The Great Stuff Men Do
Achieving gender equality depends on men. If we continue as we are, with women pushing for gender equality largely alone, or supported by a minority of progressive and engaged men, gender equality is going to take another 81 years to happen – beyond both mine and my child’s lifetime.
Today, on International Men’s Day, I want to share something about how the men in my climbing life have helped me to move to a climbing grade I never thought I would achieve. I admit that I’m, perhaps, so strong and passionate an advocate of equality, so vocal about the inequalities I perceive, that the men around me can feel under attack and then defensive. This holds back the advancement of equality, because in this defensive situation, no-one is learning new ways of thinking or doing things. I felt today was a good day to reflect on the positive stuff and how men have made a difference in my climbing life.
This week Outdoor Research published an article from Georgie Abel, whom I admire greatly, about how men can help to fight sexism in climbing. If you haven’t read her article, it’s infinitely more graceful than mine and you should read it! It made me think about how the men in my life have supported my development and what exactly it is that I’m grateful for.
In 2012 I started climbing trad with a climbing club made up mostly of men over the age of 50 (this demographic has since changed quite a lot). Each year up to 2016, I’ve gained one trad grade.
The reasons for this consistent progression is, without doubt, the people I climb with: men. There are some things they’ve done and continue to do, which really help me:
Climbing without the ego
The men I climb with, the ones who I love to climb with, are almost always over 50. It’s taken a discussion with someone else to realise that their age brings a multitude of things – low ego, experience, knowledge – all things which make my personal climbing experience better.
For someone with considerable energy, like me, climbing with quiet and calm people can be a wonderful and productive thing. The men who have taught me to climb and who I climb best with, have an aura of calm and reliability.
Rather than always assuming to go first, the men I climb with encourage and enable me to lead. Quite often I will first say ‘you lead’. Rather than taking this as the final answer, they always seem to give the time and space for me to say ‘actually I will lead’. There’s a fine line here between giving space and being pushy. Everyone is different. This works for me, right now.
Climbing for Experience, not for Grade
When you start to climb for the love of it, for the experience, and reduce the pressure of grades, things are different. It’s thanks to the positive influence of the men I climb with, who climb for the joy of it, rather than the grade, that I’ve made progress and that I’m happy with my climbing.
The unconditional support given by the men I climb with is another important factor that these guys have brought to the table. Their support is unconditional – they’re happy if I climb slow, if I nail the route, if I back off. And when I ask for certain things, like being quiet, or belaying in a certain way, they oblige and feel (or show) no sense of upset that a woman has been assertive and asked for the things she wants.
These features aren’t exclusive to men. Women have and do these things too, but what I’ve found is that there are so few women around with the length of experience, the time and the desire to work at my pace, that men have fallen into the role and it’s worked well for me.
I don’t know how it works for you and what I’d love to hear is how men have supported you in your climbing. Please leave us a comment below.