Women Only Events in Climbing

I consider myself to be an able-bodied climber, why wouldn’t I? I am constrained by no physical disability and no mental situation, my skill level is roughly proportional to my experience meaning that I am perfectly capable of turning up to a climbing wall on any given night during normal operating hours and start bouldering perfectly independently, or with my equally able-bodied male climbing partner.

Given this, when I came across an exclusive women’s only climbing event towards the end of last week I was quite puzzled. Why no earth would anyone be interested in a women’s only climbing event?

I have in the past been invited to a number of e-events designed exclusively to offer women industry specific advise such as the Women in Science Q&A (My favourite scientist and BAS Arctic Explorer Felicity Aston hosted one) but I struggle to see the barriers that prevent, or impede women from climbing. I simply fail to see the need. I have not once in my time climbing considered to myself that I would be enjoying myself more, or be able to progress further if the room was absent of people with the male set of genitals. Indeed I would probably find it a little bit of an inconvenience: Although the offending item and I have never been acquainted, turning to my climbing partner and informing them that I am going climbing but they are not allowed to attend due to us being on opposite sides of gender diversity might be a little uncomfortable at best. I asked my climbing partner for his view:

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I contacted the climbing centre, one of many that hold this type of event and coaching, that originally made me aware of Women Only climbing events, kindly they have offered to discuss the event with me further.

Why is anything in the world needed, why do we eat and breath but without getting philosophical somebody thought of arranging the event and presumably in that thought process somewhere there was an assumption of need. If a men’s only events was being held for this inter-gender sport there would be an uproar and rightly so, that said I do believe that times there might be an argument for Women’s events if the event has been arranged to combat discrimination or limiting factors that are prevent women from entering an industry, I personally believe that such events benefit from the inclusion of everybody to improve conditions for everybody so to my mind before anyone arranges a single sex event for an inter-gender discipline there must be a ‘need’ for the single sex event to be offered.

One of the reasons behind holding women’s climbing clubs seems to be the idea that such clubs are going to support women, inevitably like any interest group they probably do this quite successfully, and promote the idea of women climbing to be a norm but doesn’t setting up a separate group instead of normalising women in clubbing just highlight the stereotype of how ‘odd’ female climbers are?

A representative from The Climbing Hangar whilst discussing the matter with me in more details stated that she is aware that many women’s groups can cause a big response and that some women, especially successful and strong women, see women only groups as support groups that reinforce the weakness of women but swings the conversation around and asks if there is a strong reason not to have a women only group? As they’re proving popular centres like this one will certainly continue to offer them.

But perhaps I am approaching this from a completely different thought angle from the event organisers who proposed the idea. From reading the description of the ‘Ladies Coaching’ I am coming a little around to the idea, perhaps as a women/lady I could benefit from someone of a similar size instructing my technique and helping me exploit my strengths, at 5ft 5 I am shorter than the average male, and from years of play-fighting I know my strength is proportioned in different areas.

Women Couching

But I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable all of a sudden, ‘women should not be setting their standards by how well the men climb’, makes it just sound like we should expect less from ourselves based on the pure reasons that we’re female, we should accept that we’ll never be able to be as good as a man, any man. I’m being marginally tongue in cheek there and not suggesting that is this what was meant, only that it is a silly thing to say. Typically I already push myself as a climber without any consideration of gender.

Did you know that to be a FIDA Women Grandmaster in chess you would need to achieve a rating of 2300 opposed to the 2500 needed for Grandmaster?

Indeed these sorts of events seem to be increasingly common with the British Mountaineering Council hosting a blog post entitled ‘How to set up a women’s climbing club‘ with reasons for doing so including ‘making new friends’ and ‘gaining organisational skills’ but the only ‘need’ present seems to be fairly applicable to men as much as it does to women:

The wall sometimes feels like a macho man-fest. Whilst some of us respond to an air of high competition and higher testosterone, for others it is a turn off and one that can signal the exit of women and men from the wall – sometimes indefinitely.

We have all met them I’m sure, the lads of the climbing centre with varying skill levels flailing their arms and legs around with very little disregard for etiquette or bouldering rules, to me they’re less intimidating and more annoying as they springbok towards a Galileo hold 9 foot off the ground and predictably slip straight off again in a corkscrew motion. I believe that the best way to handle this scenario would be for a little more consideration to be shown by everyone using the bouldering wall not for women to come themselves from the climbing area and leaving more thoughtful male climbers to … lump it or leave? I believe a joke comment left on the aforementioned article was someone suggesting setting up a ‘bumbling old gits’ club!

Climbing coach and/or instructor? A male climbing peer is looking into the ”perceived gender inequality in climbing coaches and/or instructors” and would benefit from your input on his questionnaire that can be found here.

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