Redefining ‘Ladylike’ for the 21st Century Adventure World

adventure journal ladylike

“I think it’s hot when a woman can blow a snot rocket without slowing down,” my guy friend laughed. We were zipping along the paved riverside trail on our bikes, chatting about work, family, and books. Trying not to pause the conversation or slow the pace, I had said, “Excuse me,” and turned my head for a quick farmer’s blow. Cool breezes always make my nose run, you know?

I was glad he wasn’t disgusted, but still a little surprised by his response. I could still hear my mother’s tsk-tsk in the back of my mind, warning me to be ladylike for fear of turning the guy off. After all, I wasn’t really sure yet whether or not this was a date.

The next time I was out running and found myself blasting a quick farmer’s blow, I laughed remembering my friend’s comment. And I wondered, what does it really mean to be ladylike anyway? Is it really still a thing?

Maybe it stems from a childhood fascination with Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, but reminders to cross my legs, speak softly, and let the guys take the lead still echo somewhere deep in the back of my head. And while I could talk till I’m blue in the face about the double standards women face in the dating world, the work world, and the family world, there’s one place where, though far from perfect, I do feel accepted and comfortable being myself, snot rockets and all: the Great Outdoors.

I’m so thankful to have been born an American female in the 21st Century, and to have found my way into outdoor “sports.” It was only a few decades ago that the early female pioneers of mountaineering were jeered at and criticized for wearing men’s pants – “how unladylike!” Women in Afghanistan still get heckled when they venture into the streets on bicycles. I’m super thankful that I can show up at the crag in pants and a climbing harness and not have my morals as a woman questioned.

My girlfriends and I relish dirt tans, baby wipe “showers,” and being as fast as – or faster than – the guys. And what about being covered in bruises and raspberries? Helmet hair? Or leg hair, for that matter?

What does “being ladylike” really mean, anyway?

Wouldn’t you prefer a definition that has more to do with courage and compassion than perfectly coiffed hair or pretending we don’t experience bodily functions, too? Certainly, good manners are still an attractive trait. But so is being able to build a great campfire or bunny hop a log.

Don’t we want to value “ladies” for being brave and humble? I know I prefer to hang out with the kind of women whose creativity and lust for life make them the most fun to be around, whether at a fancy cocktail party or as a belay partner. A real lady knows that her intelligence and caring nature are more important than how bad her helmet hair is. And the men I’m interested in? They’re the ones who appreciate these traits, the guys who value a real lady because she’s kind and adventurous – snot rockets and all.

Hilary Oliver is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. See more of her work at The GriptionPhoto by Shutterstock




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