By Jennifer Chambers
Feminism, as defined by Webster dictionary, is “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes”. For two centuries, women and men have interpreted and debated this definition and many others within the social constructs of various cultures, whether it be women’s sameness to men or an interpretation of differences between the sexes with equal freedoms, choices and opportunities (Offen, 1988). These definitions and the constructs with which they existed (and continue to) have given the word “feminist” and owning that word gave women a negative rap.
Many women of the baby boomer generation owned that word and wore it like a lapel pin. Gen Xer’s and millennial, however, have been more reserved about the feminist label because the fight has been fought and won and feminism has been construed as radical. Even though it is rare to hear a woman today call herself a feminist, women and men have publicly and privately continued the dialogue about equalizing the playing field between the sexes in the context of a wide range of issues. While the outdoor recreation industry and its participants don’t use the word feminism to discuss equality in the outdoors, this issue is present in the minds of and discussed between people working and recreating in the outdoors. I posit though that feminism is not a radical word but an ideology that provides women and girls the freedom of choice and opportunity without social constructs.
What does feminism look like in the outdoors?
- Women’s confidence to go outside our comfort zones, whether it be a solo hike or trying a new outdoor sport for the first time.
- Women’s confidence to lead our own children or others in the outdoors. Many moms and Girl Scout leaders don’t feel confident adventuring into unchartered outdoor territory. They either don’t go or call upon experts in the field for guidance. However, there is a growing contingent of moms who are leading their children in outdoor adventures.
- Hike, backpack, kayak, bike, and ski alone and feel safe in mind and body. While the occurrences of sexual assault of women are lower when recreating in nature (as are crimes on both men and women), it does not prevent women from feeling fear when they encounter an uncomfortable situation with a man. However, this fear and others have not stopped many women from recreating alone. They acknowledge it and move on.
- Avoid blaming the victim for our outdoor choices. All women should have the freedom to have fun outdoors with or without whom they choose. If we get hurt, we accept that responsibility for our conscious choice to participate. We own it.
- A paradigm shift away from the sexualized woman selling a product to the feminine ideal of the real, dirty, smelly woman adventuring in the outdoors.
- Recognize that women come in all shapes, sizes, and skin tones and that this diversity should be represented in the outdoor media and marketing.
- Be the makers of our change by owning more outdoor businesses by and for women. Most businesses in the outdoor industry are owned and managed by men in an industry dominated by male participation. However, women working in the industry have collaborated and created a community to further more women working and participating in the outdoors.
The heart of feminism is that women feel empowered to make choices and create opportunities in their best interests without the constraints of a social construct of how they should think, believe, act or be in the eyes of society. Whether women choose to label themselves as feminists is beside the point. Let’s continue this conversation and include girls in discussions about feminism in the outdoors. Their empowerment builds strong minds and bodies in our young women so they become adventurers and stewards of the great outdoors.
Jennifer Chambers is the author of Best Hikes with Kids: Washington DC, The Beltway & Beyond and Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle, Founder of Hiking Along, LLC., and middle school Science teacher. She is the board chair for the American Hiking Society and Maryland State Advocate for Leave No Trace.
Offen, Karen. “Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach”. The University of Chicago Press: Signs, 14:1, (Autumn, 1988).