This post is part of a series where Wild Wilderness Women is exploring the true definition of “babe” in preparation for our upcoming Babes Off the Beaten Path trip in Glacier National Park. Please consider supporting the babes forging paths for other outdoor women by making a donation on our fundraising page. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, please contact us!
Submitted By: LJ Dawson, A Wandering Vagabond
Days spent staring at my hiking shoes stepping, one two three; hanging from ropes above valleys, watching sunrises from the bare tops of mountains, holding my breath between a rivers crashing waves, grinning smiles full of powder, these are the moments that empower me as a person and as a woman. This is how I live my life most purely.
I was lucky, raised in the outdoors as much as the city, schooled with mountains and deserts with a bit of books and brick buildings to go along. My upbringing was incredibly unique in this way, and I often think how I would have found the wild if I my father hadn’t bestowed me with it along with my blue eyes.
I love the challenge and growth that leaving paved roads and gridded cities delivers to me. Being outdoors as a woman means being off the beaten path in more ways than physically though.
Society never talks about the path towards being an independent woman in the wilderness. It is almost a secret covered in vague references from pop culture, with features on Lynn Hill and other complete badass women in the outdoors. These stories inspire, but are rarely relatable.
If you are lucky, you have a family with outdoorsy females in it, but that is not common. Even if you have close female role models to look up to, getting into a part of society ruled by egoism and macho-ism is incredibly difficult as a young girl or young woman. This is not because women are meek and weak, but because our intrinsic traits are not valued as much as male values in the outdoor community’s social system.
Social bush whacking is required to become a Babe off the Beaten Path. Even with my vast background, I fought and am still fighting to gain knowledge and experience that male friends have picked up with less effort and work from the climbing gym to ski mountains.
My story is not an anomaly, and it leaves me wondering how many women miss out on the empowerment and happiness I gain from being outdoors. The reasons are obvious, but the solutions less so.
This is where the babe part comes in. When I get around the outdoorsy ladies, we always commiserate at the state of ego in the outdoors: “Gawd, I was trying to boulder at the gym and this guy would not shut up about this awesome V12 he sent in Moab,” or, “We were hanging out at the bar and ran into these cute skier guys, and then they wouldn’t stop talking about this crazy near death experience in the backcountry.” Or, “This one guy would not stop screaming ‘SEND ITTTT.’ I was warming up”
Any of us babes off the beaten path have run into the issue of how much we become one of the boys. Do we assimilate into the macho culture and join the competitive, adrenaline rushing practices? I thought that was what I would have to do join the inner circle.
All the macho-ism and ego has its benefits, but very little balance. A more feminine approach to outdoor activities, though rarely encouraged, has its own upsides. There is never one way to climb a mountain, but both paths lead to the top.
More and more women came into my life who were heavily immersed in the outdoors. I was shocked when they wore skirts, spoke quietly, and mentioned their feelings. This was allowed? I wouldn’t get voted off the island?
These role models inspired me to drop the fake attitude. Suddenly, I discovered that not only was it okay to voice a perceived weakness, to say no, I am scared, or slow down, but that often my voice was expressing others’ opinions and empowering the whole group. I saw power in the quiet words and less hells fury attack many of my male friends took towards the outdoors. I saw women treat days of backpacking with elegance, including dangly earrings and important spa days, and fellow river guides bring fashion to the river with gorgeous jewelry. These ladies shoved the macho-ism aside and were still phenomenal at the outdoors pursuits they chased. I was beyond lucky to have these women in my life to change my perception.
When we go into the woods, it becomes an intimate dance between the wild and our souls. It can only be our authentic selves dancing. As women, we must let ourselves be and interact genuinely with wilderness.
Where most men conquer, I find women dance with the environment. We are much more willing to listen to our instincts and the mountain or river telling us no. We surrender to the wild while many men try to fight and win. Embracing these attitudes will open the door to a more female inclusive community.
The outdoor community is run predominantly by a system that discourages women from participating and learning new skills. I believe it is not about overhauling the system or pointing fingers, but creating space to be filled in by women. More women participating physically and changing the dialogue of this community will create a blank page that new ladies can fill rather than fighting to cut out a space for themselves.
Being a Babe off the Beaten Path means refusing to sacrifice who we are to go places we love. A more balanced outdoor community will benefit the mountains and us.
So, just get out into the wild, ladies. Wear that dress down that river, or rock your pants. Take a risk and own yourself. Don’t try to fit into anything that you are not. Show up as yourself and dance and crawl up that mountain. Cry, laugh, and smile just get those feet moving. Be brave enough to take that leap in your own skin. And above all, bring other ladies out. Only good can come out of more women being outside.