Call her a force of nature, an athlete, the future, a modern outdoorswoman, a role model, an entrepreneur, a leader, and someone who dares to dream. You’ll see her crushing a crag in Bishop, on a mountaintop in the Cascades, and surfing a break along the Pacific.
She’s everywhere outside, facing down her critics and fiercest fans with courage, grit and a great deal of passion.
This wasn't how it always was. Outdoor women have only recently started to be celebrated. For eons, the outdoor space was seen as a man’s world. Women who asserted their own space in it were an anomaly that was feared, distrusted, and hated for demanding respect. Look at the courageous all women’s crew who climbed Annapurna in the 1970s and faced a lot of heat for their decisions along the way, or Bobbi Gibb, the first women to run in the Boston Marathon in 1966. She wasn't allowed to enter, so she actually snuck into the race and went on to finish it ahead of two-thirds of the field.
Just a short time ago, females in the outdoors were seen as a distraction, an inconvenience, a liability. Media representations of women in outdoor recreation were often hyper sexualized and commodified. They were an accessory.
Gear for women used to be a nightmare, as well. Women had to sacrifice fit or function, sometimes even both. There were no products for women who got after it, and females often found themselves trying to adapt to equipment made for a male's body. The industry’s initial response to this was to make their gear softer, lighter, smaller, and make it pink, purple, baby blue, or another ultra “feminine color.”
Even if you don’t know how this story goes, you can imagine these negative perceptions and gear didn't fly well with the accomplished and tough women of the outdoor sphere. It took brands a while to catch on, but the last decade or so has seen a tremendous revolt against the cringe-worthy phrase and concept, “shrink it and pink it,” which describes this watered-down approach to women’s gear.
There are now countless examples of female guides, first ascents, social justice warriors, and more that prove that women can not only hang in the outdoors, they are just as capable of being leaders and holding their own. Gear companies are getting the message and creating quality products that are women specific but don’t compromise a female's experience in the outdoors.
Society at large is even expanding its acceptance of what it means to be a woman. Despite political setbacks, the culture surrounding outdoor recreation is more inclusive than it has ever been for LGBTQ folks and other people who don’t identify as cisgendered (a person's sex at birth). There’s also a push for the outdoors to become more racially diverse, and body positivity is celebrated by everyone from professional climbers like Sasha DiGiulian to grassroots Instagram accounts like @FatGirlsHiking. These wins push and challenge the traditional expectation of who looks like they belong in outdoor recreation, allowing space not just for women, but for everyone who has previously been excluded, to flourish in the outdoors.
Maybe you are one, were raised by one, are in love with one, or are raising one yourself. Regardless, cheer on this outdoor woman and celebrate her strengths, love her despite and because of her weaknesses, learn from her, and never be surprised, just elated, when she accomplishes something new. (Yes, even if...no especially if...this woman is you yourself, ladies!)
The outdoor woman has gotten a lot of overdue recognition this year already. From REI’s Force of Nature campaign to Outside Magazine’s first women’s only issue (check out this fascinating survey of over 2,000 outdoor women that they conducted), there are so many concrete reasons why 2017 is our year.
Join Outdoor Project in celebrating the power of women in the outdoors all through the month of June with our #WomenintheWild Campaign.
Looking for inspiration in the outdoors or just gear that can keep up with you and doesn't hold you back? We wanted to give a special shout-out to a few organizations we think are making waves in the world of women’s outdoor recreation - many of which have been working hard to get women outdoors for years upon years, even before most people even knew it was an issue...
While it is incredibly exciting to see women in the outdoors finally get a share of the spotlight, there is still a lot to be done. 2017 is the year of the outdoor woman, but don't look at this like a final solution or a simple fad. Despite all of the wins for women this year, we are still underrepresented in many outdoor sports, and don't even get us started on women in the media - because it's still an incredibly male-dominated scene. We may be getting a share of the spotlight, but it's in no way our full share. Let's take this year as a starting point, and keep moving and progressing forward. It won't be easy and it won't happen overnight, but we will continue to encourage more and more females to get outside while continuing to support those ferocious ladies who have been paving the way for the rest of us. We urge you to join us, not just for this month of celebration but for the next year, the next decade, or however long it takes to bridge the gender gap in the outdoors and give #WomenInTheWild what they deserve: their equal share.