More women than ever are embracing adventure and the outdoors, and there’s been a huge surge in women-only events and groups. In the wake of our second sell-out women’s only event with Salomon, We Are Explorer’s reporter Brooke Nolan reflects on why these events are so important.
I’m fairly new to the outdoors, having only discovered hiking around five years ago. Since then, I haven’t stopped, and I’ve taken every opportunity I can to throw myself into this exciting new world. I’ve been to mixed-gender and women-only events, and although I enjoy the mixed events, there’s a special place in my heart for women-only communities.
It’s like a special kind of magic happens when you’re at a single-identity event. You have deeper, more meaningful conversations. And for me – although I’m there for the adventure – I’m also there because I’m seeking friendship. And it’s often far easier to make deeper connections with those of the same gender.
For some, events like this might be the first chance to really go exploring with other like-minded women. For Sonia White from Sydney, that was a big drawcard. ‘I’m always out exploring with men, and I’m conscious that I’m only getting one side of the conversation. When Salomon’s Take The Leap event came up I was keen to expand my perspective and make a conscious decision to find that other side of the experience. I enjoyed hearing unique stories, and pushing the expectations we (and others) set for ourselves as women.’
A quick bit of desk research among the myriad female adventure groups online showed me that I’m not alone. There are some clear overarching themes; women-only events allow us to experience adventure without fear of judgement, they feel less competitive, and they focus more on the journey, rather than the destination.
As Saphira Schroers, 23, from Brisbane, says, ‘Being outdoors with women is a totally different vibe to being outdoors with men. With men, it’s often about covering a lot of distance, doing a lot of stuff, going fast. With women, there’s talking about life, there’s pushing yourself with sensibility, there’s a connection to nature, there’s being present. This is a really important part of the ‘why’ we go outdoors. It’s only just being touched on in general outdoor events, but at women’s events it’s really pioneered.’
Learning In A Safe Space
Another reason women-only events can appeal is that they provide a supportive learning environment. On a recent mountaineering course, I saw a big difference between how men and women approached the week.
The men in the group instantly became competitive. They raced one another to the top of the mountain, jumped in to carry the extra ropes (which was chivalrous, but I was perfectly capable…sorry!), and wanted to be the fastest and the fittest.
Now don’t get me wrong, none of this was done in an aggressive way. But it felt markedly different to the women who were willing to take a bit more time to absorb the skills being taught, and take a back seat in the proceedings.
I’ll add a caveat here that of course there is no one-size-fits-all. A man doesn’t act one way, and a woman another. And women-only groups aren’t immune to some of the challenges of mixed gender groups. They also don’t appeal to every woman. But one thing is clear; our thoughts are shaped by our own personal experiences.
Take the mountaineering example again. It would never have occurred to me to book a women-only group. But with hindsight I kind of wish I had. Not because of the men or because they did anything wrong, but because of me, and how I’m programmed to react to that situation. While the guys raced ahead, all I could think about was how I was slowing them down. I felt judged, even though – in that case – there was no judgement.
It’s something Lisa Murphy, 41 from Adelaide agrees with. ‘Women-only events help women with lower confidence to start out if they feel intimidated by men or perhaps have had bad past experiences and need a safe space to grow.’
As someone who is very self-conscious when learning new skills (so much so, I suffer from panic attacks about it), being with women during the learning stages of a new sport makes me feel more comfortable. I’m not saying that men wouldn’t be supportive – many would be – but taking away the gender divide can definitely help create a more nurturing environment. As soon as I’m comfortable with a new skill I love being in mixed groups.
Discovering Relatable Role Models
Women-only events aren’t just for beginners or those who lack confidence either. Whatever your experience or adventure of choice, they can push you in ways you’ve never thought of. They offer relatable role models in a world that so often lacks coverage of outdoorswomen.
Take Georgia Marjoribanks, 29, from Newcastle, for example. She says, ‘I usually climb with a mixed group but last year, I did a lot of trad climbing with one of my female housemates. She didn’t climb things the same way as the guys. When she climbed a hard route, it brought that route into the realms of possibility for me.
‘I never thought ‘well if she can do it, anyone could do it.’ I thought, ok, we both have similar body types and similar experience levels, I know she gets scared like I do sometimes, but she pushed through all that and climbed it anyway. I would start to think that maybe I could follow her lead.’
There are also darker reasons some women choose women’s only events. In my online research I received various comments from people who said that they chose women-only events because they feel less objectified. They’ve previously experienced harassment from the opposite sex and women-only events provide much needed respite from this. I truly hope that this isn’t a common reason, but it’s impossible to avoid letting our experiences outside of the world of adventure colour our expectations of what might happen within.
So What’s The Conclusion?
For me it’s this; women-only events appeal for so many reasons and not one of them is because we don’t want to adventure with men. It’s because we feel safer, because we want to be inspired by others like us, because we want to build our confidence, or simply because we want to form friendships with like-minded women.
I’ll let We Are Explorer’s own Heather Porter take the final word. ‘My partner didn’t get why I was so for women’s only adventure events. I used the Take the Leap abseiling event Salomon ran as my example; I talked of the sense of connection myself and the other women experienced, how we shared vulnerability while learning something new and how emotional and reflective we all were on our trip back home. He groaned ‘ughhh I’d hate it’. And that’s exactly why we need women’s events. We hold space for each of those things.’