Lately, there has been a lot of talk about females who feel disrespected by male climbers. You may have seen the article “What Girls Think about Climbing With Dudes” or you may have read the mountain project forum response: http://mountainproject.com/v/what-girls-think-about-climbing-with-dudes/108772572 or you might have seen this same concept elsewhere. It is a topic that has been gaining a lot of conversation.
I have a love/hate relationship with how this topic is being discussed. On the one hand, if people are concerned about something they should be able to voice it. There does seem to be evidence to warrant a discussion being had. The problem I have is when sweeping generalizations are made. Particularly in the realm of gender.
The truth is that men being disrespectful really isn’t the problem. We need to remember that it is certain men being disrespectful. Similarly there are certain women who can be equally disrespectful. I think this article and ones like it would find better reception from discussing respect between climbers in general. I do not intend to dismiss the amount of disrespect that is felt by the people who write such articles, but I do not think it is not necessarily about genders.
I have climbed with many men who truly have been respectful to me as a female climber. There have been men that cannot climb what I can that tell me they are impressed and tell me it was great to watch me climb. There are men that climb the same as me and share beta with me like anyone else. There are men who climb harder than me that take time to help me out even when they are complete strangers. We need to remember that most men are not being disrespectful to women, and most women are not disrespectful to men. Most people can climb together because they both love to climb and gender is not an issue.
Sure there are men that make real jerk comments and say stupid things, but honestly it is usually because those people are just jerks. I’ve personally never met a man who was a nice, great, decent guy, but also really sexist and demeaning only to women. It might feel completely targeted at the fact that one is a women, but if you paid attention, they usually are disrespectful on several accounts. They usually just are crappy people. It is not necessarily fair to generalize this to the whole male gender.
Now there is one exception to this. There are some comments otherwise nice, harmless guys could make that sound sexist but they really are not necessarily intended to be hurtful. I say this because sometimes, like these articles, people hear or take a fact and stretch it to cover everything. For example, a male might say female climbers aren’t as strong as men. This could be one of those jerk comments from a jerk. It also could be a generalization that is based in truth. The hardest male sport route climbed is 5.15c and they might be working on 5.16. The hardest female sport route is 5.14d. The hardest male boulder is V15 working on V16, and the hardest female boulder is V14. It is a huge deal when a female climbs V10 or V11, and if a male does, it is usually just seen as typical. This is not to say men are better, but that technically right now males have pushed further. Now in a gym you might seen plenty of females that climb harder than males. Alex Puccio will climb much harder than your average male intermediate climber. Obviously each individual women is not weaker than each individual male, yet in terms of the hardest climbs males are on top.
Of course, it is recommended we show support for women who are getting stronger and trying harder. Maybe one day things could be equal. It certainly isn’t fair for someone to think a women couldn’t ever possibly climb better. However, a person could make this comment as a misconception instead of an attempt to be hurtful or demeaning.
I also notice a lot of offense is taken to women being told something is easier because they have smaller hands or a better center of gravity or better technique. Statistically these comments are true. Crimps often are easier with smaller hands, women are known for being more technical than dynamic, and women do have a difference in center of gravity. These are not bad things. They are also not always true. Some women do have large hands. Some women struggle a lot with technique. Each individual is different. However, when a comment is made to dismiss how hard a climb was, it isn’t necessarily about gender. I watch my boyfriend do climbs for beta and he can do one arms and huge lock offs. I just can’t yet. Therefore, if I made a comment that he can do it easier because of that, I’m not trying to be demeaning or sexist, I’m trying to say that won’t help me I need to find something else that will. People are always saying things are easier because someone is taller, shorter, has a wider span, has more strength, etc. There are also women that think climbs are easier for men because they are men.
Really we should embrace what talents people have instead of making it seem like things are easier for them. Chances are they may have worked really hard to get that strength so it really isn’t fair for us to be saying it is easy. Someone doing a V11 is impressive, whether they are strong at crimps or not. Of course, we also need to give credit to those who struggle a lot with that type of climb and make it. For them it feels like a big accomplishment. Overall, support when deserved and trying not to downplay someone’s successes, is the way to go.
Sometimes mean comments are made to hurt from people who are hurtful. Sometimes we make accidental misconceptions or say things we think are facts but really are generalizations. There is plenty of disrespect in the climbing world, as there is in all other worlds of sports or hobbies. That does need to be addressed. However, when the genders are brought in, credibility is lost. Men who are respectful might get offended or they might feel embarrassed their gender is getting a bad rep. This is similar with women. The ones who made those generalizations might realize they were wrong if they actual read the article and get past feeling attacked or get past other generalizations that would stop them from respecting the value in what is said. The ones who are the most mean and hurtful, probably are not gaining anything from it because they do not have the capacity to see what they are doing as wrong.
There are a couple things I think people could benefit from.
One is to see that PEOPLE are all at different levels, different skill sets, and different strengths with their climbing. However, they all love it for the same reasons and they all want to get better. Therefore, we should be respectful of everyone’s journey. There is no reason to put down a climber who is not as good as you, or to put down one who is better because you are jealous. There is no reason to put down someone based on gender or ability. We should see that each of us has that passion, that love, and that obsession with the same thing and that is really cool and really inspiring. We should appreciate that those who are not as talented are trying and working their butts off. We should appreciate that regardless of where someone is they are getting outside, breathing in that mountain air, and feeling that love for the rock. We should appreciate that we were not always where we were and they will not always be where they are. We can help each other, support each other, and believe in each other. If you cannot do that, you have the choice to climb alone or with those you do appreciate. You don’t have the right to put someone else down. Rock climbing is humbling and one thing it shows you is that no matter how good you think you are, it can kick your ass and rip away all your progress at any moment. No one is really on top or below. We are all just in this thing for ourselves and it is fun to share our love and experiences with others.
We all could benefit from thinking about what we are going to say before saying it. We could all benefit from challenging generalizations and seeing past them. Look at people who surprise us every day by doing things better than us even though they are disabled. Look at all the really strong kids and women out there doing impressive things. Look at the people who start as true beginners and work their way up to immediate or advance at speeds we cannot believe. Look at the people who are able to spend days training and working hard when they’d rather just be climbing for fun. We all have different mind sets but we all can surprise people. We are all capable of much more than others give us credit for. We should try to keep people in mind who surprise us and challenge our believes. We should know when to keep our mouths shut.
I honestly haven’t seen gender specific disrespect that is directed towards climbing. I’ve seen plenty in general, but like I said, I have had the luck of being around the right people. I have seen disrespect, however. I’ve seen people make fun of others for not being able to climb certain things when they were strangers to that person. I’ve heard people comment on others not getting better or getting worse in a negative way. I’ve heard climbing judgement being made. I’ve heard people being unsupported and people not thinking people could do something. One of the things I love about climbing is that it is self competitive. It is about you pushing your own limits and seeing what you are capable of. Everyone has their own limits and while you might not see it, they are pushing them and loving what they are doing. They just want to climb, and that is all that should matter.
Oh yeah, and I wish we could stop judging whether people sport, trad, alpine, or boulder. It’s just stupid. We all have our own things, and we should respect that. We all come to climbing on our own terms and it is about ourselves. Who cares if other climbers like to boulder more than sport, or sport more than trad. Hey, the fact we are all different means less overpopulation to your specific form of climbing. We all know less can be better in that regard.
I think we could all show a lot more general respect to other climbers we meet. Some people do a fantastic job! There are very supportive males and very supportive females. One thing we definitely need to stop is the judgments and generalizations. They are hurting people and taking away some from the peaceful, indescribable beauty that climbing is.
We also need to learn to communicate better. If you read that article, one of the things mentioned was males assuming the females didn’t want to lead or males not moving the crash pads or males trying to spot only females. First of all, we need to accept this might not be gender related. That male who is just preparing to lead might often climb with people who don’t like to lead of any gender and be used to doing it. He also might just really want to lead. Instead of getting upset, try to communicate. Say something like “Hey it looks like you want to lead, but I do too. Let’s come up with a deal. You can lead this and I’ll lead the next, or you can lead first but take down all the gear so I can lead too after.” Communication like this is good because it is not threatening or assuming. By saying this you are letting the person know what you want. If he just wanted to lead and never thought about you, now he realizes you want a turn. If he was being a little judging, he might think to himself “oh wow, she does want to lead. That’s pretty cool.” He might not think that way anymore. If he comes back with a mean sexist comment, he is one of those jerks that you should probably just forget about climbing with.
Also not moving pads is not necessarily a sign of someone hating on you. Sometimes I think about moving pads, but I’m scared because the person might fall on me while I’m trying to. Sometimes I think maybe they are solid in that spot missing the pad and put the pad in a different location to be at the part they are scared on. If I see someone who is really struggling or someone who is a beginner and might not know better, I move the pads for them. If it is someone who looks solid and knows what they are doing, I often think they probably know what they are doing. Therefore, instead of getting mad, it’s best to communicate. Let people know if you want them to move the pad, leave it alone etc. You might scream out, “I could fall here, could someone pull over that mat?” or you could say “I appreciate you want to help but I really want the pads this way for a reason.” Communicating your needs gets them met. Again someone will probably realize they just weren’t thinking of you and help, or that they made an assumption and they shouldn’t have. Chances are low the person will be a jerk about it, but if they are remember they are probably just a jerk.
There are very real negative gender stereotypes made and there are very real stories of females having a hard time with ignorant males, and males having a hard time with horrible females. They are situations were discrimination is very real. There are also times where we might be seeing it where it just isn’t actually there. It is always important to communicate so we can eliminate as many misunderstandings as possible. It is also important to remain calm and open to the fact you could be wrong.
I work with kids and I’m always telling them “You have to be respectful towards others, but you don’t have to be friends with everyone.” It is important to keep in mind that while you shouldn’t be hurting someone, putting them down, or treating them poorly, you are not going to like every climber. Sometimes you just have to let things go. If you are climbing, and one of those true, authentic jerks starts spewing their harsh, judging, or sexist criticism, it might be better to just let it go. As mentioned above, genuinely okay people making a mistake can be talked to and brought to an understanding. Jerks are always going to be jerks who just don’t get it. It’s okay to just not climb with them and keep yourself surrounded in people who do care. Climb with males that are positive and supportive, and females that are positive and supportive. For the jerks, it’s best to just not let them get to you.
If we can at least value that each climber loves the sport like we do, make an effort to communicate our climbing needs better, know when to let things go, and learn to correct without attacking, things could get a whole lot better. Some of these issues might go away. There are strong females that are really doing an incredible job climbing, and there are fantastic males that make excellent partners. We need to keep the right ones, lose the wrong ones, and just do what we personally can to make things better. We can’t change people, only how we handle them and interact with them.