Battling Gender Stereotypes in Climbing

Elaine working the moves of Nose Candy (V6) at Rocktown, GA. Photo by Sarah Anne Perry.

Elaine working the moves of Nose Candy (V6) at Rocktown, GA. Photo by Sarah Anne Perry.

In today’s post, guest contributor Elaine Elliott talks openly and honestly about stereotypes of women climbers, including battling her own personal female climber stereotypes.

After watching #CoverTheAthlete’s video regarding male athletes being asked the same interview questions as females, I started to relate this setback to my own sport: rock climbing. The video was amusing, but it highlighted a glaring problem in media coverage of female athletes. The problem being that women want to be taken seriously in athletics, and these stereotypes are holding us back.

Picture of Elaine surpassing the crux of Gnash and Grab (5.11c) at Castle Rock, TN. Photo by Sarah Anne Perry

Elaine surpassing the crux of Gnash and Grab (5.11c) at Castle Rock, TN. Photo by Sarah Anne Perry

The Problem:

I get it, men naturally have more muscles. I’m aware of the science behind this, but aside from the facts, women want to be treated as equal. It’s frustrating to be labeled as a “strong chick” instead of simply a “strong climber.” I’ve come to discover oftentimes men assume I cannot climb their same projects. And when I do, they applaud in a manner different from when a male counterpart does the same thing. I want male climbers to help me become the strongest person I can be, with disregard to our sex. I don’t want men to hold back from giving me the same advice and encouragement shared solely amongst the “bros.” The dynamic needs to be mutual. I do not need my strength validated with the perspective that females have limitations. Because climbers can all agree on one thing: there is always room for improvement.

5'4" Mary Lambo crushing the crux of Six foot Man Roof (5.11d).

5’4″ Mary Lambo crushing the crux of Six foot Man Roof (5.11d).

The Aftermath:

The worst part is that I too, have started to underestimate female climbers. I battle these thoughts every time I climb, whether plastic or rock. I assume most women I see are not as strong as me. I assume they are only there for their boyfriend. I assume they will whimper the moment they are on belay. I hate thinking these thoughts. And I hate to think maybe other girls are thinking the same thing about me. I have succumbed to believing these stereotypes without fully realizing the contradiction.

The Solution:

After coming to terms with these paradox notions, I’ve made a personal vow to never judge my fellow female climbers with preceding stereotypes. I will see them as an equal before assuming anything more or less. I will not limit myself to thinking they aren’t worth my time. And above all, I will not let my competitive edge deter from helping and befriending my peers. How will I ever further my climbing if I distance myself from others? I’ve been an admirer of many female climbing groups like Olivia Hsu and her girl-only climbing trips, Mayan Smith-Gobat and Libby Sauter setting speed records on El Cap, and the Flash Foxy badass girl crew for their daily inspiration. I’ve always dreamed of partnerships like this with other women, and I’m proud to say some of my best climbing friends are also girls. But if I want to keep fostering and growing relationships with fellow female crushers, I have to be willing to establish new bonds without added presumptions. The men and women I climb with who don’t let external influences and gender pressures shape their opinions of others, are the individuals I respect the most in the climbing community. As for the rest of us, being aware of climbing stereotypes will make it easier to rise above our behaviors and treat all climbers, novice or expert, as equal. Like I said, there’s always room for improvement.

Happy Climbing! ~Elaine Elliott @elainelliott

Tagged , , ,

11 thoughts on “Battling Gender Stereotypes in Climbing

  1. Eric says:

    Nice read, Elaine. Our daughter has been living and climbing in Spain for the last three years and will totally agree and relate to your story. In fact, there just might a comment forthcoming from her! Happy Climbing!

  2. Barbara says:

    Elaine, It’s great that you’ve vowed not to judge female climbers before seeing them climb. I have to admit, when I read that you used to assume the women you see aren’t as strong as you and will whimper the moment they are on belay, that stung a little for me. I’m really afraid that other climbers will think this about me. I dislocated my shoulder while climbing, and now I don’t climb as hard and sometimes I get scared. I’m not weaker than you or less brave–there’s just more going on than you realize. Thanks for your words about acceptance; I hope that acceptance extends to the female climbers you see who appear weaker and less brave than you.

  3. Cassi says:

    The biggest issue I’ve had is that people always think I started climbing because of my boyfriend. He’s been climbing 10+ years and I’ve been climbing 2. Because he’s better than me people assume I started climbing with him or that he taught me to climb. He’s been a huge part of my climbing journey, as any climbing partner is but we met at the climbing gym because I was already climbing. People act like it’s nice that I joined him in his sport when really it’s nice that we both have a sport that we love and can share.

    • Rachel says:

      I can relate to this! My boyfriend has been climbing for several years. I’ll admit, he introduced me, but even though I don’t climb as “hard” as he does, I’m the one harassing him to go to the gym so he can belay me most days!

  4. […] Elliott at Crux Crush wrote this post on “Battling Gender Stereotypes in Climbing”. Quick, easy read with some interesting […]

  5. Mailee says:

    This reminds me of Andrew Bisharat’s article over at Evening Sends, “The Curse of the First Female Ascent.” There’s a real paradox in climbing about how women are being treated—on the one hand you have women like Ashima Shiraishi and Pamela Shanti Pack pushing the sport further than ever before, and on the other hand you still have people regarding their achievements as inordinately impressive BECAUSE they’re women. The implicit understanding is always that women are inherently weaker climbers than men. But in reality, climbing is one of the only physical activities in the world where different body types reveal different strengths and weaknesses rather than the typical “the biggest guy wins” formula. It’s a powerful platform for seriously considering women’s contributions to athleticism as just as valuable as men’s. It’s really important that with the explosion of interest in this sport that we begin to address issues of ingrained misogyny, so I really appreciate Elaine’s candor. Thanks for the read!

  6. Jess says:

    I hear you Cassi, I’ve been climbing for 8 years and I introduced my husband to climbing about 3 years ago. However I haven’t met one person (especially non-climbers) who don’t assume it was the other way around.

  7. […] Battling Gender Stereotypes in Climbing at Crux Crush […]

  8. Michael says:

    Interesting post, made me think about how I relate. I once had a relationship with a smart, capable lady. She would tell me about things that were going on at her work, the good and the bad. When she would tell me about a problem she was having I would give her advice on how to handle it. One day after listening quietly to my solution to a prickly issue she looked at me and said ” I don’t want you to solve my life for me, I want you to listen.” I don’t have to tell you how different men and women are. She wanted an ear and I thought she wanted an answer. I learned my lesson, I’m a quick study. If the man you are climbing with, doing anything with, says or does these kind of things that disappoint you take a moment to tell him how you feel about it. If he’s worth your time, he’ll get it and grow. If he doesn’t get it that’s not the only area of problems you will have with him.

  9. […] **See the published article and additional photos on CruxCrush** […]

  10. […] growing and diversifying, gender is a topic that comes up again and again, whether it’s about gender stereotypes, ‘dude grades’, or […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *