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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Climb like a Girl

Yes, it is true... I climb like a girl, and I am proud of it. However, this has not always been the case. I grew up bouldering - participating in competitions, traveling around the states with my family... my mom, her boyfriend and my little brother. My mom still talks about how she would love to watch the different ways my brother and I would approach the same problem - stating that we embodied the masculine and feminine style and flow. For reasons that I will not go into, I stopped climbing at around the age of 11. I dabbled in it during high school, but my ego was bruised by my lack of strength, and I decided not to throw myself back into it.

Climbing in Joshua Tree
Now here I am at Prescott College. Home to arguably the best Adventure Education (AE) program in the country. Also, surrounded by a multitude of beautiful climbing areas... Anyone with a rational climbing head on their shoulders have been crazy not to get back into it. 

I did not think I would take a rock climbing class at Prescott College - I felt like the skills should have been gained in ones free time, not ones educational time. But my perspectives are constantly changing and transforming, and when it came time to register for classes at the end of last year, I found myself signing up for “Women’s Topics in Wilderness Leadership and Rock Climbing”. 
Sand Rock Canyon - Canyoneering Weekend 
In all honesty, I was not really sure what I was getting myself into. The AE program is stereotypically male dominated. All women learning and playing in the woods would undoubtedly be a different dynamic. When I first came to Prescott College, I was very passionate about different social justice issues and systems in place that marginalized various communities. I knew women have been oppressed historically, but I thought that in this current day and age, women's issues in the U.S. should be the least of my worries. That perspective took a major turn when I took my first semester class at Prescott College  The F-Word: Feminism, Women & Social Change. I learned so much about myself and the internalized oppression I have developed growing up in this society. I consistently found myself relating more to the boys, and holding a higher level of respect for the ways in which they moved though the world. My goal had been to be “as good as the boys”, rather than pushing myself to be as good as I could be, as a strong individual and woman. In the process of separating myself from other women, I was unable to open my eyes to the ways my actions were perpetuating the split between men and women (and women and women) while reinforcing the thought that “male is better”. 

I finished the semester and felt “transformed” and with more understanding and respect for women as a population than I had before. But I have realized time after time - years and years of social conditioning is harder to “shake off” than one would hope. So I signed up for the class with some hesitations and preconceived notions about what a women’s class would be like, but knew that it would be a wonderful next step on my journey towards further awareness surrounding what it means to be a strong, empowered woman in our society (and a wonderfully opportunity to grow in the field of adventure ed).
Getting Ready to Swim through the Cold pools

The semester is coming to a close, and I undoubtedly got that transformation I was looking for. It did not come in the way that I expected, and what I have learned goes way past the technical skills of building anchors and placing gear, or food planning for a river trip, or gaining more confidence in reading maps and navigating. We read pieces on women’s psychology at different phases in our life cycles, and presentations on how you would set up an outdoor program for special populations of women. We looked at the outdoors as a place of reflection, and women's way of forming relationships with the self, others and mama nature. 
Right now our class is putting together a few “action-like” projects. We are doing a women’s climbing rendezvous this weekend to allow other women to explore themselves in relation to the natural environment without stress/pressure to preform that can arise for some around men. We are also putting together a presentation on the class, with slide shows and excellent conversation. Folks around Prescott College are always especially interested in what the women’s class is up to.
After announcing our women’s climbing rendezvous, I had a couple of different men from the community come up and say, “Just women? Well isn’t that sexist?” smirking proudly, as if they found a loophole in some sly plan we had to secretly oppress men. I found myself grateful to have the opportunity to communicate with different people in the community about some of the issues we have been working with, and explaining the day adventures intention. I have been pleasantly surprised, however, by the openness and receptiveness to a new perspective, once the explanation of societal and psychological factors have been addressed in a way that is non accusatory.

Oh the Joy on the San Juan
           This experience, along with many others, serves as prime examples for the extra amount of awareness women in the field of Adventure Education (as well as society, as a whole) have to maintain.

“So why would you invite only women on a trip?” one young man asked me.
“So women have the opportunity to get out and experience the outdoors in a safe space, with out feeling the need to perform for a man, even if it is subconscious.” (Not that that is the only reason, but when communicating with people, the intention is not to monologue about different societal and psychological theories).

The individual we were speaking with continued to probe. “Well aren’t those issues with the individual? I see that that can be a problem, isn’t that something that each person just should overcome? I mean, I totally know a lot of girls that shred.”

My friend then inserted, “Well, maybe. But when you see such a large population of women not feeling that sense of confidence, do you think it is still an individual problem? Or can it be addressed as a societal one.”

Our Wild Women Day on the San Juan
           Suddenly, the guy nodded with a glimmer of understanding in his eye. Women’s Topics in Wilderness Leadership have helped me further develop the tools to understand myself, and myself in relation to great outdoors, and society as a whole. I have gained a further understanding and appreciation for women’s psychology and relationship to society. Not only have we read a multitude of eye opening pieces, multiple times a week, I got to be in the presence of a group of strong, beautiful women – experiencing and discussing the power and strength that lies within each of us.

Erin Lotz, one of our lovely instructors discussed her time as a professional in the field, and has great things to say about working with a group of all men. She also said that when she does this “Women’s Topics” class, she feels more in her flow - that working with all women allows ones “authentic self” to come out. This really got under my skin in the beginning, because I did not love the side of myself that seemed to come in the group. I felt a little bit more snarky than I wanted to be, and I did not feel like I performed to the standard I usually held for myself. 

Having the beautiful outdoor areas we have experienced as a space to continue to explore the ways in which I relate to myself, has helped me have more respect for my level of competence than I never have before. The Adventure Education program is unbelievable - the assortment of classes that can be tailored to your passions and growth as a student and individual is out of this world. This is yet another example of the ways in which Prescott College and the instructors will support each individual student thought this educational journey towards growth. 

Some of the beautiful girls who I so dearly love up on Granite Mountain
Next semester I will be taking the semester long Wilderness Leadership course, which is almost entirely field based. I don’t know if I would have had the self confidence to throw myself into that experience had I not had this experience with this wonderful group of women. Stay posted to hear how this goes for me! 
-Hannah Marshall, 12.2011

Also, here is a link to a video two gals in the class made about climbing... It is a Miley Cyrus parody, and it is a laugh! Check it out!!

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