Let’s Talk About Women and Men and the Outdoors

New film addresses the complicated issue of gender relations and sport.


Your favorite adventure retailing co-op is investing major energy in exploring and supporting women and the outdoors, a topic of no small importance, and it recently released a short film, Within Reach, which tackles the thorny issue of how men and women related to one another via sport.

“I think we all have these ideas about ourselves—that we’re not sexist, that we’re not racist. You’re thinking, ‘I’m a good person. I try hard not to make women uncomfortable.’ There’s still these smaller, nuanced gestures that are still putting women at a disadvantage,” says Shelma Jun, a climber and organizer.

The film slides from how women and men interact at the climbing gym (no, she doesn’t want beta, thank you) to how a lack of role models affects the ability of the industry to attract and retain female executives. And if the narrative drifts, that’s okay, because Within Reach only begins to address the hard and complicated status of gender relations in the modern world—it raises critically important points, but, more important, simply kicks off the conversation, and hopefully helps women and men find a way to talk their way to a more even relationship.

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Showing 11 comments
  • Dan

    Why do people have to make problems where none exist? My wife and I have been camping, hiking, climbing, skiing, W/W kayaking..You get the idea. We do a lot outdoors together. We are different people. I’ve got 8 inches and 40 pounds on her. Against my strength and size she has grace and fluidity. I’m a better paddler, but she’s a better skier, we match nicely when we’re climbing. In her prime, we’re both much older now, my wife was 5’4″ and 110 pounds. Looking at her no one would think that she could hump a 60# pack to the top of Mt Washington, but she didn’t get upset if someone commented that the pack was almost bigger than her. She certainly didn’t need a store to try to drive a wedge between people.
    There’s no sexism in the outdoors. The outdoors has no hyphens. We climb. We run. We paddle. We ski. Doesn’t matter your sex, your race, your religion. The only thing that matters is what you can do and what you’re willing to try. Everything else is just marketing BS. REI should spend more time worrying about the loss of our wilderness and the generation of couch potatoes that have only experienced the summit of a mountain when playing a video game.

  • James

    Wow, we’ve opened a can of worms here haven’t we? Are there “for ladies only boulders out there”? No? I always thought that when you showed up to climb and climbed, you were a climber. If you didn’t like the crew you were out with because they asked to many questions, looked at you funny or didn’t respect you, you went somewhere else? I venture to clubs (only if I have to) to make myself a better and stronger athlete. There is also a part of me that hopes to meet a like minded person to pursue my passion with. Is that bad? I understand the need to have an exclusive group….boys night, a night out with the girls, etc. but when does that exclusiveness fail the responsibility to be inclusive? Maybe we should build a set of guidelines we can post in the gym or at our favorite climbing site so we can start wearing t-shirts with announcements on them like, “Hey Bro, I’m with my chick”!!! or “Yo dude, I’m just learning and don’t need your input”!

    Either way, I like the conversation. It’s why leaving of the Confederate flag on the flag of South Carolina was a good idea. It gave people something to talk about. We all want a perfect world for ourselves, it will just take a long, long time to accept ourselves for being human!

  • Can AJ please skip the genderfying bandwagon? It’s not why I subscribe and it poisons my morning, like reading about rape or murder when it has nothing to do with me. No, I cannot solve rape or murder. No, I cannot solve sexism. I do not need to read about this – and neither will the sexists. Nobody benefits here. Please put my money into something more useful.

  • Lexi Robertson

    I am so excited about this campaign. I’ve been following the Outdoors podcast series and love it. Thanks for the positive article!

  • Tristan

    I don’t think REI is driving a wedge between people, it is simply a movement to make us as society, and men, more aware. As a male we take a lot of things for granted and might just be unaware of some of the actions and messages we put out into the world. Just watch the film and don’t get upset if you hear a message you don’t see in the outdoors as a male. I feel that we as dudes get our feelings hurt more often than any other group when we see messages like this because we think that everything is equal when it ain’t!
    By REI creating a more welcoming world in the outdoors they are also encouraging a new part of society (around %50) to be a voice for the outdoors.This is a two-fer, get more women into a more inclusive outdoor recreation movement, and create more ownership of our wilderness and public lands. In the cycling world the female market was a huge untapped market that really helped elevate cycling, as a result there is more money for trail-maintenance and groups that organize public policy.

    Things are changing, women are stepping it up in arena’s that they previously couldn’t even access. Still a lot of these sports are bro-dominated and when women do step into the field they are scrutinized more highly. Look at last years Green Narrows race.

    What is wrong with attempting to make the world a better place for er’body. The world is fucked up, let’s try and work on it where we can.

    Think of this as beta for a better outdoors….

  • Drew

    I think this topic can be a pretty difficult one… for starters, the dude(s) above me complaining about the video, or AJ, or REI, or the position that FlashFoxy is taking – need to grow up. To shockingly claim that sexism somehow magically doesn’t exist in the outdoor community is hilariously daft. Anyone who hasn’t experienced the horribly uncomfortable beta spraying/mansplaining of a gym bro attempting to ‘teach’ his date how to climb ‘properly’ hasn’t spent very much time at the climbing gym. This shit is rampant and if it doesn’t bother you, you’re probably a douchebag. If you don’t like articles like this, or videos such as the one posted above – don’t fucking read or watch them. Taking the time to bitch and complain about them, thus dedicating even more of your energy to the topic, just doesn’t even make sense. So please – grow up or move on.

    On the other hand, as a (admittedly semi-socially awkward) climber who has been in a long-term relationship for over 10 years – I can attest to flat out avoiding interactions with women at the gym, just to prevent the possibility of my casual conversation being misconstrued as an advance. I literally live in fear of making women uncomfortable. There are often times where I’ve wondered to myself, ‘Has this behavior prevented meaningful friendships from forming?’ I obviously don’t have the answer, but I can only assume that it has, and thats a shame. Recently I’ve adopted a ‘don’t engage unless spoken to,’ policy which seems to be working out – but this brings us to an interesting question… what about the single guys out there who genuinely would like to flirt with women at the gym? I have to assume these people exist. I would even have to assume that there might be some single women out there who wouldn’t mind being flirted with.

    Ladies – lets take a second to think about this… in the age of digitally prescribed dating: Tinder, Grindr, Match.com, whatever-the-hell else is used these days to find potential partners (remember, 10+ years in a relationship, I genuinely don’t even know) it’s really not THAT shocking that some guys would prefer to go about things the old fashioned way – engaging in a social interaction with someone you find attractive, and who may have similar interests as you. Doing so at a place like a climbing gym is generally a pretty decent way to weed out people who otherwise don’t give a shit about climbing (most of society). If I wasn’t happily taken, I could totally see this being extremely tempting. I can empathize with guys who might not view the gym as a HORRIBLE place to find someone of similar interests. Certainly makes a lot more sense than a bar.

    Now does mean that I think that women should just ‘accept’ this behavior when it’s unwanted? Absolutely not. But an effort to understand the other side of the situation can go a long way at bridging the gap between our very different world experiences. At the end of the day, it comes down to emotional IQ and reading subtle queues – but ladies, we are talking about dudes here. Not all of us are terrific at picking up on that kind of shit, in fact we’re notoriously horrible at it. So I think a little slack every now and then would go a long way.

  • Piper

    I’m actually kind of shocked to see two negative comments regarding this article. I think you guys are missing the point of this movement. Sure it looks at the gender gap in outdoor industry executive level jobs, as one example – but the point is not to say, “shame on you dudes!” It’s to say that the societal templates in place for how things work or look or function are based largely on a man being at the helm, and when women are at the helm, it’s different – not better or worse, just different and we as a society shouldn’t be afraid to make that a more common template.

    In terms of women in the outdoors – your right – it is a WE! I’ve been extremely lucky to grow up in the outdoors surrounded by incredibly positive men that have never treated me as if my gender were a disadvantage. That’s not to say that I haven’t had moments of total frustration when I was at the back of a pack of guys, the last one up or down the mountain when I first started skiing and biking in my 20s. But I’ve also been extremely lucky to grow up in the outdoors surrounded by badass viking women that are my friends and role models. With them, I learned that men and women just do sports and the outdoors differently. Men tend to be a bit more goal oriented and women just like doing the thing, and having a good time. That is an incredibly broad generalization, mind you, but it’s exactly what Lynn Hill was talking about. The point of this movement is simply to bring awareness to the fact that men and women think differently – we all knew that – and our way of coming to the outdoors and enjoying it should also be a commonly video’d, written about, talked about thing so that more women see enjoying the outdoors as an option for them.

  • Aaron

    Great article! I have no time for people that think this conversation should be silenced, or that sexism doesn’t exist in the outdoors because they have never experienced it. Like it or not, the outdoor adventure world is heavily dominated by men, and regardless of people’s disposition towards being and playing in the outdoors, there’s always more that can be done to encourage new people to join, and to make the experience better for everyone. Keep up the good work!

  • a person

    “I think we all have these ideas about ourselves—that we’re not sexist, that we’re not racist. You’re thinking, ‘I’m a good person. I try hard not to make women uncomfortable.’ There’s still these smaller, nuanced gestures that are still putting women at a disadvantage,” says Shelma Jun

    The people that say micro-aggressions are a serious issue are impossible to please. She’s saying that even though I’m not a racist or sexist (at least overtly) I am still inevitably going to commit some tiny wrong that ends up making a big difference in keeping women(?) from the outdoors. You can’t win with people like this because it demands that people be perfect or flay themselves over their guilt and their sins. No sin is too small. It’s like religion.

    This is also assuming that many (or all) of these “nuanced gestures” are based on sexism. The people I see “mansplaining” beta at the gym to women talk exactly the same to the guys around them. They want to show off, and not only just to women. But if you have a preconceived notion that they are saying these things to you because of your sex then you will feel justified, even though you have not experienced being “mansplained” to as a guy, because you are only seeing it from one perspective. I am also only seeing it from one perspective. But like when some women tell me they fear for their safety walking alone at night because “they’re a single women,” I think about the fact that men are much more likely to be victims of violent crime, and how comparing different gender experiences seems pretty useless to me. I think it’s much more individual.

  • sickofthisgenderfyingjazz

    Fine. So here we see the core problem with feminist debate. All civil discourse deserves an appropriate time and place, where ideas can be considered and exchanged with care and forethought. I personally go out of my way to participate in the broader feminist debate and I regularly see people flinging their conflicting views into their opponents’ faces with pointless belittling like it actually means something. I don’t want to be that guy, and I think all the comments above demonstrate precisely why this debate does not belong on (or in) Adventure Journal.

    Someone says, “there’s no sexism in the outdoors,” and before considering the ironic adage of nature being the great equaliser, as referenced in the video, this guy is torn apart as a juvenile, “douchebag,” by his opponent, who himself admits going out of his way to treat women markedly different to men at his local climbing gym. He even ridicules climbing gyms in general as sexist hotspots, despite being the very root of sexism himself as a reflex to his fear of women. The issues raised in the video may be valid and worthy of discussion but in this case, neither party put their case well from the outset, and it predictably descended into bigoted bullying for no reason, achieving nothing.

    But worst of all, the basic vein of the idea (gender-gap climbing, segregated women’s climbing groups and the REI initiative to allow women to enjoy the outdoors free of men – yes, that really is the plug, see their website) just seems so obviously removed from the principles of adventure, outdoors and wilderness that it moreover seems tantamount to impossible to claim this debate really belongs here at all. There are better places to have the argument. One might even suggest this applies more broadly in the context of REI’s unique treatment of women as a specific, “new market,” for exploitation, despite how well they’ve played their cards. That’s valid, I guess.

    But whichever way you look at it, you would be wrong to vilify egalitarians who wish to see AJ maintain its previously gender-neutral stance. A comment in defence of AJ and its content belongs here. A re-tweet article promoting gender-segregated outdoors activities and setting up mutual flamebait for the benefit of REI does not. You might as well post their logo with a link… Oh wait, you did.

  • Ann

    Love LOVE this. Really beautiful piece! And the defensive fuss is proves the need for this dialog. Nice work!

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