LumberJack vs. LumberJill – Who would survive the great outdoors?

Kaitlyn W.

Before getting into detail about gender socialization, and the many variables that affect women’s decision to participate in outdoor activities, I would first ask you to close your eyes and picture the last extreme outdoor commercial or video that you witnessed. Most likely the flashback that you just had involved men participating in some form of outdoor activity. I recently attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Playhouse, which featured the best outdoor enthusiasts and environmentally conscious films from the past year, all of which lacked women’s involvement. I contribute my observation to the recent classes in gender that I have attended, which have opened my eyes to how few women there are who participate or facilitate outdoor activities.

A prime example is our local Tree-Go in Mactaquac, which includes an outdoor aerial adventure course run by males. It is not that the company only allows male employees, there is just a lack of female interest. Could it be fear, social pressures or just DNA that intimidates women from participating and leading outdoor activities? An article published in 2006, underlines studies and other written work in an attempt to explain women’s lack of desire to push their boundaries in the outdoors. The article indicates that there are technical outdoor skills that are described as “the process of manipulating equipment to accomplish a physical task in the outdoors” (Warren & Loeffler, 2006), which are intimidating to women.

It is my opinion that societal influences play a large role in how women and men perceive outdoor activities. It begins at a young age, when boys and girls are classified into two different gender groups, they are placed into activities that emphasize their differences and teach them stereotypical characteristics. A prime example of gender socialization that occurs with youth activities is the Boys and Girl Scouts Organization. In 2004 the United States provided both Scouts programs with handbooks, where gender influences can be observed on both their covers. The cover of the Boy Scouts handbook displays boys white water rafting and men mountain climbing, whereas the Girl Scouts version has a collage of feminine articles such as ballet slippers, sewing machine, clothing, art supplies and a compass.

It is these types of images and activities that influence females in believing that they are traditionally required to become domesticated. Warren and Loeffler (2006) indicate that a feminist approach to the lack of women’s participation in outdoor activities is contributed to a “historically hegemonic male-based system of outdoor adventure education”. Within society gender appropriate behaviors in children are continually praised, whereas gender inappropriate behaviors, such as female participation in male sports is socially penalized. Females are socialized as the weaker sex and when they do have the capabilities to outperform men, they are ostracized and accused of emasculating men.

Is it possible that history plays a role in where we choose to participate in physical activity? After all the outdoors has always been men’s territory, as it was their duty to hunt, build and use the great outdoors to provide for their family. My inquires regarding women and our choices for physical activity come from the development of my views on gender since I was a child. Growing up in a traditional nuclear family, which consisted of a stay-at-home mom, a working dad and a little sister, our gender roles were stereotypically defined. Both my sister and I participated in female sports, and helped mom with household duties, although we rarely had the choice or the desire to pursue more “male activities”. It was not until my late teens that outdoor activities became an interest. I have realized that there are few females who are willing to spend time outdoors, and learn physically demanding skills in order to do things without a male present.


Warren, K., & Loeffler, T. A. (2006). Factors that influence women’s technical skill development in outdoor adventure. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning6:2, 107-119. doi: 10.1080/14729670685200791


3 responses

  1. Kaitlyn – I think this post draws attention to and thought about which spaces or contexts are gendered or perceived as gendered. I think acknowledging that the outdoors or wilderness spaces may be considered as a domain of men and giving thought to the role that socialization may play in this perspective is a first step toward increasing girls’ and women’s participation in outdoor physical activities. One might argue that Scouts Canada now being open to girls provides them with an opportunity to learn and practice more outdoor skills than they may have had in the past and commercial recreation opportunities such as Tree-Go also also provide adventure opportunities in a group setting (which may appeal to girls/women).

  2. Hi Kaitlyn, I have to agree with this and also with Charlene’s comment above! Activities are certainly moving towards encouraging the participation of both genders, although there are many areas still today that are not gender neutral.

    I participated in Scouts as a female and I think it really opened me up to more physical/outdoor experiences… one of them being Horseback Riding (HBR). I think often times people consider HBR as a very feminine domain (and the competition scene certainly demonstrates this), however the daily maintenance requires you to get quite dirty and labour physically, hauling water buckets, hay, and mucking manure. I think that my early experiences in Scouts (which I participated in prior to HBR) and my experiences of hanging out with my dad a lot have helped me to foster my interest in the outdoors and getting “dirty”/working hard physically. I think your article does provide great evidence for the fact that we participate in the activities that we have been socialized around / activities we feel like we CAN participate in versus what we are innately interested in. I believe this is true for me because although my family has encouraged me to be active / involved in the outdoors in some aspects – there are other activities involving physical activity (like going to the gym) or the outdoors (camping) that I have zero interest in…. I am only interested in the activities I was presented with/encouraged to partake in.

    I am fortunate enough that my dad encouraged me to participate in traditionally non-female activities because I have gained so much from them. Who knows what other activities I may have gotten into without his direction… Kind of a weird thought to ponder.
    Thanks for a great read!

  3. Kaitlyn great post, you bring up some very interesting points on the perception of women in our society. It is often though that women do not participate in outdoor activities, when in reality just like men there are all different kinds of women in our society, some may not like the outdoors but that doesn’t mean that should be the generalization for all women. The ways in with we are raised often does have a big impact on how we are socialized, and the role models we see as children often do have an impact as to what we aspire to be like. So the historic view on women being incapable to do a large number of activates still creeps through the generations as that is what is demonstrated to many of us as children. Even though I am not really the nature activities kind of girl its still surprising that there is such an imbalanced perception of these activities, its clear that we still need to work at breaking the gender stereotypes in our society.

    Julie M.

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s