by Liz “Snorkel” Thomas
Note: A version of this story, plus more, appears at www.eathomas.com.
Last week, I wrote in the High Country News about why closing the gender gap in the outdoors is important and steps women can take to reclaim the outdoors.
This weekend, I joined women around the country (and world!) in an effort to do just that. Hike Like A Girl Weekend, May 14-15, organized by Teresa Baker of African American Explorations, was designed to encourage women everywhere to push outside their limits. Whether that means going to a new area, going solo for the first time, or hiking an especially difficult route, women all around the country joined to show their presence.
Walking and marching have long been a part of protest. But if a protester walks in the woods, does it create any change?
On my hike, I saw women of all colors and shapes reaching for new heights. Although I was hiking solo, I eavesdropped on a few groups and heard women say, “Who knew that hiking could be so much fun?” and women say, “I never knew the mountains could be so beautiful!” These women’s minds were changed.
Hike Like A Girl Weekend changed women themselves, too. I heard so many people say, “I never thought I could make it all this way.” In fact, I was one of those women. My original hike (trip report to follow later) was an ambitious 6-peak, 8,000 foot gain hike over 25 miles. The full extension of the hike—which I’ve only done once, 10 years ago—adds 3 more peaks and seemed far out of my reach. But, on Hike Like A Girl Weekend, I surprised myself. I was faster than I expected and added on those last 3 peaks with relative ease. I found out I was stronger than I thought. I know other women discovered their strength this weekend, too.
While upping the number of women in the outdoors is a great help in closing the gender gap, a more equal and just outdoors world is impossible without cultural change. This means not just changing the way that women think about the outdoors, but changing the way that men think about women in the outdoors. It means changing media portrayals of women outdoors. It means changing perceptions of what it means to be an outdoorsy woman. It means, most importantly, removing barriers to entry for women in the outdoors, especially legal and professional obstacles.
I’m talking about how women get paid less than men—even in the outdoor industry: how women have to work harder to prove ourselves as able as men in a series of outdoor jobs, from rangers to gear sales reps to athletes. I’m talking about women rangers still getting harassed in this day and age. These are the real obstacles to society’s perception of women being equals in the outdoors.
Hike Like A Girl Weekend was Step 1. Now, asking demanding more for women is Step 2.
Lead Photo: Liz Thomas, atop Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains during “Hike Like a Girl” Weekend (photo courtesy Liz Thomas).