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Empowering Women Outside: New Campus Club has Students Bound for Big Adventures

Empowering Women Outside: New Campus Club has Students Bound for Big Adventures

By: Ryan Simonovich

Wednesday, February 27, 2019 | Number of views (378)

In the summer before her freshman year at Fort Lewis College, Sarah Moore participated in a month long Outward Bound trip in Northern Colorado.

“I experienced a lot of really, really hard days where I didn’t know if I would get through it,” Moore said of the trip. “I didn’t know if I could even get to base camp.”

Despite the physical challenge, the experience reaffirmed Moore’s affinity for the outdoors. She’s the president and founder of Keeping Woman Wild, a registered student organization on campus whose mission is to empower women in the outdoors.

Emma Patron, a member of the club, had a similar experience on two month long Outward Bound trip. The physical challenge and experience of being outside moved Patron to engage in more outdoor sports, she said.

Outward Bound was a key moment in solidifying both women’s interest in the outdoors. The program focuses on instilling traits like compassion, character development and self confidence, Powers, who was an Outward Bound instructor for seven years, said. Outward Bound’s extended stays in the backcountry come at a pivotal point in people’s lives--teens and early adulthood--so they can leave a lasting impression on people, Powers also notes.

Although Moore and Patron had positive experiences that have shaped their outlook on the outdoors, many women do not participate in outdoor sports such as climbing, mountain biking and snowboarding. According to a 2018 study by the Outdoor Foundation, participation in outdoor sports by people aged six and above was 54 percent male and 46 percent female.

Creating a Community

Moore, a senior at FLC, had the idea of starting a club for women interested in the outdoors since her freshman year in 2015.

Her dad introduced her to rock climbing when she was a child, but she but fell out of the sport and opted instead to play soccer for much of her childhood.

When she got to FLC, Moore didn’t know many people that she could do outdoors trips with, she said. Eventually, she found friends to go on climbing trips with and summit 14ers together.

In addition to Outward Bound, a second experience solidified Moore’s intentions to start the club. Last winter, she participated in an all-woman climbing clinic in Ouray and was coached by top women guides. Moore realized that she loves getting outside with other women, and starting a club could help other women get a foot in the door to the outdoors who normally wouldn’t know how to.

The club debuted in fall semester 2018, and offers clinics, trips, and informal sessions. Men can participate too, however they are only allowed if they are going to be there in support of the women, Moore said.

Climbing the Gender Gap   

A wide array of things can be attributed to why a gender gap exists in the outdoors.

The broadest reaching explanation is also the simplest: the outdoors is facing symptoms of a larger problem. American society is patriarchal and minimizes women, said Deborah Powers, assistant professor of adventure education. Therefore, the outdoors falls into the same stereotyping and traditional notions of gender roles, she said.

An example is the stereotype of the tomboy, Powers said. Women and men are socialized from a young age to be either feminine or masculine, which creates a false binary. When a woman is interested in sports or the outdoors, she is labeled a tomboy because she is breaking from the societal norm, Powers said.

Another way this manifests is people making assumptions about someone’s knowledge based on his/her gender, Powers said. For example, somebody might ask a man a question about climbing rather than a woman, even if the woman is more experienced, Powers said.

For people just starting out in a sport, experienced participants can be intimidating and underestimate women’s abilities, which is why groups that focus on empowering women are helpful, Patron said.

Keeping Women Wild provides a positive environment for women who may not know where to start, Moore said.

“I feel like sometimes we think we’re alone, and we’re definitely not alone,” Patron said.

The club has created an inclusive community at FLC for women interested in the outdoors. For instance, Patron can now easily find a ride up to Purgatory to go snowboarding by sending a text to fellow group members.

The sport of soccer has impacted both Moore and Patron’s life. Moore played soccer as a child, and Patron is on the FLC women’s soccer team. Patron’s coaches are not discouraging of participating in sports such as snowboarding, however getting outside can be difficult because of scheduling.

One reason Patron gravitated toward soccer as a child was because outdoor sports were not as prevalent and accessible in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, she said. Exposure to traditional sports such as soccer, basketball and track and field may be part of why women participate in other outdoor activities. In more urban places, these traditional sports are easier to access, cheaper to participate in and are a socially acceptable part of the American education system.

Outward Bound was a key moment in solidifying both women’s interest in the outdoors. The program focuses on instilling traits like compassion, character development and self confidence, Powers, who was an Outward Bound instructor for seven years, said. Outward Bound’s extended stays in the backcountry come at a pivotal point in people’s lives--teens and early adulthood--so they can leave a lasting impression on people, Powers also notes.

There is no keystone piece to the puzzle that is getting more women outdoors, but Moore has two suggestions. The caveat, however, is no woman is the same.

“I don’t think there’s a set way to get girls outside because some girls don’t want to get outside,” Moore said. “Some girls don’t like the outdoors, and that’s perfectly fine.”

The first idea Moore has is exactly what Keeping Women Wild is doing: creating a community, building friendships and fostering trustworthy and resourceful connections.

The second is to have role models and set goals. Moore follows women on Instagram who inspire her in the outdoors industry and beyond. She also makes an effort to not follow anybody whom she considers toxic, like models whose body images are not attainable for most people. Instead, she opts for successful women like climber Kitty Calhoun and comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

“I follow these women just to kind of like stay motivated in what I want to do and keep reaching for my goals,” Moore said. “And these women are actually helping me reach my goals.”

For Moore, goals keep her focused in the long term, like eating healthy and working out to train for climbing Mount Denali, which she hopes to do in about three years. She also aims to climb while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and doing volunteer work along the way.

While tabling in the student union, a woman approached Moore and said that she really wanted to learn how to snowboard, but she didn’t have gear or a car. Moore said she was going to help the woman find cheap gear at Durango Outdoor Exchange and the club would pay for a lift ticket at Purgatory.

Moments like that are exactly why Moore started the club.

“The San Juans are in their backyard, and they don't know how to get outside, they don’t know who to get outside with, they don’t know where to go,” Moore said. “This is the exact cushion to come to.”

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