“But… mothers don’t climb mountains.”
This was the most common response I heard when, as a 40-year-old mother of three young kids, I decided to take up mountain climbing as a hobby.
The thing is, mothers can and do climb mountains. I have a very distinct picture in my mind of a friend, Meerie, a middle-aged mother of 10 children (no, that’s not a typo!), loaded up with a 20kg backpack and climbing up Mt Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere.
She is most definitely a mother, and she was climbing a serious f*cking mountain.
I think what people really mean is: “Why would you, as a mother, want to climb mountains? You have children who rely on you – why would you take any unnecessary risk? It’s irresponsible and selfish.”
To those people I say: It’s not selfish. It’s self-care.
A couple of years later, Meerie said the confidence and mental tuffness she developed through this experience helped her through the challenges of divorce. It fortified her resilience, lit a fire in her that helped her endure.
“Five years ago I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be achieving things, so out of the ordinary, that make everyday people look at our accomplishments with awe,” she said.
“It’s given me an inner strength has continued to grow within me as my experience and abilities increase. Helping me achieve goals I never knew I had”.
Meerie is one of many wild women who have built strength and resilience by testing themselves in the traditionally male world of wilderness adventure. I am another.
This is one of the reasons this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #breakthebias, has me dancing in the dirt.
For me, breaking the bias means challenging stereotypes which suggest little girls are made of “sugar and spice and all that’s nice”, where they are encouraged to focus on how they look rather than what they can do.
How often do we see little girls dolled up in pretty dresses, subliminally if not overtly encouraged to sit, read, perform and gossip rather than run, ride, leap, wrestle, and explore?
While young girls might have the opportunity to dip their toe into outdoor activities, they’re also told not to climb trees in case they fall, not to play in the mud in case they get dirty, not to wrestle on the bed or play footy or practice martial arts in case they get hurt.
A Dalhousie University study discovered that girls “have complex relationships with physical activity,” with an obsessive focus on how our body looks rather than how it feels. As little girls we must navigate complex gender roles and stereotypes; we “are expected to be pretty but to appear natural, to be thin but not too skinny, to be fit but not too muscular.”
This trend increases into adulthood.
Research from the Outdoor Foundation found that while 66 percent of males aged 6-24 participated in outdoor recreation compared to 55 percent of females, this gap widens as we age. For women, it drops down to 20 percent by age 66, compared to men’s 40 percent.
Since Wild Women began as a group of mums lugging man-sized backpacks around Sydney’s bush tracks after putting our babies to bed twenty years ago, we have been doing our darndest to get more women of every age scaling mountains, leaping into waterfalls, sleeping under the stars, hopping over rocky crags, flicking leeches off their legs, getting lost and plunging naked into secluded rockpools.
Many of our Wild Women are doing this well into their sixties, seventies and even eighties! My mum is 85 and she enjoys outdoor recreation daily – in her garden, on walks around her neighborhood trails and yes, up the odd mountain.
We want all women to step into their true power. And to do so requires the confidence and strength that comes from learning to choose and overcome physical, mental and emotional challenges, which is what nature gives us.
It doesn’t have to be climbing mountains. But getting into nature, getting uncomfortable, challenging your physical body and managing risk changes us. It gives us guts and courage. It helps us thrive in every part of our lives, from the bedroom to the boardroom. It builds our strength, resilience, and mental toughness. And it helps us form deep, meaningful friendships that nurture us through life’s challenges.
For newbies, it can be as simple as getting a team together for Coastrek. For those with a few hikes under their boots, they might choose a multi-day hike or high-altitude peak. If that all sounds too hard, maybe just go for a walk in the rain.
Whatever it is, my challenge to you this International Women’s Day is to choose one thing that pushes you out of your comfort zone in nature. Because one thing from each of us will make a real difference, will help #breakthebias on women in the outdoors.
See how it challenges you. Watch how it changes you.
Watch our 2022 International Women’s Day video.