Growing Love Her Wild, like growing any enterprise, has caused me all sorts of unforeseen stresses and annoyances….I never imagined men being one of them!

For those of you that don’t know, Love Her Wild is a non-profit community which I set up to encourage and celebrate more women to go on adventures. We have an informative website, a thriving private Facebook group and run women-only expeditions and meetups.

Since day 1 of launching, I have received criticism for setting up a women-only group. Not often, but usually forceful and almost always from middle-aged white men. I get comments on social media telling me that what I’m doing is sexist and unfair. That if this was a male-only group I’d be outraged and ‘What next? Women only days on the mountains?!’.

One guy even sent me a ranty email telling me I’m a “Hypocritical sexist” who has “no right to talk about [Love Her Wild] on hiking groups as if I own the outdoors”.

He didn’t get a reply.

I don’t belong here

In 2016, a year before I set up Love Her Wild, I decided to get my Mountain Leader (summer) qualifications. It involved a week of training, lots of days in the mountains practicing followed but a week assessment. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done!

I was not an outdoorsy person and I didn’t know people who climbed mountains or went camping. This was so out of my comfort zone. I was forced to learn a whole new set of skills, none of which came naturally.

But in the process, I was thrown into an exciting and adventurous world…one that I wanted so much to be a part of.

sexism in the outdoors

My best is not good enough

My Mountain Leader assessment turned out to be a horrible experience.

I was the only female in a group of men, something that would not normally bother me, except in an outdoor environment where everything suddenly becomes so competitive and aggressive. And where me being female became a ‘thing‘.

The group spent the entire time showing off about the great things they had done. They’d spent their entire lives hiking, climbing, biking, kayaking and this was all so easy for them. They whittled out extreme stories and endless names of mountains they had conquered, while I trailed quietly behind staying focused on doing my best and not getting lost.

That would have been fine if it had been kept about them and not about me. On the few times I attempted to join in a conversation and share my experience though, I was knocked down. I was even told I hadn’t hiked a mountain “properly” because I’d used my hands on a difficult section. And received regular advice that I “should” do this and I “have to” do that.

Come on lads‘ was a phrase used regularly. Don’t mind me!

The other candidates often blatantly ignored my instructions when it was my time to lead and demonstrate my skills. I felt so embarrassed.

They obviously have a problem taking instructions from a female‘ the assessor told me, ‘you need to be more assertive‘ was his conclusion to this.

Hang on, so it’s my fault they won’t listen to me?

Often they would all run up the hills because they were trail runners, leaving me far behind wondering why I had put myself in such a horrible situation.

I noticed I was the only one getting these remarks and being treated differently. I wasn’t the weakest link in the group by far. It was just because I was female. And each time I got a comment it chipped away at my fleeting confidence just a little.

If they were doing this because I was black. Becasue I was gay or Jewish, it would have never been brushed off. So was it ok just because it was about my gender?

The worst of all

What upset me most though was when the male assessor made a dig about my fitness and eating habits. It was pushing 2pm and we hadn’t stopped for lunch despite having a really early start. I was starving, not just because we had walked 8 miles under exam conditions over tough terrain and hadn’t stopped since breakfast, but also because I was on my period. I needed to stop to eat something other than a snack as I knew it would help my stomach cramps. So I asked if we could stop to eat….3 times….until at last he reluctantly agreed.

The assessor then spent the next 10 minutes preaching to me about how I “don’t really need to eat as much as I think” and then asked me if I train at home. Seriously?! I just wanted the world to swallow me up.

I was overweight by the way. Not by much, but I really wasn’t in the best shape. After a difficult year just about surviving teacher training and a whole other lot of stress, my health had taken a beating. It happens. But heck, I could still climb mountains and carry a 16kg pack on my back without complaint.

If I had been more comfortable and felt I was in an accepting group of people who were supporting me I might have mentioned I was on my period. But I was scared to say anything that might make me look weaker. I felt sure they would think I was just making up excuses.

I’m angry at myself that I didn’t defend myself, not once. But that’s what happens when you have a lack of confidence. You let others treat you how they want….you even start to believe what they are saying might be real!

Mountain Leader assessment - Silva Compass

Do I look like I need directions?

The guys I talk about above are actually all really decent people…it’s important that I make this clear. I don’t think they acted in this way intentionally. On a personal level, back at the pub afterward, I got on with them all fine. This is a product of the outdoor and adventure industry. It’s competitive. You have to prove yourself. And it’s getting worse. You’ve got to go faster, further and for longer otherwise, no one is interested.

It’s not enough to climb Everest anymore, you’ve got to run it…..twice….in one week!!

With that competitiveness comes subtle sexism where advising and ‘saving’ women has become a way for some men (not most by far but it only takes a small minority to have that negative impact) to prove that they are capable.

I’ve noticed it time and time again with my experiences when I’m out doing adventurous things – not just during my Mountain Leader qualification. Like when I was on the Everest Adventure recently in the Lake District. Despite having a map and compass to hand, the men I passed were constantly giving me directions I hadn’t asked for – I noticed they didn’t do this for the male groups they passed. About 5 people showed me where Scafell Pike was! I’m well aware of where that giant world-famous mountain is, thanks. Would they have done that if I was a man? I never get that sort of patronising advice when I hike with my husband.

We overheard someone making a comment about the size of our bags. For a 5 day expedition, they were actually very reasonable but they probably assumed we were ridiculously overpacked for a day hike.

At one peak, a man asked “are you the WI”?! Because of course, why else would a group of women be out of the kitchen….no comment!

It’s not friendly. It’s presumptuous and judgmental and I don’t like it.

Until things improve

Like it or not, right or wrong, I like adventuring with other women. When I was going through my Mountain Leader assessment, I longed to have another female in the group. With women, I feel less judged. I don’t worry about if I can keep up physically. I can say if I have stomach cramps and can speak freely about things that I don’t feel like talking about with men in a setting with so much criticism and judgments.

I know that it is not as black and white as this. Plenty of women are competitive and judgmental, and plenty of men are accepting and encouraging. But for me, personally, the supportive and caring environment I crave and need can be found from being around women. Finally, I’ve found a space in the outdoors where my gender doesn’t have to be a ‘thing’ and I can just be myself.

Kayak Bristol to London

Love Her Wild

I’ve seen the power of being with like-minded people taking on a challenge in the outdoors and it’s a great thing. We should be celebrating and encouraging this, not knocking it. If creating a women-only, black-only, LGTBQIA+-only, etc group helps support and encourage more minority groups to access the outdoors then I think that’s a great thing to do.

My outdoor experiences have thrived and grown. My confidence in my abilities has doubled…at least! It’s been incredible. And for every bad experience, I now have many more full of laughter and fun.

For the first time, I feel like the outdoor world is mine and I belong.

So am I a hypocritical sexist? Maybe. But if that is what it takes to allow me and others who feel like me to enjoy and feel relaxed in an environment that is just as much ours as anyone else’s….well then, I’m totally ok with that.

Love Her Wild walk

If you need more proof that women aren’t equal in the outdoors, I wrote this piece.

I’d love to hear your take on this topic. Do you agree? Let me know in the comment box below.

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*Any women reading this?* I founded a women’s adventure social enterprise called Love Her Wild. Check out our private Facebook page and see what adventures we have coming up.

68 thoughts on “Why I’m ok with being a hypocritical sexist

  1. It’s ok for people of like minds to hang together…if you knit you join a group….play bridge join a group….like outdoor adventure with women you join a group. I believe sexism is when you believe & treat the other sex as incapable & with disrespect. It does not mean that we can’t segregate ourselves.

      1. I think you are wonderful to form your group to inspire women to venture forward. I am single and feel limited in hiking and as I am retired with lots of free time find it very frustrating. Living here in South Wales there is so much scope with the Valleys to explore yet I have failed to find a group or companion for the longer hikes . We do have a Walking group in Ferndale and strangely mostly women though on occaisions a man has accompanied us but maybe felt out numbered ? The group is limited to Saturday mornings and not always available. I would very much like to get the training to become more equipped with the skills to hike and join other groups
        My experience has shown me that Hiking and camping etc is quite male dominated too
        Don’t let anyone put you down with negative comments. You are an inspiration to women?

        1. Aaaah…thank you so much Julie. You really made me smile!! I really hope you can find the group of friends you need soon so that you can make the most of the outdoors. It’s not always easy! 🙂

    1. Hi Bex,
      Reading your story with dread! I’m about to embark on my ML training. Don’t suppose you’ve considered being a trainer or assessor?!
      However, I can also totally relate to everything you say. I often venture out alone with my map and compass to improve my skills and yes, often get asked by males if I’m lost or ‘where are you trying to get to’. I’m not sexist but I do find it all intimidating.
      I love this group and have been out several times on hikes and walks. Always friendly, supportive and non-judgemental.
      Thank you for establishing the group ❤️🙏

      1. Thank you so much Debbie! HUGE good luck for your course. You’ll be brilliant!
        I’ve not considered becoming an accessor – maybe down the line! xx

      2. Hi,…
        I read your piece with interest & can empathise so much with your ‘unfortunate’ experience & how it made you feel…
        Sadly, it sounded like many experiences I’ve had during my lifetime,..which were disastrous for my self confidence.
        I applaude you for not being ‘put off’…& starting this group.
        Wonderful! Well done.

        1. Thank you Anne for your kind words! I’m sorry to read you’ve also had similar experiences in the outdoors.

  2. Interesting article! As a female who mostly hikes solo and occasionally with my husband I recently did an all woman’s hiking trip,somewhat reluctantly and loved it!! Their really is something unique about the comradery in such a group. Kudos to you for sticking to your idea…it’s a great one!

    1. Thanks Nathalie. There really is something different about being outdoors with just women although it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly!

  3. Great article and I can confirm I’ve also experienced all the prejudices you’ve encountered in the outdoor world. It can be really demoralising. My ML assessment was horrid too, even though I had a female assessor. It was so bad I swore that I would never darken the door of the national training center in North Wales again. It was the same competitive thing belittling my experience and fitness. It put a real downer on my enthusiasm for a while.

    I know of a fishing bothy in the mid Wales wilderness that only men can be a member of but they have finally decided that female partners of group members can use it, as long as it’s not a men only weekend. So exclusion and prejudice is going on all over the place. Although I know I would love to spend some time there if it wasn’t for this attitude, I won’t go there on principle and I’ve told them why I’m boycotting it. They just think I’m a stubborn …….. but what the hell, how can I enjoy something like that if I’m not demeed worthy and not welcome on an equal basis?

    So don’t let it bother you what men think about the group, there is definitely a need for it and it’s only a shame it didn’t start many years ago.

    1. That’s awful! I can’t believe rules like that still exist.

      I’m sad to hear that you had a similar experience doing ML as well. It’s a shame that our outdoor experiences have been ruined in this way and I wonder how many more women stay at home following confidence knocking like this.

  4. The interaction is very different in an all woman’s group vs coed. I’m much older than you and have such a yearning to do these backpacking and hiking adventures but often worry about being the weakest link in the group. If someone wants to be with a mixed group, there are plenty of opportunities. Sign up for that adventure. For many women, who weren’t exposed to outdoor skills when younger, a supportive women’s group offers an opportunity to change their life. Positive self worth and confidence is at the core of wellness. Nothing builds confidence like skill building and experiencing successes. Restricting same sex groups is reverse discrimination. There’s room for both options.

    1. Love Her Wild is just for you Nancy!! Age, experience or abilities should never hold anyone back from getting outdoors.

      You are right that there is room for both options!

  5. I just recently joined Live Her Wild so I can’t speak much for the specific group yet, but I’ve been in other women’s specific groups for running, hiking, backpacking, and more and I always found these groups to be invaluable. You’re right that so often it can be a competition in the outdoors but the women’s only groups I’ve been in have been so supportive and focused on providing information and getting women outdoors and feeling empowered, and nothing anyone says can take that feeling away from me.

    1. It’s great to hear you share the same feeling I do when I interact in these groups. I need that space! Thanks Liz.

  6. Your experience sounds awful (mountain leadership). I guess I have been pretty fortunate — the group of folks I do most of my hiking with includes my husband and several men, although the women usually outnumber the men. Mostly, we are supportive of each other, but perhaps that is because we met through a group called Venture Outdoors, which promotes getting people outside, and as voluteer trip leaders (some of us), we are expected to be encouragers, not discouragers. If the first hiking experience I had was like your assessment, I don’t know that I would have gone on another walk in the woods. Follow your truth. I loved reading about the Everest Adventure, and think that what you are doing with your blog and your life is valuable.

    1. Thank you Priscilla for commenting and following the Everest Adventure! It’s really great to hear you have found a supportive group in the outdoors and a mixed one at that. 🙂

  7. Beautifully written with honesty and intent. I’m sure there are many women who have had similar experiences. A lot of what you write rings true for me. I certainly enjoy being in the out doors in groups of women , generally it is so much more supportive open and fun. One of my best out door experiences was being part of an all female team to climb Island peak. Where as most of my early days as an aspiring instructor were spent trying to “keep up” and more often “be better” than my male peers. I did a good job but I often lacked confidence and self belief.
    We need to be pro active for us and the next generation of female adventurers. It is certainly a direction I want to go in with my own out door adventure company.

    1. Really kind of you to say Louise, thank you! You are right that we need to be proactive.

      I REALLY want to climb Island Peak….very jealous!

  8. You are doing a great job Bex, loveherwild is a wonderful community and soooo needed. Don’t let the buggers get you down . I agree the outdoor adventure world is sexist but so is alot if the world generally. I’ve had to put up with this for many years in consultancy and academia. Women are rising though? its time for global change and it s happening. Kick out those negative thoughts and people and continue on your path with gusto. We love loveherwild!!

    1. Thanks for being such a supporter of Love Her Wild!!! 🙂

      There are lots of areas of sexism still in existence. You are right that there is change happening though. We will get there!!

  9. I believe there is a big difference in the male vs. female mentality about many things…it’s that Mars/Venus thing! In general, men tend to be competitive with others while women tend to be competitive with themselves, pushing themselves while supporting others to do the same. The men who are upset with you about your group being exclusive to women are threatened. Someone told them they “can’t” join, so they will make a stink about it. What they don’t understand is that women are already putting themselves out there, being brave, finding their inner strength just by doing the challenge! We don’t need someone (men, or anyone) belittling, undermining, or bullying our efforts. I am not at all suggesting that all men are like this–they aren’t. But I feel that anyone who pushes someone down for the sake of lifting themselves up is morally and ethically in the wrong. We need more love, patience, support, and shared wisdom in the world. I personally think you are a heroine, Bex, for offering an incredible service for empowering women and showing that we can do and be anything we want to!! Ignore the naysayers…and know that
    you are awesome:)

    1. Lynn, you are too kind, Thank you!!! I certainly don’t feel like a heroine 🙂

      I think it’s important to fight for equality but also to acknowledge that men and women are inherently different in certain ways both physical and mental.

  10. I think it shouldn’t be separated – but we’re not at a stage yet where there is no sexism in the a outdoors and adventure industry, and until then, I don’t believe there is any issue with a women’s only group. If there was no sexism in this world, yes, maybe it would be slightly discriminating to have a women’s only group. But until men stop treating women as unskilled people who constantly need men’s help regardless of their experience, and constantly looking down on women as less skilled, again, regardless of actual skill levels and experience, then it’s no wonder we NEED a women’s group like Love Her Wild. Loved this article bex 🙂

    1. Thanks Iona! Hopefully the industry will reach a stage where the separate groups aren’t needed because there is no segregation or sexism. I have hope! 🙂

  11. No, you are not 🙂 It is not the same when there are men-only clubs in patriarchal societies as when there are women-only. Women are minority (not in terms of numbers but social/political power) and have the right to create spaces for themselves. It’s about being with people who understand you – but also about safety. There is no way around it, men are mainly the perpetrators of violence against women.
    It might be that one day we won’t feel the need to be in women-only groups but I can’t see it anywhere near on the horizon. I”m a big anxiety sufferer and I generally feel anxious about people in the Outdoors (I hike solo most of the time) – and it’s less the case when I meet female hikers. I feel safer (in terms of physical safety but also mental) and more relax than with men present.

    I still get the “aren’t you scared” or other comment suggesting I don’t belong in the mountains (and for sure not by myself!) to clearly show the problem. I write my blog mostly with other women in mind – especially those older or not fit who might think they shouldn’t hike. I’m ok if men visit, but I write to encourage other women to go and hike. And it’s all good.

    1. Right or wrong, there is no denying that some people feel more comfortable in women-only groups. It’s great to hear that you are going solo and ignoring the people who say it’s not safe. Keep at it and make the outdoors work for you!

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  12. I don’t think you should judge yourself with these labels even if you’ve come to terms with them. You are trying to create a sanctuary for yourself and others. Perhaps there is some small part of you that wants to revise your criteria of women only to reflect something more like feminine energy. That could include members of the LGBT community who don’t identify as female. Just a thought.

    1. This is a really interesting point. I’ve had men say they’d like to join a Love Her Wild group because they’d like to be in a more feminine environment. Certainly food for thought there!! Thanks Elle!

  13. Awesome article. Love the concept. Plenty of mixed groups for people to join. Please don’t change ! This is needed. Thank you for putting this concept together.

  14. Keep up the good work- great idea. I gave up progression with qualifications in watersports for a while due to the sexist comments/attitude I had faced but I eventually pushed on to become an Instructor and whilst I enjoy teaching mixed courses I particularly enjoy the female only courses when ladies who wouldn’t normally get involved feel reassured enough to give it a go in a supportive environment. The atmosphere is very different. This isn’t ‘anti men’ this is about providing an alternative as well. (Bizarrely my Instructor course was the first time I felt treated equally).

    1. That’s so sad to hear. No doubt there are many great instructors out there who are put off by sexist attitudes. We need people like you to be role models for our girls! Keep up the great work Sarah!

  15. This is really and interesting to read, thank you. I only recently discovered Love Her Wild and immediately wanted to share it with my female climbing and outdoorsy friends – then realised I don’t have many!

    It’s interesting to hear this perspective as I grew up feeling very intimidated and competitive/defensive in situations around other women (thanks to girls’ school..) and so naturally gravitated towards male company. Then I found I’m genuinely not as fit or physically able climbing as most of my male friends. That’s not because I’m a woman, but I think the ‘confidence gap’ (in a recent Beeb article) may be.

    So basically… Thank you. I want to relearn how to be around my own sex, and I want to push myself outdoors, whilst feeling I can be open about the emotions that involves for me. Thank you for inspiring me to feel more confident in myself, and to give fellow women another chance. 🙂

    By the way – Gwen Moffat (Space Below My Feet) and Dorothy Pilley (Climbing Days). We belong!!

    1. Thank you Hattie. Before Love Her Wild I didn’t have ANY outdoorsy female friends…of course I’ve got too many now!!

      I’ve also been in situations with women-only where I’ve felt defensive. I think in part it’s the spirit of Love Her Wild that has kept things supportive and encouraged women to tune into their caring side and to let go of competitiveness. As I experienced on my recent Everest Adventure expedition, when this happens it can create a great sense of sisterhood. It’s quite a powerful thing!

  16. Nice article! I’ve been in the lucky situation of doing outdoor activities of various sorts all my life, so am pretty confident walking, fell running, climbing, and on the hill in pretty much any weather – it is my world. It is what I do. For this reason I am usually happy in any gendered company or solo (not so much rock climbing solo!). Sometimes others of either sex are stronger, sometimes it is me that is stronger- I’ve usually had good experiences – and I know I’ve changed a few male attitudes 😉 I also know plenty of men who prefer female or mixed company. Makes me sad that is not the case for most women – so anything that helps address that is good! We need to be seen in the outdoors to make those attitudes change, male and female. Well done Bex. My message to all would be get out there in whatever company suits you best and the confidence and fitness will come – It is so worth it! Liz

    1. It’s great that you are changing attitudes Liz…keep at it!! And I like your message. Thanks! 🙂

  17. It just seems like men have to make everything a competition. My ex-husband was always after me to run with him. I finally let him talk me into it and he just kept pushing me and pushing me. I never ran with him again. I was in shape and loved to run and listen to music. I did it for me, not so that I could compete with him.
    There is always a place for “women only” groups. 🙂

  18. This is so interesting to say the least! My husband is NOT interested in hiking or backpacking, or a whole lot of outdoor adventures. I wish he was, but it is what it is. So, I tend to look for women’s groups, as I tend to be very noncompetitive. I do, however, work at an outdoor gear store, and sometimes hear things, but never took any of it to heart. OTOH, I think if men want to put together a men only group, they should be allowed for the same kinds of reasons you mentioned having a women’s only group. But I know lots of women who would have a fit about it. Too bad, too. I think separating the sexes from time to time, takes a pressure off that none of us, women OR men, need! And yes, I do like my women only group, as well as finding a co-ed group.

  19. As a relative late-comer to outdoor activities and as someone who has always struggled with confidence, I think there is definitely a place for women-only activities and groups. I love sailing and recently did my Day Skipper course, I was the only woman on the course. It was fine and the guys were lovely but there was always this nagging feeling that I wasn’t as good as them and there were occasional subtle sexist remarks – in particular regarding my physical strength and ability to navigate. They probably thought nothing of it and I laughed it off but when you are already lacking in confidence, those remarks can cut deep. I have been sailing with equally mixed crews and I much prefer the dynamic compared with being the only one, although it still tends to be the men who take the lead. I would love to sail with an all female crew some time to see the difference.

    In saying that, there are some men who are really supportive and do see us as equals. There are men who prefer mixed company over all-male. A lot of men also have confidence issues, and don’t do well with the “bravado” that often comes with sport and outdoor pursuits and are probably put off. While exclusive space is currently needed, some inclusive space is also good. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing.

    1. So true. And it’s nice to hear from someone else who also found the outdoors later in life. Thanks Jules 🙂

  20. Hi Bex,
    Really enjoyed your article above, and was very sorry to hear about the experience on the ML assessment, as you rightly point out, being an ML is more about empathy and inclusion than machismo and fitness. We are in a funny business really, with a lot of people who have a lot to prove, keen to impress with what they know or have done (I myself find myself doing the same!). What should be foremost is getting people outside in an environment they feel comfortable in, both in terms of geography and company whom they spend it with. If that means a group women only-surely all good. As ever with the internet, some people have nothing better to do than gripe, but if you put it out there now, unfortunately this must be expected. On my ML assessment it was 6 blokes and 1 lady-I think/hope we were all respectful, and know our provider/Assessor would not have countenanced any chauvinism, any shown would have counted against passing as it was stressed how important it is to focus on the customers experience etc. (Quick shout up for Phil George). Looking forward to reading about your next adventure!
    BW Dave

    1. Getting more people outside really should be the point of it all! Thanks for your comment BW Dave!

  21. Excellent post. But I’d say that unfortunately these male attitudes are still present in many of today’s industries, not just the world of adventure. Feel proud that you are one of an increasing number of women seeking to break the glass ceiling. More power to you.

  22. This is such an eloquent piece in its own right, and you have beautifully illustrated just how you felt and how uncomfortable you were on that ML journey. It should be compulsory reading material for everybody out there on the hills! I think we (men) sometimes are unaware of how we come across to the opposite gender, but that is no excuse. Even thought I like to think I could not be accused of anything sexist I can see how quite easily in-built perceptions and stereotypes can feed my own actions both unwittingly and also intentionally. I promise to do better 🙂

    I started on the qualifications journey quite late in life, and realised that to achieve ML with the other responsibilities I have and also not living in the mountains was going to take me years. Hence I embarked on the WGL route and passed that assessment in 2009. As it happens this level of qualification fits very well with the voluntary work I do with Scouts, Guides and DoE teams. However, I too have experienced almost the same sort of ‘snobbery’ and ‘we are better that you” behaviour from some experienced ML folk and aspiring ML candidates. As you say, its like these people have something to prove, but in reality come across as arrogant dicks!

    I can really understand why some ladies will feel more comfortable in a female only group and how this will sometimes let them achieve things which they might not otherwise do. To me you are not a hypocritical sexist, you are somebody who enjoys being outside and who is passionate about inspiring others to enjoy the same freedom you have found. I wish you continued success!

    1. So kind of you to say Malcolm, thank you!! You found a qualification that worked for you and that fitted around what was accessible to you at the time. That should be celebrated. I wonder how many great volunteers and leaders sit at home doing nothing because they feel what they can do isn’t good enough!
      Keep up all the great work you do inspiring the next generation 🙂

  23. Great article! I set up a women’s rugby team in my home town – not because I hate men but because the sport is divided along gender lines. I’ve not had a single man or woman tell me that making my rugby team women-only is sexist. My point is, everyone is hypocritical to some degree. There is no lack of groups encouraging men into the outdoors and your group does not prevent men from enjoying the outdoors. Therefore, to my mind, it is not discriminatory.
    I experienced what you’re talking about so often when working in the outdoors industry. It made me feel sad, useless and deflated sometimes – good for you for taking that feeling and turning it around and enjoying adventure on your own terms.

    1. It’s such a shame that you have also experienced the same while working in the outdoors. I really do hope that attitudes will start to change soon!
      Great work setting up the Rugby team for women…must be a lot of fun but also hard work!
      Thanks Beth 🙂

  24. There are plenty of examples of gender segregation in sport; in fact nearly all professional sport is gender segregated and it’s a pity that some men feel threatened by you continuing this process!

    Women are under represented in the outdoors working environment and anything done to encourage more women and girls into the great outdoors is a good thing. Sadly, a lot of people see “equality” as the need to provide exactly the same to everybody, when in fact, as I’m sure you know, it’s doing whatever is needed to level the playing field so that people have the equality of opportunity.

    I imagine that any male commenters who get on their high horse are less likely to have been the victim of inequality and in all probability just don’t understand the issues you have been discussing. I accept that is sweeping, but true in more cases than not.

    If you are providing a professional service, they can take it or leave it. If they don’t want to buy into your product, (or can’t) they can go elsewhere. If you’ve specifically asked for comments though, you can expect to get them from both sides of the coin!

  25. I’m with you! We’ve created a group for women motorcyclists to share experiences, build confidence amongst those just starting out and to provide support on non-biking related matters. Away from the competitive environment that seems to ensue when men are involved, women find the group a space where they can ask any question without fear of sarcasm or ridicule. Support networks have been built up and friendships created that have enabled those who have been through some harrowing and life-changing experiences to want to carry on biking.

    When alerting women in other mixed groups to upcoming meet ups and events we are often accused of sexism. They say that the events and activities they organise are open to all, so why should we exclude men. The answer is found in the photos of the events…every single woman is smiling! We all help each other out without the need to ask…because we get it.

    Women in motorcycling remain a minority but our group encourages and supports those starting out and provides a safe space for them to speak freely. Increasingly we are being recognised and our opinion sought…but it’s decades of catering to the male biker that has to be overcome.

    We’ll carry on doing what we’re doing…putting awesome women in touch with other awesome women!

  26. Oh Dear….had to open that box did you? My entire life has been about this issue! I clearly see both sides of this coin, for me it boils down to ‘intention’. But your intention must match your ‘ability in process’. I believe in the phrase, “Lead, follow or get out of the way”.
    I think the problem arises when someone is conflicted with their intention or status in that continuum.
    I grew up in a male-valued family culture, my father was a professional head wrestling, football, basketball coach, health and PE teacher, Red Cross sailing instructor, Master Mariner Captain, military medic and WWII front line combat veteran. You either kept up or got sent to the sidelines.
    Being the youngest and the tomboy of 5 siblings, I watched the athleticism drama unfold in my family culture. The two boys were continuously supported and given those precious, ‘atta boy’ confidence boosts. And my brothers were, like our Dad, very strong, agile and athletic…but then so was I and my two sisters. As you can imagine, we did not get the same support, both my oldest sister and I at some point noticed that our parents didn’t even bother attending our athletic events, but yet we were expected and only valued for our athletic abilites. My middle sister completely dropped out of the competitive culture and hung with the counter culture eventually taking up yoga and today will say her instructor position at the local community college is her homage to our Dads influence.
    As for me, I went full, head on right into sports and competitive sailing in a very male dominated world. Competing at the national level, instructing for a major city sailing school by 19 and directing my collegiate sailing team at Commadore. I know for a fact it was my father’s hard-driving, no time for tears attitude that was instilled in me. But…….I noticed your point quite clearly as we had a co-ed team, but the girls that joined never wanted to take the helm. I reacted by insisting on sailing with exclusive female crew, otherwise, they would sit on shore. I learned it was very difficult to foster women through the gate of confidence building when their male counterparts had been fostered and supported their entire lives. I got it!
    I also learned that our gender culture was set up to produce female supporting roles rather than leaders. I butt heads with many that questioned my competence simply because I was female. I was even called under question by the Dean of my college who questioned my ability to lead a traveling collegiate team and keep up with my studies. Because of my previous experiences, I did not back down but role reversed on the Dean and put his intention under question. I boldly asked him if he had this same conversation with the other student athletic leadership (that was male) and he quickly caught himself in his own mysogeny. He wished me well but added he would be watching-
    Fast forward twenty years and I’m running the first USSA certification sailing program for the US military Marine Corps aboard Camp Lejeune, NC. A whole different culture and yet many of the same issues resonate. Predominate male students hard corp into competiveness and testing their abilities, right along side the fewer female counterparts. The biggest differences I saw between the genders is how they saw themselves: leader, follower or on the sidelines. If they were active duty marines they were all ‘oorah’, but if they were retired or a dependent, the game completely changed (intention shift).
    The take away from this story is that people come at the outdoors with a certain level of athleticism, experience and confidence….but they need to be able to assess those ability levels and match it with their intentions so as not to be trampled or put-off unintentionally by others at a different level. I’ve often used the phrase, “water seeks it’s own level” and as I have aged and am clearly not as competitive, my water seeks a more solo level because I’m not interested in the consistent questioning….still.
    Today I sail traditional boats with a fleet for the fun of day destination sails and am still delighted to always give the other male skippers a challenge but noticed they started a women’s sailing group for the same reasons you have encountered with your Women in the Wild.
    At this point, I feel as though I’m an old soul and will continue to mentor both men and women into the outdoors but have solace in a focus on what I personally gain from challenging myself in the face of nature~
    Capt. Suz
    USCG Master Mariner

  27. Bex,

    Its all too common that in a male dominated industry, women somehow have to work harder to prove themselves, which is a real shame. You do get a lot of big egos within the industry, and these mostly being men, then feel threatened and start behaving inappropriately. I have a few female friends who have had a similar experience.

    There is so much sexism around us, instilled in us by the behaviour of a patriarchal society, our parents and/or grandparents, the media, educational system, etc… It is so ingrained than we as men and women have to be really aware of how we are and behave, and try to change things for the future generations.

    I think you are doing a great thing creating adventures for women, within a support network of other women, where I would assume women would feel more open.

  28. First off, I’d like to defend SOME men. We’re not ALL douchebags!

    Saying that, unfortunately you are absolutely right to have a girls only group. We shouldn’t need it but we do. If women need woman-only expeditions to have the confidence to get out there then you are definitely providing a valuable service. Any men who have an issue, start your own group, run your own expeditions, create your own community. Or buck up your ideas and change you attitudes. Adventure is not a competition!

    I fully support you in the honour of my 3 year old daughter. If more people like you (and Sarah Williams with the Tough Girl Podcast and others) keep up your positive work in shining lights on female role models, hopefully by the time she is ready to go on her own expeditions she won’t be feeling as negative as you felt on your ML course. Hopefully she’ll have hundreds of inspiring positive female role models to show her that it’s ok to be an adventurer and to be feminine.

    1. Thanks for all your support Jon! Your daughter is lucky to grow up with someone who will expose them to her full potential 🙂

  29. The Vertigirls is a woman only group. It works because women want and need the support of other female climbers to climb or chew the fat with. Unfortunately, sexism still exists in our society and the idea of women being “the weaker sex” is hard to shake off. I don’t think boys get a lot of education about the female menstrual cycle or PMT which is a shame becuase then they might appreciate how we might not always be feeling 100 percent and might just need to rest, eat etc. I did a season as an outdoor instructor and didn’t always want to get into my wetsuit during my period. I always did though if necessary, with enough tampons to last the sea journey, putting the extras into my dry bag!!! How you would cope as an expedition leader going up Everest on your period, I don’t know, but I guess you just get on with it. I remember my SPA being bloody hard and being tested it seemed far more than the guys who seemed to get an easy ride from the assessor-I was on my period too at the time which made things alot worse. Anyway-power to you woman!!!

  30. I work on a trail crew – have been for 6 seasons, and STILL get this attitude from males that I pass on the trail, as well as supervisors, and male coworkers. It’s mansplaining, its not following female direction, it’s other men on the trail assuming that when I’m working with only one other man that the MAN is in charge, regardless of age, knowledge, or experience. As you’ve pointed out – these men are not bad people, and often times their actions are unintentional. It’s ingrained cultural masculinity that needs to be recognized and reassessed. I’m glad you have a place for women to learn and share because this shit happens all the time, and we need a place where we can grow and be confident and competitive in our right. Thanks for writing this article.

  31. Can I make a guess that most of the criticism has come from men? I don’t think having a separate provision for women is sexist – it simply acknowledges the sexism which already exists in the industry which, by and large, privileges men. After all, we have ‘youth’ adventure/explorer programmes which provides something different according to age – so sex/gender shouldn’t really be any different.

    It’s also telling that most comments are from women – suggesting that either men are staying silent or simply not engaging with your blog in the same way they do for others. Both would be disappointing.

    I’ve come to your blog quite late, but have been enjoying reading the backlog of posts like this which examine the prejudices within the adventure scene. I for one would like to see more men engage with these issues, or at the very least – acknowledge that it is a problem

    1. That’s a really thoughtful comment Richard…thank you! You are right that most of the criticisms have steemed from men. I would also like to see more men (like you!) supporting these initiatives.

  32. Hi Bex,

    I am male, and not at all competitive. I don’t enjoy competition on the trail, and I don’t enjoy one-upsmanship in storytelling. You’ve done what you’ve done, and good for you. Same for me. I don’t need to have gone higher, farther, or faster than you have to feel good about my own experiences, nor do I need to find someone who’s done less to lord it over.

    That’s a large part of the reason that I do most of my adventuring alone. When I do things with others, I make sure they’re of like mind.

    So I feel some small fraction of what you as women go through, and fully support you in creating a space that works for you. Obviously, not every man is the problem, and there may well be women who embody the same kinds of problems you’ve run into. However, you can’t carefully and thoroughly vet every personality, and selecting by gender probably solves the problem 95% of the time.

    All the best to you and your fellow adventurers!


  33. Hi Bex

    I got here via your comments about Ben Fogle’s Everest trip which appeared on my Facebook feed. I can see where you are coming from – personal effort is only part of what contributes to success in any area of life whether it be work, family or leisure time. Colleagues/friends/school/support network, luck/good fortune, family, health…… so many more external factors contribute beyond our own efforts to the end result. It’s very easy to forget that. And, unfortunate as it may be, bad experiences/bad people can teach you just as much as good experiences and good people too.

    As the dad of three teenage girls who live in the South East of England I try not to lay it on too thick but I have at times made sure that they appreciate how fortunate they are. Look at how desperate people are in many parts of the world to get to the UK; and then within the UK where we live is an unbelievably privileged area. They have a great school, great friends, tons of opportunities – and parents who they may not always agree with but we try to do our best and what we think are the right things to do. Obviously I hope that they live a life that they enjoy, through which they make a positive contribution to the world – but there are a lot of factors beyond their own efforts that will have contributed to any successes that they may achieve.

    Now that I’m here I’ve read quite a few of the comments about Love Her Wild and how you have been criticized for setting up a women only group. Through our own family adventures, Scouts, D of E etc our kids enjoy an outdoor life – but not everyone has those chances in life. I’m rather dismayed that anyone should think your group is a bad thing or any kind of threat. These folks who have bagged 17 peaks in a weekend etc have obviously done it because they enjoy it. Not everyone has the same opportunities or free time. Not everyone can perform at the same level – some of us are fit and get time to do training, some aren’t and don’t. But that doesn’t mean they enjoy their adventures any less. Surely any forum which gives more people of any gender an environment where they feel comfortable and can enjoy whatever experiences are on offer has to be a good thing? How can it not be?

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Sid! You offer a very interesting perspective being the father of 3 teen daughters 🙂

  34. This is nice and easy. Do you have an issue with Male only Hiking groups? If yes, then you’re hypocritical, if not, you’re not. Huzzah! Well done you 🙂

    1. Thank you! I certainly don’t – I think men are absolutely entitled to have men-only spaces as well. As long as the reason behind it is to support men rather than keep out women. Thanks for reading 🙂

    2. I enjoyed reading this and it saddens me that such things occur. We have some stunning places in the UK and it is the people’s right, regardless of sex, gender, race or life choice, to enjoy and explore, thanks to the Kinder Scout Trespass. Sadly, the outdoor world is predominantly white and male but, thankfully, things seem to be changing. I’m all for more women in the great outdoors, it might quash all that ridiculous masculine bravado, and introduce a more honest environment.

      As progressive as some of us men claim to be, we are still subject to our upbringing, laden with sexism inherent in our society, but this article, and others like it, help us see our own inappropriate actions, and we can learn and change accordingly. You’ve given me something to think about, so thanks!

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