**This is a Guest post from Gina Bégin. We invite you to join a discussion this Wednesday 5/22/13 at 4pm MDT on Twitter #STPLive. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.**
It's not that you can't do it, it's just that, well...you're a girl.
Luckily, as women in the outdoor world, we don't hear this phrase too often; our guys are pretty open to sharing the fields they dominate—skiing, climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, etc.—with women, at least to our faces. But sometimes I wonder if those feelings are as sincere as they come across.
It causes me to cringe, but I'll say it: There are still men who perceive women as unable to hang at their level, no matter how much experience a girl has. Why? Is it the female collective's own doing or a macho gene in men that refuses to advance into this century?
To be fair, most men have unbiased gender preferences when it comes to who they think makes a prime partner in athletic pursuits. I thank those men for being of the modern day. Unfortunately, there are still some among their counterparts that exhibit the ability to severely underrate a woman based on gender alone.
One such experience transpired when a man struck a conversation with me through a ski forum. He was a shop owner in Park City and mentioned that if I should find myself up there, he'd hook me up with a pair of skis for the day. In fact, he claimed he already knew the perfect pair for me.
Being so well acquainted—he had only seen my face through my profile's thumbnail and we had exchanged roughly a dozen sentences (none of which included the terrain I like to ski)—I felt a suspicious curiosity arise. Which skis did he think were my prime match? Furthermore, why did he assume I didn't have my own skis?
He forked over the information: a carving ski made to help the aspiring intermediate feel like a slalom pro on the groomed. An indignant fire rose within me. Nothing against this type of skier or that type of ski, but not only had I never really cared for the groomed but I had left the intermediate level of skiing ages ago.
This isn't a lone occurrence. It's happened with mountain biking and rock climbing: split decisions regarding whether a girl could keep up or go as hard if she were brought along. Yes, it's the nature of humans to make immediate judgments, but generally we've evolved to place logic over nature. So what is it that keeps some guys downplaying women's abilities when they don't with others of their make?
I looked to social media for the answer.
Research led me to this: the reason doesn't lie in aptitude; a girl not being able to "hang" appeared to be a front for the deeper problem. As long as women show an interest in the outdoors outside of them, most men actually welcome female additions to the party. As @CheezDogz (Twitter name) puts it, "They must show they've done one thing outside besides drink before I came along, and I'll show them everything I know."
In fact, many guys don't care if women have any initial skill in their sport, some even preferring to teach because they love witnessing progression. That's how climbing instructor Thomas Hinchcliffe feels. "...there is a sense of satisfaction of bringing someone new to a sport. I like the feeling when whom you have been instructing gains a sense of achievement." Derek Taylor, former editor of Powder magazine chimes in. "[The] important thing is they want to learn...and [are] someone you want to hang with. Why not a day on the bunny slope?" He thinks for a second and qualifies the statement. "...assuming its not a powder day."
So if not aptitude, then what? Ladies and gents, it has to do with attitude. Responding to my question about expectations when adventuring with females, Ed Carley reinforces this position: "Positive attitude, no matter the skill level. Skilled preferred, but I've taught a few." He then capped it off with the reiteration, "Positive attitude. Positive attitude."
After reading a flood of similar replies to my question, it seems Twitter's male population gives a collective nod at this answer.
Is attitude, then, the reason why some guys believe girls aren't up to the task of charging hard and achieving higher levels of athleticism?
This might be exactly the case. Many guys related how their significant other or a friend gave up because they couldn't achieve what they felt was success in their first go. Sometimes these were women who, coerced into the outdoors, didn't have any desire to be there in the first place. Other times the girls felt a need to prove themselves and go hard without the means to do so. Almost all times these situations were accompanied by complaints that grew louder as the day progressed ("This sucks! It's so hot/cold/wet/natural out!"). Storming off, they never went again.
Women who complain are quitters, perhaps the thinking goes. And quitters never progress.
Some men submit themselves to this scenario over and over, finally chalking up the complaining and quitting cycle to being female and viewing women as inferior in outdoor ability. Instead, they should understand the problem lay in the nature of the woman they took out, or perhaps that they failed to slow down the pace to a comfortable level when taking a newbie along.
However, even seasoned outdoor women tend to mention little observations of uncomfort moreso than men. Perhaps it's a shoulder strap rubbing against a seam, a sock persistently rolling down, or that she can't quite get her heels locked in her ski boots. While women might not feel like these are complaints, to a guy's ears little chips at positivity add up and equal one thing: a bad attitude. And for them, that's difficult. "Guys are sensitive to the overall feeling of the activity," says Bobby Farrington, a Twitter respondent. "...they feel the need to lead."
These are generalized statements. There are women who keep their cool and carry on despite what the day or equipment brings. There are women who charge harder than many men. And there are men who are happy to hand over the reigns and follow in a woman's lead. But because of poor attitudes from a portion of women (and perhaps that's due at times to poor planning on the man's part), some guys still have a difficult time viewing females as earnest athletes.
This all being said, most outdoor men welcome women as partners in their sport. They understand that there are things that females inherently bring to the table that may not come naturally to males. As Andrew Chastney, a New Hampshire ski patroller put it, "Women have a different appreciation in the outdoors. It's deeper. They notice things like little things like flowers; when I'm with guys, it's mostly about getting [to the destination]."
So, attitude aside, what then? Andrew smiles, "Of course I would rather go with women. They can hold their own. Besides, guys lumber. W
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