Women can be and are adventurous too. And that doesn’t make us an anomaly. If I have to hear one more time “You like to do this?! I would never get my wife out here!”, I might lose it. On this road trip we have met lots of people from all over the country and the world, from all walks of life, taking lots of different kinds of road trips. Over and over and over again, Ryan has been congratulated (almost exclusively by men) on finding himself a wife who would agree to a trip like this – the implication being that women aren’t supposed to like to do these kinds of things; outdoorsy, adventurous, rugged things. “Wow you’ve got yourself quite a wife, I could never get mine to live in such a small camper! She couldn’t live without her kitchen or her bathroom mirror!” Nobody is looking at me wondering how I managed to get my husband out on the road like this. Now there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to go camping and not wanting to live out of a tiny camper spending your days hiking and fishing. I know plenty of people for whom this would be miserable – both men and women. The problem is that solely because I’m a girl, people assume that these aren’t supposed to be my hobbies, and I’m not supposed to want to go adventuring and wandering like this.
This attitude is part of a larger problem. We as a society underestimate our women. We tell our little girls that they shouldn’t like to do certain things because those are boy activities, and perhaps our girls should hone their skills in more domestic arenas. We react with shock (and sometimes disdain) when women express interests in hobbies, jobs, behaviors that are traditionally considered to be appropriate for men. We ask successful women how on Earth they manage to balance a full time career with raising kids, but we almost never ask the same question of men.
Let’s be clear on something: I did not kindly and generously acquiesce to being dragged around the West with my husband, good wife that I am. From the very initial thought of this trip to planning and jumping headfirst into new adventures, I have been a thrilled and overwilling participant every step of the way.
We were recently on a multi-day sea kayaking and camping adventure in Aialik Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. We shared one of the campsites with another group of kayakers, all men, with whom we chatted briefly. One of the guys asked where we were from and when I answered that the third person in our little group, Rachel, was our guide and lived in Alaska, he was visibly taken aback – how could a sprightly little lady be the guide out here? She must encounter that all the time. So many people cannot imagine a young woman being a grand adventure guide in Alaska. She was prepared, knowledgeable, fun and more rugged and adventurous than almost anyone that I know, regardless of gender. I was exasperated on her behalf.
Another man from that same group, from Texas, couldn’t believe that Ryan had convinced me to come out on a trip like that on our first visit to Alaska. “You got HER to come out HERE on your first time to Alaska? How’d you do that?!” I’m pretty sure I couldn’t contain my eye roll.
It is vitally important that we stop putting people in these neat, constrictive boxes. Stop typecasting and stereotyping people based on their gender. I loved a recent article in which President Obama talked about his feminism and the world in which he hopes his daughters will grow up. He said “We know that these stereotypes affect how girls see themselves starting at a very young age, making them feel that if they don’t look or act a certain way, they are somehow less worthy. In fact, gender stereotypes affect all of us, regardless of our gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”
It’s a pervasive problem that affects all aspects of our society – from hobbies and adventures (like our road trip) to the workplace. We use phrases like “well, before she had kids she worked like a man, so after kids it was easier for her to continue to excel…” What does that even mean – working like a man? Does it mean getting to work early, working through lunch, logging back in after dinner at home to continue to work for a couple of hours, not even making it home for dinner because there is just too much to do, or canceling weekend plans because something important for work came up? Because in my experience, that is simply working hard, regardless of your gender, and every single woman and man that I know who is successful at her or his job works this way because this is the way that our companies have decided is required in order to excel. Not because it’s what the men do or because it’s the bar that men have set.
Chimamanda Ngozi, in her enlightening and important TED talk and subsequent essay We Should All Be Feminists noted accurately that “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.” She continued “the problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” I couldn’t agree more. Let’s start encouraging our girls to be whatever they want. To do whatever they want. To climb mountains if they’d like, fish, camp, hike, dominate if they want. Let’s start teaching our girls, and our boys, that anyone can climb a mountain or become an adventure guide in Alaska, or the President, a partner in a law firm, a CEO or a teacher, regardless of who they are, what gender they possess or where they came from.
To the man on the halibut fishing boat in Seward, Alaska, who degraded his wife to his buddies, saying that she is only ever in search of a Starbucks and she would never be out on a fishing boat: why don’t you give her a little more credit. Maybe she would like fishing, maybe not. But she certainly deserves your respect and not your derision. And in response to your question to me: Yes, I like to be on the boat beside my husband casting a line to catch a fish, hopefully a fish bigger than my hubs because I’m the competitive one amongst the two of us. Yes, I climb mountains. I fish. I kayak and hike and run and go backpacking and I sleep under the stars. I love it, and I loved it before I met my husband. He and I have ventured into new hobbies and adventures together, not one following after the other. I also love to cook and to host dinner parties and to get dressed up for a night out. And all of that is just fine, because we can do all of the above; we don’t have to be defined by traditional gender expectations.
BLOGGED FROM Fairbanks, Alaska