Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Adventure Women

Traditionally, women were excluded from adventure and sporting activities. Although things have begun to change in the past 10 years, in many cultures the domain of adventure is still predominantly male. This affects not only individual adventurers, but also the notion of what outdoor adventure is. In the past, adventurers were more commonly male, and the way they went about achieving their goals was seen to be extremely masculine - the great white hunter. It has become increasingly obvious that women can make excellent adventurers, and in recent years there have been many examples of women achieving incredible goals.
I encountered this bit of information recently while working through an online course in Outdoor & Physical Education Studies.

Later that same day I saw the newest Citibank commercial, which features a woman climbing to the very top of a narrow rock tower and sufficiently blasts some still pervasive stereotypes about women's interests & capabilities. My first thought upon receiving that image was 'Wow, she's got guts. I'd be too scared to do that!'

Self-limiting belief with no truly solid ground - check.

At some point in my life I learned that I'm fragile, that it's good to be refined rather than rough (not even a little bit around the edges), that it's more important to follow the rules and get along with people than it is to dare trying something different and being someone in love with her uniquely creative self.

Given my lifelong habit of introspection, making those very clear distinctions is fairly easy most of the time; creating a new way of being that shatters deeply ingrained habits is the challenge.

This blurb about women making breakthroughs in Adventure also reminds me of an MTA subway ad I've seen a couple of times about "Breaking Boundaries... Educational Opportunities & New Careers... world-class women scientists working with outstanding CUNY students." I sat in my seat looking at that ad for a long time. My consciousness refused to let it sit well with me; they were trying too hard to convince me of something and I wasn't buying it. Women scientists.

I had it mind to be one of those once...

At the onset of my college career as a candidate for a B.S. in Zoology, I was automatically entered into the Collegiate Science & Technology Entry Program (C-STEP), the purpose of which is to "increase the number of students from under-represented groups who are pursuing professional licensure and careers in mathematics, science, technology and health-related fields." I wasn't sure what being in this program would do for me, but the opportunity to rent a laptop for the year at a very low cost occurred to me as a very sweet perk at the time.

Within the first few months of freshman year, I received an invitation to attend a C-STEP orientation meeting. Wanting to make a good first impression - because, you know, that's especially important in academic as well as professional settings - I dressed nicely, did my hair, donned my favorite jewelry, etc. and felt quite good, despite being a bit nervous from having no idea of what to expect.

The meeting place was a small classroom with the customary setup of aligned desks and a focal point of teacher-desk + chalkboard at the front of the room. When I arrived, there were a handful of kids sitting in a scatter plot throughout the space and the meeting facilitator was seated up front, primed to begin his spiel.

Other than a vague image of this man's face and his old-fashioned suit, there's only one thing I remember about this meeting. At one point, he asked us what our career goals were and each student answered in turn. When my turn came up, I talked about my vision of becoming a wildlife vet and working out in the wilderness (probably throwing in a comment about "orphan baby tigers" because I'd been inspired by that one show on Animal Planet and ever since held that up as a shining example of what I could do). He not only gave me the incredulous look-over, but proceeded to verbally challenge my statement.

"Really?" he said. "You?? Trudging around in the jungle, getting dirty, handling big wild animals?" This isn't entirely verbatim, but it's the gist of what he said. He just couldn't imagine me - petite, well-groomed, accessorized, female - in that kind of situation, and he was insistent on letting me - and everyone else in the room - know that.

While I didn't feel deterred at the time by his rudely ignorant commentary (not consciously, anyway), it eventually came to pass that I let the whole wildlife vet thing fall by the wayside.

We all get these messages - sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle - about what's acceptable and what's possible for us. Getting disentangled from those disempowering messages requires heightened self-awareness and the willingness to take new actions that reflect what you're actually committed to for yourself & your life.

Do I want to climb dangerously steep rock formations? Not necessarily. Shall I make it a point to blaze a trail through traditionally male-dominated fields? Meh. Am I still in the running towards becoming the next top woman scientist? No, thank you.

It's about becoming a whole, totally capable, consciously & intentionally ALIVE human being. And here's a kicker - you already are who you are becoming!

As a final note, when I Google-searched "woman adventure" the first three results were:

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