Colette McInerney: Finding Like-Minded Souls at the Women’s Climbing FestMonday, March 20, 2017
It’s been a year since I attended my first-of-its-kind all women’s climbing festival held in Bishop, CA. The main difference between this year’s and last year’s event? I knew what I was walking into and I knew I wanted more. In particular, this year I made an effort to stop thinking about my own experience at the festival and tap into what other women thought about the event.
The Women’s Climbing Festival began after Instagram handle @heyflashfoxy started an account based around her experience climbing with other women in New York City. The account went viral and after a few local outings with women looking to connect with other women, Shelma Jun, Flash Foxy originator, knew she wanted to do something more. She could never have known just how big her women’s climbing festival would become, but as this year’s event sold 200 tickets in under two minutes, the 800-person wait list was a good indicator that she was on the right path.
Over the last few years Flash Foxy has often been thrown into the mix of online conversations about the relevance of women’s issues in the climbing world. She has been seen as both a steward for women’s rights as well as an instigator for what some call “complaint feminism.” There seems to be a mixed rhetoric about where politics and opinions lie in the world of climbing, but if one of Jun’s goals was to get the climbing world talking about topics like minorities in climbing and women’s experience in the climbing arena, one could say she’s succeeded again.
This year’s unprecedented turn out at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. certainly strengthened Jun’s argument that if climbing is a microcosm of society, there are still many women in climbing who feel marginalized and underrepresented in climbing circles. What’s clear from the attendance and desire for the Women’s Climbing Festival is that a large number of women in climbing see the festival as an opportunity to seek out more like-minded females who are interested and active in the outdoors.
It isn’t the first time a person, man or woman, has crinkled their nose a little and asked, “So, like, what do you guys DO at the women’s climbing festival?” It’s a similar look I get when people kind of whisper the word feminist like it’s a bad one, or seem to think that by admitting that inequalities still exist and even flourish in this country today, they are admitting to being bigots. It’s really hard to explain to them that it’s not so much what we DO at the women’s festival; sure there are clinics, slideshows and an engaging panel discussion with women from different walks of the outdoor industry, but HOW we do it together. It’s an experience.
At this year’s festival I walked around with fellow creative and climbing media contributor Julie Ellison. Our goal? To capture a snippet of the experience that was happening at this year’s festival. Uncover what it means about the growing community of climbers and give some validity to an experience women all too often have to fight to prove is their reality.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the video interviews we gathered over the weekend was the fact that so many women had the same answers to our questions.
“I’d tell other women to believe in themselves more.”
“I’d encourage other women to find their tribe and find supportive people in their climbing.”
So many women had been thinking these thoughts in solidarity and now they were able to have an open discourse with others who felt the same.
Ultimately we can’t know an experience we simply haven't had. But I believe people can try and understand where others are coming from. We read stories, watch movies and engage in others’ adventures every day from our phones and laptops. Acknowledging the validity of someone else’s negative experience is the first step to understanding and perhaps the key to finding positive change in response to that experience. The women’s climbing festival is carving out an established space in climbing to find this support, celebrate other like-minded souls in the outdoors and … hang out with your girlfriends.