Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

To All the Guy Climbers: A Rant and a Salute…

It was pretty crowded in the gym last Sunday.  The weather was crappy and there were a LOT of birthday parties going on.  I was patiently trying to maneuver through my fairly extensive warm-up routine before retreating to the training area to do some Power Enduro laps.  I was almost ready, just needed to do a handful of more challenging problems that I had really dialed.

There was already someone (a 20-something guy) working one of the boulder problems I was interested in doing.  He tried several times, and kept getting stuck at the crux, 3 moves in.  I waited until he took a break and stepped back, then I chalked up and walked over to the start of the problem.

Then this conversation happens…

Guy: “Are you going to do the white one?” (this problem that started right beside the problem I was intending to do, which happens to be 2 number grades easier)

Me: “Actually I was planning to get on the blue one.”

Guy, with a patronizing smile on his face: “That one’s a lot harder, you know.”

It actually took me a few seconds to understand what had just happened.  I was confused…why would he think I wouldn’t know that?!?  And then it hit me like a ton of bricks – I’M A GIRL.  If HE was struggling on a particular problem, then surely a GIRL would as well.  He’d better chivalrously point me in the direction of a problem I’d have a better chance of success at.

I wish I would have been quick-witted enough to procure my most innocent smile and say (as I twirl my hair), “Oh gee, I didn’t realize that, you’d recommend starting this one first?”  Then climb up and down the easier problem before linking into the harder one.  But I was so dumbfounded by how blatantly sexist his remark was that I just sort of awkwardly mumbled “I know” (probably sounding a little Napoleon Dynamite-esque) as I sat down at the start holds.  But I DID proceed to sail up the problem, so at least my actions spoke up for all womankind.

Girl power on Classic Arete at Dixon Boulders

Girl power on Classic Arete at Dixon Boulders

After I hopped down he started to backpedal a bit, asking me if I had any beta that could help him in the “tricky, technical section.”

This time I was ready.  “Ya know I don’t really remember what I did there, it all felt pretty straightforward to me.”

I then walked over to the training area, where I was able to channel all of my girl-powered rage into my best performance yet on my Power Enduro circuit.

So that’s the rant.

This is certainly not the first, nor will it be the last example of sexism at the climbing gym/crag.  I’m a member of several facebook groups/forums for women climbers, and quite often I hear stories about male climbers who assume that all female climbers are inexperienced little lambs needing a MAN to put up “girl routes” for them.  But I just assumed those guys were a**holes who were few and far between.

Which brings me to the salute.

I’m so thankful that I don’t have to put up with this crap out of my climbing crew.  Because our family has always had to have at least one extra partner with us for the last 5 years, we’ve developed a pretty extensive network of folks that we climb with on a regular basis.  And since males tend to outnumber females as a whole in the sport of rock climbing, a high percentage of the people we climb with end up being guys.  There’s a wide range of abilities, but a lot of them are A LOT stronger than me.  And I can honestly say that I’ve never had any of them make me feel like that guy at the gym did (which is why it took me so long to figure out what he meant!!!)

It made me realize that my male climbing partners are pretty great (the greatest of which is the Crag-Daddy himself, of course!)  So here’s a shout out to them – Steve Lineberry, Caleb Odell, Sam Stephens, Bennett Harris, Drew Hayes, Joe Virtanen, Kyle and Adam Drain, Emil Briggs, Chuck Bridgen just to name a few!

Now it’s your turn – I’d love to hear about your experiences with sexism at the crag/gym, be it via rants or salutes.  And of course, if you’ve got great, supportive climbing partners, call ’em out by name!


20 Responses to “To All the Guy Climbers: A Rant and a Salute…”

  1. Wait, your a girl? I was sure that Crag-Mama had to be a dude based on how hard you climb;)


  2. AlanL

    Odd behaviour. Two of the regular ladies at my local bouldering gym are or have been world cup semifinalists, so it would never cross my mind to assume I’m automatically a stronger boulderer than a woman.

    (I confess, though, that not patronising their climbing ability doesn’t mean I don’t stare at their butts)


    • Katherine

      Well, they’re clearly only there to serve as your eye candy. I’m sure that role is a lot more fulfilling to them than crushing the boulder problem they’re working on.

  3. WWR

    Wow, as a guy this is the opposite of what I’d expect. Most people I know tend to assume that women are actually the better climbers because they are lighter, more flexible and more agile. I know I do! I still imagine no matter how good I ever am, I’ll always get crushed by a 12 year old girl.


  4. At my gym it’s kind of the opposite side of the same coin. I’ve had men be amazed seeing me lead up the steep wall and tell me how impressed they are when I’ve come down (meanwhile, I’m thinking “that was my 5.10 jug haul warm-up”). They are so nice and sincere about it, that I can’t be rude back, but I think, if I were a man, would they be so impressed?


  5. Sam Stephens

    I love taking guys like that down a notch. Maybe I’m a bit sadistic inside :). My favorite thing to do is talking guys at the bar into pull up contests with either my wife, or a climbing partner from back in Montana. When they agree I tell them they’ll be doing it on a door frame. It’s really funny to watch some big muscle dudes get shut down by those girls


  6. Emily

    I’m glad you showed him up, Erica. Nice response!

    I haven’t yet run into anyone who said anything like that to me. Usually I get, “It’s easy, you’ll sail through it!” And then when I get to the crux and don’t have those giant man muscles and can’t do it, I feel crappy, but that probably has a lot to do with the setting too. But they all believe I’m capable which is awesome.

    The guys I climb with understand that we all have our strengths. I’m pretty good with crimpy/balancy stuff and the guys always admire my grace when I climb, which is nice. And my endurance for long climbs is better than theirs. We support each other, and if someone said something mean to me, there would be 5 guys in his face.


  7. Adam Sanders

    Erica, the imagery in post is hilarious and amazing, but you just need to change your mindset – by being a girl in a region where female climbers are not given high expectations, it means you have the most sly Social Sandbagging tactic ever! See, this ignorant attitude from guys like that set you up perfectly to exceed all expectations and seriously impress. If you were a super ripped dude then you’d be laughed at for not onsighting 5.13 at the gym, but as a female crusher you can be admired by all! The effectiveness of Social Sandbagging is directly proportional to the difference in the value of “skill expectations” to “perceived skill.” Carly insists that she is only a “wife climber” for exactly this reason. I, being a skinny male, have to be more creative – I’m currently working on a beer belly to grow that ratio to the point where even top roping 5.9 will wow my onlookers.


    • Erica

      Adam – I love the term Social Sandbagging. And I love the imagery of you with a giant beer belly.

    • jimbo

      Absolutely brilliant analysis.

  8. Yep, all too familiar. I also enjoy the situations where my husband leads a route, pulls the rope, and I tie in…and then another guy jumps in saying “if your husband doesn’t want to climb it a second time to clean it, I can do it”. Um…I think I got this…thanks though. smile emoticon


  9. abby

    I’v gotten the same “girl” stereotyping and it sucks to be stuck into it; yet at the same time to be able to go at it and do what guys can’t is a good and strong feeling. The other day I was attempting to get this boulder problem and a girl told me to use a easier undercling to help attempt the problem, adding that she never saw a girl do it the “guys way”. I instantly could not use the undercling and eventually solved the problem and wished that she was there so I could show her that girls can do anything guys can do.


  10. Lynn

    I’ve been lucky not to have dealt with this much, the odd idiotic “Not bad for a girl” comment aside. As a woman with more gray hair than brown, I get credit now for just showing up at the crag. When I’m climbing ice, let alone the little bit of leading I do, it seems to impress people, as I’m usually the only female on the sharp end. I just try to stick with the “Shut up and climb” ethic, and that takes care of any nonsense.


  11. sambo

    I had a gal do a similar thing to me (I’m a guy) at a crag a few weeks ago. Perhaps because I looked old, weak and heavy compared to her young honed physique she assumed she was a better climber, and that if she thought the route was really difficult right off the ground, it would certainly be too hard for me. I didn’t get angry. I didn’t go home to post a rant on a blog, or begin a dialogue regarding the anti-tubby-old-dude-sexism of fit skinny girls in climbing. Instead, I smiled and climbed my warm up, in even better spirits than I would have if she hadn’t spoken up.

    I even chatted with her briefly after. She was a very nice person, and after a bit of discussion it seemed clear she was primarily worried that I was going to get hurt if I fell off of the starting moves going to the first bolt. She found it was hard, why wouldn’t I. Hey, that actually makes sense. Actually, that makes more sense than her just trying to assert her superiority, doesn’t it… perhaps I had misconstrued her tone of voice initially… a nice person would try to help stranger, even if it could possibly make them look the fool.

    If I can turn this around and play the role of antagonist (well, I already have, haven’t I) : What is behind the insecurity of so many women climbers that these laughable “infractions” cause such grief?

    Nice blog by the way, and before you delete my comment, think about it.


    • Kelly

      I thought about your comment, as directed, and found it unconvincing.

      Also, I noticed that Cragmama did not delete your comment. She may not be as “laughable” and “insecure” as you initially assumed.

  12. Erica

    Hey Sambo,
    I found it odd that you assumed I would automatically delete your comment simply b/c your opinion differed from my own? So long as opinions are shared with respect I have no problem leaving differing views up on the blog for all to see – it’s healthy for discussion!

    With regards to your comment, sexism does indeed happen, both at the crag and in “real life.” To play devil’s advocate, there is of course always the chance that I misconstrued the “offender’s” tone…but everything about his tone and demeanor felt very patronizing to me, and I don’t think it’s b/c I have a chip on my shoulder or am feeling insecure. Quite the contrary, the reason the encounter made such an impression on me is b/c while I often hear other women tell similar stories, I’d never had anything like that happen to me directly. As I said in the “salute” portion of my post, I love all of my guy partners, and I’m relieved that I don’t have to put up with any of that sort of crap on a regular basis the way it seems other female climbers have had to.

    Thanks for the compliments on the blog 🙂


  13. sambo

    Kelly, its the infraction that is laughable, not the author. Its climbing. Its fun. It doesn’t matter what the newb in the gym thinks. That’s the insecure part. I’ll try not to assume anything though; everyone around here seems pretty nice, considerate, and with educated opinions. If you don’t see the overlap between my story (obviously not sexism?) and the story posted, I guess I need to work on my writing.

    Erica, as much as I hate that it is so, sure sexism exists. So does racism. So does tubby-middle-aged -manism. When a company pays woman less than a man to do the same job, raise hell. When the same company interviews only men for a job when an equal number of qualified women applied, go ballistic. When some newbie at the gym thinks he’s stronger than you and so must be a better climber, just laugh. Nothing is taken away from you in that interaction, and maybe he’ll figure it out one day.
    If this stuff hypes you up for an awesome workout, I guess that is great. But if you were truly irked, I don’t get it. My biggest issue with this sort of shared “sexism” story telling is that it is devolving in a victim culture. A story like this being portrayed as sexism primes women to analyse every male/female interaction for a sexist slant, and for them to be the victim… and of course in the modern day everyone then shares their story on social media, which propagates the frame of mind to a huge audience. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Viral.

    Oh, and by the way, I think sending a problem that someone has been working on for hours in their face and then telling them it was so easy that you don’t remember the beta (even though you had the problem wired) is kinda mean. Would you have done that if it was a girl? 😉


    • Erica

      Sorry for the slow reply, Sambo. Just getting back from climbing out west and trying to catch up on things.

      To be clear of my intentions, the post was not about claiming to be a victim. It was about me having a life experience that I thought others might relate to, so it seemed like an interesting and applicable topic to write about. I didn’t intend to “prime” anyone to overanalyze every interaction they have with the opposite sex. You said, “When some newbie at the gym thinks he’s stronger than you and so must be a better climber, just laugh.” I guess writing is my way of doing just that, as that’s the way I express myself best.

      And as far as your comment about whether I would have behaved the same were the other climber a girl…I honestly think so. I’m certainly not perfect by any means, and when someone insults me and then asks for help, I’m not usually psyched to offer advice. Not to say that’s necessarily the correct response, but I think it’s human nature. To be clear I didn’t say that it was easy for me, just that the moves seemed straightforward. I wasn’t trying to be mean, I just didn’t feel like continuing my conversation with him any further. But you’re right, I probably could’ve have ended the conversation in a nicer way…

  14. Melise

    Ohhhh my goodness. Just reading this post and the comments make my heart race.

    First of all, I find it incredibly ignorant and ironic for a man to read your article and then give you advice about how to handle your experience, interpret it, and how you should react to it. Hm…

    There IS a difference if a woman spews beta at a man or another woman….or if a man spews beta at another man or woman. Climbing and our society at large are both dominated by men. Women have historically been oppressed and portrayed to be sweet, submissive, weaker, less knowledgeable, etc. As someone else stated on my blog, there is a different power dynamic when a man assumes or sprays information at a woman.

    And I love when men offer their one experience to match your one experience like the two could even possibly be the same or speaking to the same reality. Women face these sorts of experiences far more than men in the climbing community as a whole.

    I also find so much irony in Sambo correcting your reaction to the sexist interaction by saying “shouldn’t you have been sweeter and kinder?” SO.MUCH.IRONY.

    I could rant endlessly about this, but the last thing I’ll say is that “victim culture” is freaking laughable. What type of society do we live in where people will hear an experience and then blame the person on the receiving end for it? Ridiculous.

    Thank you for sharing a well written post and I’m sorry that this was your experience and the experience of so many female climbers.


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN