Hazel Findlay on: the Women's Climbing Symposium

Posted by Hazel Findlay on 01/11/2011
Hazel Findlay.

Top female climber Hazel Findlay has been signed up to write some regular articles for the BMC website. She's currently resting in Yosemite, having free-climbed El Cap, and has sent us part one: her thoughts on the forthcoming Women's Climbing Symposium.

For those of you who don’t already know, there is due to be a Women’s Climbing Symposium (WCS) at the Climbing Hangar in Liverpool. The face of the event is bouldering queen Shauna Coxsey. The basic idea is that there will be a day of talks, presentations, coaching sessions and such like, that promote and celebrate the ‘female climbing culture’ in the UK.

When I first heard of the event, I must admit I was a little sceptical. I’ve always had a tendency to shy away from feminism in climbing, or feminism full stop for that matter. I dislike the whole ‘girls rock’ (often in an American accent) thing. By making a point of women who are strong, or bold, or climb without their boyfriends, women merely draw attention to the fact that these women are hard to find.

Women don’t climb as hard as men, are on the most part not very bold and, often, climb only with their boyfriends. And this isn’t just because less women climb, it’s because most women have physical and mental characteristics that aren’t conducive to climbing 'hard'.

However – after talking more to those involved with the event – I concluded that the WCS is not about waving the ‘girls rock’ flag, nor is it about comparing women to men. The WCS, actually runs far deeper than this, and looks at the actual experience of climbing for a women. It raises the question of whether rock climbing for women is their own experience, or whether it is an experience shaped and structured by men.

I did one of my hardest sport redpoints recently. A good friend, Jen Olson, belayed me. On the route, there is a long move to a rest after the crux. If you can’t do the long move then you can’t rest after the crux. We were talking about this, and about how much we were struggling on the ridiculously steep cliffs of Rodellar, when Jen said something interesting: “If climbing was created by women, the grading system would be completely different. More technical climbs would have easier grades, burlier stuff harder grades, and this route would have been climbed and graded without the rest on the right!”

I thought about what she said, and she’s right: grades would be different. I wondered how much else would be different if it were women who pioneered the sport of rock climbing.

Grades, media coverage, climbing equipment and brands are mostly all shaped by men. Depending on how deep you want to go, you could even argue that the characteristics of what makes a “good climber” are created and promoted by men. This means that, in order for women to be 'good' climbers, they have to essentially copy these masculine characteristics.

This is all very philosophical, and quite far removed from your average day at the crag, but suffice to say that the WCS, on its most basic level, seeks to promote the idea that a person's climbing experience should be their own. For women, this might be more difficult than men.

On the day, the WCS will take key aspects of our climbing experience and discuss ways in which women can make these experiences their own. The idea is that with these skills they can take what they want from climbing, which will lead to better enjoyment of the sport.

Here is what Shauna says the day will include:

  • 3 climbing sessions
  • Self-limiting behaviours – exposed and addressed
  • Media representation panel discussion: involving you, the editors and women in the media
  • A different angle – pro climbers each present and coach a key area; angles, hold type, movement
  • The Gender Project: a revealing short film on the boyfriend and girlfriend climbing experience
  • Self coaching: three key points and one common device that can help you keep on improving, allowing you to help you
  • Dad and daughters/Moms and daughters workshops: Short talk on managing and nurturing these relationships to keep them positive and progressive
     

Unfortunately I can’t attend the event, but I have a good excuse: I’m going climbing!

But I look forward to hearing about it and I wish all the participants and organisers the best of luck. Also, a special thanks to Shauna, the brainchild and main organiser of the event and the Climbing Hangar in Liverpool

The Womens Climbing Symposium is part-sponsored by the BMC. 

Find out more here
 

 



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