Climbing through Gender Stereotypes and Benevolent Sexism

Note: for those who don’t understand climbing terms I’m putting out there. Here’s a climbing dictionary.

Getting ready to lead a climb as a warm up outside a cave in Malaysia, a male, local to the area, comes up to me and asks, “ You’re going to climb? But you’re a girl,” I clench my jaw, never knowing what or how to respond back to such a statement, my male friend, belayer and coach swoops in and saves the day by responding, ” don’t look down on her small frame and build, she is stronger than she looks and fearless too, females are actually better climbers than we(men) are.” The guy nods his head and silently watches us all climb.

Rock climbers are predominantly males whether it is indoor or outdoor, women have quit climbing because of how high the level of testosterone is there in the gym. Being in the gym, staring at a route in frustration, I catch myself sometimes blaming myself being a female with weaker bodies and having a shorter reach and the next moment I’ll see another fellow climber a few inches shorter than me climbing the same route and flashing it with ease, giving me no excuse and shaming myself for blaming on my gender.

People think indoor climbing is about brawn and powering it through, as a matter of fact, in an article titled Rock it, says climbing is about full body strength, balance, grace and flexibility; women tend to be better climbers as we naturally have better weight-to-strength ratios and are more conscious of using technique over brawn. Climbing is also about perseverance, problem-solving and self-confidence; women seem to better appreciate the Zen-ness of indoor rock climbing.

Fellow climber, Ester Packard-Hill, wrote an article about gender stereotypes and sexism in climbing; ‘playing the game’. You get a lot of ‘for a girl’ comments, hearing those kinds of comments frustrates a lot of female athletes, not just climbers. You don’t hear people say, “you played really well, for a guy.” Most images of female climbers you see in magazines are women climbing in their sports bra. The emphasis of female sex-appeal is across many sports like volleyball, tennis, track, golfers and the list goes on and on: tight, short, and barely covering anything. Most sports rely on women developing traditional masculine qualities, Ester explains that female athletes promote their femininity because of fear of being questioned of their sexuality.

In a blog, writer Georgie Abel asked almost 100 female climbers to tell a story about notable experience they had while climbing with a male. They tend to make assumptions that women are weaker; uncomfortable with highballs and trying hard boulder problems or leading a route. Thinking the girls don’t want to do problem-solving and start showing or shouting beta to them. some of them would discourage women from trying hard, heady, or powerful climbs. If a guy repeats hard boulder problems, they are praised at. If a girl repeats hard boulder problem, they would downgrade it. There are also stories of males being cocky, obnoxious and/or egoistic, I have seen men quit climbing just because a woman could ascend a route and they could not.

Of course, there are positive experiences climbing with men, after 3 years of climbing at the wall climbing gym at UNB Lady Beaverbrook Gym, I realized the regulars there refuse to let females blame their femininity, there is no judgement in there, no pride at stake, there is however, encouragement to push through your own limits, focus on yourself and not let anyone else talk down to you, especially yourself.


Rock it: Literally climbing the walls, women are finding they’re built to excel when it comes to indoor rock climbing. (1993, 01).Flare, 15, 23-23,71. Retrieved from


5 responses

  1. I’m really glad you wrote about climbing, as I’ve started to get into it and I absolutely love it! I appreciate experienced climbers and how they have such control over their body, and how it appears like they’re just floating across the wall, and it pushes me to become better. I agree, the attitudes of everyone at the UNB gym are really great, and I’ve never had a bad experience with anyone yet (and I hope that continues!).

    I’m not necessarily “vertically challenged”, but my friends who have tried climbing with me are quite a bit shorter than me, and they have expressed time and time again that they’re “too short” or “not strong enough” to complete a route. But I’ve seen experienced girls who are shorter than them complete the same route no problem. It’s not that they aren’t strong enough, it’s just that they need to complete it a different way.

    Of course, with anything, women will be sexualized in media, but I think one positive thing with it in the case of climbers, they tend to show the women as “strong” as opposed to weak and fragile.

    I hope to become a regular climber, and I’m shamelessly dragging my girl-friends along with me, so hopefully more and more females will take on climbing as their sport!

  2. Really great post !

    I really enjoy your paragraph that spoke about the term “for a girl”. I have come across the “compliment” (as some think it is) of being told you’re really good a rugby for a girl. I remember when I first started playing rugby and thinking that it was actually a compliment, until I really began noticing that I was better than some boys, and that “youre really good for a girl” was nothing but an insult. I think it is a phrase commonly used unconsciously by some people that associate high intensity/dangerous sports as male sports, and don’t realize that the “compliment” is very gender stereotypical.

    I thought your closing paragraph, where you talk about regular climbers at the UNB gym refusing to let females blame their femininity, was really great! I’ve always thought that a lot of discrimination within sport against females was primarily displayed in people who didn’t partake in the sport. For example, I tend to get a more surprised response from people who don’t play rugby rather than from people who do (male or female). Non players tend to use terms such as “good for a girl” , “wow, Id never be able to play its so rough and manly”, where as players tend to use “you’re really good”. Males who do play the sport tend to be more supportive of female rugby players and do not put down their abilities just because they are female.

    I’ve never tried rock climbing but I definitely am interested now !
    Awesome blog

  3. Great post Faith!

    I have also recently become a climber myself. Twice a week, I volunteer with a young boy who has Developmental Coordination Disorder. Thus, he struggles with most activities that require simultaneous movement of more than one limb and as a consequence does not enjoy participating in physical activity. One day, we decided we would give Wall Climbing at the LB Gym a try. Let me tell you… He absolutely loved it! I was so thrilled. Since then, we have been back multiple times and I have witnessed a drastic improvement in his upper body strength, timing, coordination, problem solving skills, and the list goes on.

    Needless to say, wall climbing is a great sport because it is equally appealing to both genders. I found this short clip that I really enjoyed: It really highlights the fact that you do not need “bulging muscles to reach the top” as they mention. Personally, I really enjoy the problem solving that is involved with rock climbing. As you mentioned, height and muscle mass may be positive contributors, however, it is really the matter in which you go about to reach the top that is the most influential. It is really quite spectacular to watch individuals climb difficult routes so effortlessly at the LB gym!

    Moreover, I think it is unfortunate that female wall climbers let themselves be exploited by posing in their sport bras to draw attention to this great sport. In my opinion, rock climbing is a sport that is very “up and coming” and I hope to see the ideology that this is a male-dominated sport disintegrate over time.

    I hope you continue to climb and continue to prove to others that you do not just climb well “for a girl”.

    – Jessica

  4. Hey Faith! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflections with us.

    I can see how you’ve connected several topics discussed in class to an activity that you are passionate about. You’ve discussed with ease a phenomenon that I have had a hard time describing in my own studies–benevolent sexism. It seems that well-intentioned but misguided attitudes can create an atmosphere that constrains women’s participation in sport and leisure in less direct ways. Men may recognize that sexism is wrong, but may still feel like women need protecting to some degree– this is paternalism. Some may recognize this as ‘white knighting’ as well. All three of these examples demonstrate that some men still tackle with the concept of women’s autonomy; that they are free to engage with sports and leisure outside of the validation (either positive or negative) of a man. I am really glad to hear that the UNB facility is a space that you feel is free from these attitudes. Also thank you for including a dictionary, it was very informative.

    Again, thanks for sharing
    All the best,

  5. Good post Faith,

    I really enjoyed your post because it talked about some gender issues that come up a lot in many different sports. Your personal experience where the guy came up to you and questioned whether you were going to the climb the wall because you are a girl is an issue that comes up far too much in today’s society. Although we are generally doing better, there are still some athletes who look down on other because they are girls. I feel that sports that are predominantly male orientated tend to be guilty of this issue more than others. I play soccer, and on many teams that I have played on you are guaranteed to have one or two of the athletes that make gender related jokes about females. “That was a nice goal….for a girl”. This phrase is one that I have heard on numerous occasions and it frustrates me every time I hear it. It should be a good goal whether you are male or female. This type of sexism is going to be tough to eradicate because the people who say these negative comments have either been brought up this way or have been accustomed to it through friends and the media.

    Female sex appeal is an issue we have discussed in class and my general opinion of it is that women are forced to do this to generate some form of interest or excitement for the media. If you are a professional female athlete you shouldn’t have to sexualize your sport just to get recognized; but this is how it is in today’s society. One of the positives for sports like climbing and running is that you tend to see females on magazine covers showing their strength and athleticism, rather than trying to engage men with a sexual cover. I agree with you that women are okay with this because they are scared of having their sexuality put on the line. Again, having female athletes being sexualized for pictures and videos shows that our society still hasn’t got over this gender issue. Unfortunately I don’t think this will change in the near future because of the way female sports stars are portrayed and how the media deals with these situations.

    Oliver J

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