I spend a lot of my time surrounded by women. As a co-founder of SheRocks, nearly every event I attend or help organize has a focus on inclusion and an audience that is predominately women. I climb, ski and mountaineer with mostly women. That’s just the rhythm of my life right now and that’s my bubble. This past weekend I went to RockFest out in Leavenworth. It’s a daylong climbing festival with shoe demos, a climbing competition and a vendor village with camping and presentations at night. It’s a fundraiser for the Leavenworth Mountain Association and all of the usual suspects were there – from outdoor brands to conservation groups to local breweries. I suppose I should have realized that this would be a different bubble than I’m used to when I saw the first draft of the posters. The design was an homage to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and had a scantily clad woman attacking the town of Leavenworth. She had climbing shoes on but it still made me step back and wonder if I was being overly sensitive to the design and what it felt like in the current political atmosphere. Is it really a great idea to have a woman attacking? Doesn’t this feed in to the stereotype of a harpy feminist trying to claw space in a male- dominated world? Or is it just a sci-fi poster tribute with a woman to show that women are part of the festival too? I was pretty upset about it but not sure what to say. It turns out my queasiness must not have been alone—a later update included leggings as well as the shoes. Still, the poster is a busty woman with a top nearly falling off. I understand homage, but it felt like a weird way to show that women are welcome, and I never quite shook my feeling of unease.
I had agreed to help run a shoe demo and a vendor table and headed out to Leavenworth early Saturday morning to meet up with the other volunteers. It was pretty quiet and uneventful. Temps were warm, a handful of shoes were checked out, but mostly we sat around under the tents, talking to the other staff, bouncing table to table to chat. I started talking with one of the guys and our conversation drifted towards the various clothing lines that we all carried. He mentioned the line of clothing his brand has in the works and we started to talk about the awesome bright colors of La Sportiva and E9. I asked if he’d ever heard of 3rd Rock.
“They’re super comfortable – they did a demo at Flash Foxy in Bishop and I was really glad they were selling too. There was no way I was giving up the pants I tried,” I laughed. “I’ve never seen a clothing demo like that before, it was pretty cool.”
“Yeah, Flash Foxy. We’re interested in sponsoring but it’s so expensive,” he said, and his comment surprised me. I don’t typically rep for companies and I’d never really thought about the cost to be a sponsor.
I shrugged. “Yeah, but the exposure is great, and I know I’ve bought from vendors. Like I said, I bought the pants I demoed,” I answered back.
He nodded at me. “Sure, that makes sense. Women tend to buy things,” he said, and immediately I felt tension in my gut. So women shop? Is that what he was implying?
“Sure I guess…” I stuttered out. “But it’s not just because we’re women. It’s because there’s a ton of selection that actually fits us. For the first time we can walk up to a table and it’s all specific for us.” Our conversation ended there as someone came up to his booth and he waked back over to talk about shoes.
The more this conversation replayed in my head, the angrier I got. Not at the vendor – he was just a guy having a conversation. But I’m mad that the first thought was that women buy more, and that a women’s festival is too expensive to support. Maybe women do buy more than men – I don’t know the data behind this. But if that’s the case, why the hell is the selection so awful and the fit so bad across so many brands?
But it’s changing! you say. And it is, I know. There are improved fit models for women’s clothing and the “shrink it and pink it” model is no longer sustainable. We, as a buying power, are demanding better gear that isn’t just smaller and in feminine colors, but actually takes in to account women’s bodies and women’s preferences.
I’m just tired. I’m tired of explaining that I want the option of a flower, not to have the choice made for me. I don’t mind pink, but I mind when it’s the only game in town. I don’t want to have to explain why a poster with a shirt falling off offends me. I don’t want to feel like I’m being overly sensitive and to go through deep introspection to make sure I’m not—only to be met by comments like “women shop” that are said without the same depth of processing. Why am I so cautious? Why can’t I just be offended and own that loudly without being afraid of offending someone else with my own offense? As I’ve gotten older I have moved from a self-proclaimed angry feminist to being cautious and careful. I mediate myself and I try to be even handed, completely objective. I want to see all sides and to empathize and to have thoughtful discussions rather than impassioned rants that serve only to rally opposition rather than to change minds. I want to make sure when I’m angry that I’m not discounting the men that support me and that I’m hearing their voices too. My caution is reinforced by reactions when I do put out statements in a public place that are skewed towards anger. “I think you mean some men, not all men,” I was told once, by a man who seemed worried that he wasn’t being counted as one of the good guys.
Yes, there are nice guys out there. Maybe the guy I was talking to was just thinking about sales data. But did he stop to think about what he said and how it felt to be on the other side? To be categorized as a shopping demographic rather than a population craving gear that fits, shoes that are carried in small enough sizes, pants that acknowledge that women have hips? I’m glad that brands are making commitments to carry more gear for women and creating gear that fits different body shapes. I hope this continues. I hope we get to a place where all of the tables at a festival have gear that’s impossible to tell at a glance what’s for men and what’s for women. Where fit triumphs over flowers and where everyone gets to pick what they want, regardless of gender.