have significant ramifications in what one might consider the “real world”, and, therefore, need to be discussed. No community is perfect, but this premise does not excuse the degradation or exclusion of certain groups, whether done consciously or accidentally.
Pretty Good for a Girl is meant to be a venue for the discussion of identity as it relates to the outdoor sports world, and also a place for encouragement and growth. With this blog I hope to grapple with some of these social issues, using my perpetuation of harmful behaviors and mindsets and my experiences with those behaviors when inflicted on me as fodder for discussion. I hope that this blog may encourage further debate within the outdoor recreation community, with the goal of eventually sparking community-wide growth.
Growing up in Colorado, I have had myriad wonderful experiences skiing, backpacking, biking, and hiking with friends and family. I love outdoor recreation and its respective community of athletes, and it is because of this admiration that I want to take a critical review of our collective mindset concerning various identities, in order to help us become a more inclusive community.