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.
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.
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.
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