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Gender equality within outdoor adventure

Wednesday, 30th August 2017

Great Park Explorer. © Jan Bella.

Gender equality remains a widely discussed topic throughout many aspects of life. With large news providers such as the BBC publishing articles highlighting the pay gap between male and female movie stars; stating that ‘the world's ten best-paid actors earned a total of $488.5m (£380.5m) in the past year’ which is ‘almost three times more than their female counterparts, who took home $172.5m (£134m) between them’, it has become a topic impossible to ignore. Indeed, equality in the work place remains a target yet to be fulfilled. 

Not only are popular actresses such as Emma Stone and Jennifer Aniston yet to match their male counterparts; the 2017 Report on Equality Between Women and Men in the EU highlights worrying statistics about women in the work place. The report states that while men work an average of thirty-nine paid hours per week, women only work thirty-three. An additional average of twenty-two hours unpaid work (such as housework, care giver) are then added to the female week, with men taking on a significantly smaller amount of unpaid work; less that ten hours each week. On top of the imbalanced working hours, the gap in earnings continues to be an issue. The report writes that in a number of EU countries including the UK, the overall gender gap in earnings reaches 45% or more. 

The Guardian raised the issue of the May 2017 local elections in which only one female metro mayor, Sue Jeffrey, was elected. When asked if she was worried about taking a job in a vastly male-dominated line of work, Jeffrey replied, ‘I’m going to have the job of showing that women can and should fill these roles. I take that extremely seriously’. 

So how do these negative statistics compare with gender equality in outdoor adventure and sport? Results from the 2017 National Study on Women and the Outdoors (commissioned by outdoor retailers Rei) show that 63% of women failed to think of an outdoor female role model, while six in ten women said that men’s outdoor pursuits were taken more seriously than women’s. Despite this, 72% of women said they feel liberated while outdoors, but only 32% considered themselves to be ‘outdoorsy’. An article in The Guardian about getting women outdoors states that ‘one of the most cited reasons for [these results] is the primarily male-dominated news, social media, and marketing around the outdoor industry’. A Google image result for popular outdoor magazines such as Outside Magazine or 220 Triathlon Magazine demonstrates from front covers alone just how male dominated the outdoor world is. Female cover features are few and far between, with a majority of those in existence featuring nude or sexual photographs meant for the male gaze rather than being inspirational to women. 

This lack of women in outdoor-related media creates ‘psychological barriers as real as anything solid’ according to Guardian writer Caty Enders. Climbing expert Lynn Hill states that, ‘It’s actually more important for women to do activities that are empowering, like climbing, because social conditioning that happens on a very subconscious level does not tell women that they should be strong and take the lead’. 

It is hardly surprising that few women are featured in outdoor-related magazines or films. The Candidate website recently conducted research looking at 150 digital businesses which uncovered that there are ‘nearly twice as many men currently working in the sector than women’. Furthermore, an Adweek issue focused on women in the media revealed the results from Geena Davis’ partnership with Google. Davis was developing software that measures screen and speaking time in film, which disappointingly showed that the ratio of male to female characters has not changed since 1946. Women will struggle to feel motivated to pursue outdoor adventures if they do not have a voice in film or print, or if they are subconsciously led to believe that outdoor pursuits are primarily for men. 

Thankfully the world of outdoor sports and adventure seems to be aware of this lack in equality. Respected outdoor retailer Rei recently began a campaign to promote women in outdoor sport. President and CEO Jerry Stritzke stated; ‘Today we proudly launch a public effort called Force of Nature. It claims the outdoors as a place to opt out of cultural pressures to conform – the ‘supposed-tos’ and ‘shoulds’ that underpin out-dated stereotypes – especially for women. To create real change right now we are putting women ¬– of all ages, races, sizes, gender expressions – front and center in all we do’. A large and established company such as Rei (founded in 1938) will undoubtedly pave the way for positive changes going forward. 

(Above) Easy underfoot at Buttermere  © Jan Bella

Numerous outdoor blogs, such as thegirloutdoors.co.uk and dirtbagdarling.com, which are written by women and aimed at women, also help to inspire women to explore the world of outdoor adventure. Many of these blogs are witty, relatable, and have a huge following, demonstrating that women are interested in finding role models in outdoor pursuits as well as participating themselves. Companies that encourage women to get outdoors, such as Animosa which creates outdoor wear that accommodates periods, are mentioned on these blogs to help women find suitable gear. Furthermore, magazines such as Misadventures Mag that are aimed at women; or even hiking holidays advertised only to women, such as Chapters Holidays in the UK, all help to make women aware that outdoor pursuits are for everyone. 

Lastly, 2017 has seen huge film and book festivals promote women. Banff Mountain Film Festival centred its theme around women in adventure. The festival tours around the globe and creates fantastic exposure for adventure athletes, making it a place where women can speak or listen to influential female athletes. Similarly, No-Man’s Land Festival is an all-female adventure film festival that celebrates women in outdoor pursuits. A spokesperson for the festival stated, ‘Our mission transcends the films presented; this festival acts as a platform for progressive thought and movement in the outdoor industry […] through a uniquely feminine lens’. Perhaps with the efforts of the people emboldening women to take up outdoor-adventure sports, gender equality could become a closer reality in the next few years.

 

Wanda Rutiewicz summits Everest, the first European woman and the first Polish climber to do so.  © Bernadette McDonald.

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