To celebrate International Women’s Day, Explorer Brooke Nolan writes an open letter to women’s adventure…from the year 2030. With a dose of fortune-telling and a dash of optimism, she writes of a future where the words ‘Aren’t you scared?’ are banished…and women’s outdoor gear comes in more colours than pink.
Dear Women’s Adventure,
Well, it’s 2030 and I can’t believe how far we’ve come in the last decade.
In the outdoors, you used to be able to tell who was female from a mile away; the bright pink flash of a rain jacket on the horizon, or the neon pink trimming on a backpack bobbing up the trail in front of you. Occasionally, if you were lucky, you’d be able to find an item of kit that came in purple, or if you were super lucky, turquoise. But finding one of those elusive items was about as likely as stumbling across a Mad Hatter’s tea party in the middle of the outback.
And as for pockets? I’m not even sure some companies realised women had hands. Or you know, stuff. Pocket knife, map, compass, snacks…the usual adventure bits and bobs you need to find a home for. My boyfriend’s gear? So many pockets it took him half an hour to find the car keys at the end of the hike.
I even resorted to wearing men’s kit a few times, accepting the poor fit simply so I didn’t need to be made up in pink like I’d been attacked by a fairy floss machine. I can’t begin to tell you how happy it makes me that I can now walk into a store and buy gear that’s not only designed to fit my decidedly female-shaped body (yes, I have boobs and a waist) but that also comes in colours other than ‘sunburn’.
Encouraging Women into the Outdoors
It’s easy to see why it took so long for some companies to move away from the ‘let’s make it pink and think fashion not practicality’ mentality though. I mean, let’s face it; there was a severe lack of women in the adventure space – and sports in general – for so many years.
In 2019, it was reported that over half of Australian females stopped playing sport at the age of 15. Yet over 70% of guys continued to play. In fact, the participation rate was higher for males in every single age category.
But why was that? When asked, 13 million women told Sport England they would like to participate in more sport and physical activity. But just over six million of them were not active. It turns out that for many women, sport has ‘baggage’.
They described sport as ‘competitive, difficult, unfeminine, aggressive and not aspirational’ and pointed to widespread criticism in the press and online of the muscular bodies of professional athletes.
But despite all of this, women always harboured an appetite for adventure. It’s just that we often didn’t know where to begin. For those of us that hadn’t been brought up in outdoorsy families, we were often paralysed by fear or a lack of confidence.
The press didn’t do much to help either. A 2016 survey from the organisation Women in Adventure, showed that we were crying out for female role models to inspire us. We wanted greater visibility of women we could relate to, stories that focussed less on the goal and more on the experience, and a representation of women of all ages, ethnicities, levels of experience and backgrounds.
Yet the media weren’t delivering. One study found that in a 12-day period there were 89 photos of athletes in a US newspaper, and only 4 of them were women. I mean, come on people.
It’s funny to look back on those days though. Open a magazine today, check your favourite adventure or sports website, or switch on the TV, and it’s always a fair split between gender. In fact, I don’t think I’ve thought about gender imbalance for years now. It seems that the media stepped up and it’s been a natural, organic transition to a more balanced representation.
Editorial decisions today are made simply on what makes a great story. And it turns out that there’s a hell of a lot of badass Aussie women out there that everyone – regardless of gender – wants to hear about.
Photo by Polly Barr
Photo by Stef Gebbie
I’m no braver than the next guy…
It’s not just the big names in adventure that are reaping the benefits of this new world though. The everyday explorers – the climbers, kayakers, runners, hikers and weekend warriors like me – can all feel the difference.
I do a lot of stuff solo and I can’t tell you how many times I used to get told, ‘You can’t do that on your own, it’s not safe’ or I’d get asked whether I was scared or not. Or even worse, people would say, ‘You’re so brave!’
The guys meanwhile could head into the bush with thongs on their feet and nothing but a hip flask of whiskey to keep them warm at night and no one would say a thing. Now all I hear is ‘Have fun!’ or even better…the blissful sound of no one saying anything at all.
I’m not sure when all of this changed, all I know is that I’m very happy it did. Not just for me, but for all those young girls who are now embracing sport and adventure far beyond the age of 15. It took a while. But we got there.
Here’s to it staying that way.
Feeling inspired to get up and out there? Check out the adventure events Kathmandu are hosting for International Women’s Day!