this does have something to do with climbing

I hear a lot of women say that they are feminists, but don’t like the word, “feminisT."

It’s bewildering to me. I hear some women say that they believe in what Feminism stands for but they don't want to be associated with the word. Considering the fact that the media has demonized the Feminist movement leaving people feeling awkward, shy, angry, and adverse to the subject, it should be no surprise that women and men stray from this label. Feminism is not as provocative as it has been made out to be. By definition, Feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. The feminist movement in all of its waves, decades, and shifts is not perfect. Inherently feminism is a good cause, but there are people in our culture who have power, loud voices, and platforms, who are able to twist and mutate the true message. The media focuses on the most visible figures in politics and pop culture, and our associations with feminism are affected by this. We are people full of imperfections, so of course this movement that we are spearheading will not be perfect. That’s why we evolve. Feminism is always evolving. It has helped me find a voice, encouraged me to speak up, and showed me how to open up a dialogue about the great inequalities and injustices people face daily.

I am a white woman who grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri thinking boys were physically inclined, they were sexaholics, they wanted to use me for my body.

I grew up thinking sex was bad. I would be catcalled in the mall at fourteen and feel like crawling into a hole. I hated having boobs. I hated having a butt. I wanted to curl my hair, do my makeup, feel pretty, wear dresses, but stepping outside my house was scary. It was the bravest thing I did everyday because it was almost a guarantee that someone of the opposite sex would make me feel uncomfortable. And the girls. We were always making assumptions, unfairly judging and sneering at each other. Why? Because we were competing. Not for achievements, but for the attention of men. I felt like a slutwhoreskank, whenever I wore heels. However, at the same time society told me to wear them so that I could be sexy and wanted. I was told stories about rape, abuse, avoiding the night, and the dangers of walking anywhere alone. I was indirectly taught through magazines, the media, and adults that I was a victim and helpless. I got the message that I should cover my body if I didn’t want any attention. Even wearing shorts and tank tops in the summer made me feel a little too exposed. Even going to the pool with my family and waiting in line for the waterslide gave me anxiety. 

I grew up with friends who were sexually active, but my catholic upbringing told me sex was dirty and wrong. You absolutely weren’t supposed to have it before marriage. Entering college, I took women and gender studies courses. The frustration that had been boiling inside of me from childhood came to the surface. I had lived my life cloaked under the double standard of having to “be a lady” while at the same time feeling the expectation to be sexy for men.

Learning about the many facets of feminism in college fueled my fire. Suddenly I was justified for how I had been feeling as a female in the world. I had never known the words to express how I was feeling or what I was experiencing until then.

These days feminism is typically an insult. I know many women who are afraid of the label because when they hear “feminist” what they are really hearing is, “sex-hating, men-hating, crazy-bitch-dyke.” This is so far from the truth. On the regular through casual conversations a man will say to me, “Oh, are you a feminist or something?”

A feminist sighting in the wild Sierra Nevada landscape.

A feminist sighting in the wild Sierra Nevada landscape.

Yes, I label myself as a feminist.

No, it’s not a negative thing.

Yes, men can be feminists too.

Feminism is not exclusive. It advocates for all genders, all realms, and considers individual circumstances and factors that make us who we are and how we experience the world. I will not tell someone that they have to be feminist. It’s their choice to support the cause or not. I’m here talking, and others like me are talking because we feel a responsibility to fight for everyone’s rights.  I believe in choice, that women should decide what to do with their bodies, that women should have equal pay, that women should take up space, and that women should be heard. 

Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, says it flawlessly: 

“When I was younger, I disavowed feminism with alarming frequency. I understand why women still fall over themselves to disavow feminism, to distance themselves… When I was called feminist, during those days, my first thought was, But I willingly give blow jobs. I had it in my head that I could not both be a feminist and be sexually open… I disavowed feminism because I had no rational understanding of the movement… mostly the disavowal was grounded in the fear that I would be ostracized, that I would be seen as a troublemaker, that I would never be accepted by the mainstream. I get angry when women disavow feminism and shun the feminist label but say they support all the advances born of feminism because I see a disconnect that does not need to be there. I get angry but I understand and hope someday we will live in a culture where we don’t need to distance ourselves from the feminist label, where the label doesn’t make us afraid of being alone, of being too different, of wanting too much.”

After years of observation I have formed my own feminism.

I am a feminist: a woman who voices her thoughts while keeping her ears and mind open to others, who sometimes gets dressed up and dances herself in circles, who sweats and trains her muscles, who aims to always feel strong mentally and physically, who loves sex, who is professional when she needs to be, who lets herself get sloppy when life gets busy, who wants to be selfish, who forms strong bonds with women and men, who doesn’t particularly seek marriage or children, who likes to curl her hair, and who embraces her body. 

What does any of this have to do with climbing?

When I learned how to climb my entire perspective changed. Suddenly I defied what was impossible. I was getting to the top of towers and feeling powerful, as if I could do anything. I viewed myself differently. I was physically strong, like men. It was a completely new way of looking at myself and viewing my body. I was confident in my ability to exceed my limits.

The walls had fallen. I formed a new identity and moved through the world differently. I was using my body for the purpose of pushing my limits. My body felt useful. I had muscles. I had purposeful muscles.

My toned body, my muscles, were from something that brought me joy. It wasn’t because I wanted to look good for men or to look better than other women. My body transformed as I progressed as a climber. I was getting stronger and my muscles grew as a result. I physically was taking up more space and that felt good. I started standing differently. I became connected to my body, breath, and mind. 

What does feminism have to do with climbing?

Climbing is all about challenging yourself. Feminism is about challenging the culture. In a sport dominated by men, in a world dominated by men, feminism and climbing are intertwined.

The climbing community is hugely supportive. I have formed the strongest friendships with men and women through being a part of it.

I only hear encouragement from my male and female climbing partners. However, there have been times where I have experienced sexism. I have been unnecessarily spotted when bouldering to the point of excess. The guy basically caught me and it made me extremely uncomfortable. I felt like a ballerina being caught on a stage, except I was a climber who didn't need a spot. Spots are nice when they are necessary. And a spot is supposed to be just that, a spot. Not a cradling. My friend has had her ass pinched in the gym. I have heard many off hand comments about women’s abilities vs. men on some occasions. No, these things do not happen often, but they are worth mentioning.

Men this is not an attack. Oftentimes, I know men feel as though they are the enemy, the perpetrator, or the bad guy. Feminism is not about this. Feminism is about enlightening us to each other's individual struggles and planting seeds for a better, equal future.

What you can do if you are a man and carrying a heavy sense of guilt, avoidance, annoyance, or remiss when Feminism comes up in your social circles:

1. Listen. Actually listen. We can all be better listeners. You might learn something.

2. Share your thoughts. Genuinely think about how you feel. Feelings are important to share. Do you feel scared, angry, or vulnerable when it comes to discussing this topic? Share these thoughts and others will show compassion.

3. Compassion. Give compassion. Get compassion. Be a supporter not an eye-roller. Change happens when people join forces and support each other.

4. Read, read, read. Educate yourself so that you can be a contributing voice. Your voice matters too. Get your hands on a book about Feminism. There are some lengthy, historical reads, and also funny, light-hearted reads. Google it for crying out loud.

5. Talk to your mom, sisters, friends, girlfriend, grandma, daughter. Especially talk to your bros, dad, grandpa, and sons about Feminism too. Open yourself up to the conversation and others will open up to you.

We live in a culture where if we do not talk about injustice, injustice will keep happening. Because I am a climber and because I am a feminist, my goal is to talk about both. I am opening up the conversation. Please join me.

We didn't plan to be this color coordinated, or in "girl boy girl boy" order. We also didn't plan on being this good looking.

We didn't plan to be this color coordinated, or in "girl boy girl boy" order. We also didn't plan on being this good looking.