Cedar Wright’s Advice to Women: If You Want to be Taken Seriously as a Climber “Don’t Wear Booty Shorts!”
Photo credit goes to Alex Aristei and we blended Cedar's face and the Pope in there too for a nice moral, non-sexual effect.
At Terra Incognita Media headquarters, to get in the mood to write this essay, “Doll Parts,” by Hole and “Cool Girl,” by Tove Lo was playing on repeat.
Wright dug himself a hole (without realizing it) on episode 106 of the Enormocast, a climbing podcast hosted by Chris Kalous. He tells women that if they want to be taken seriously as climbers that they shouldn’t wear booty shorts. This kind of humor deflects the real issue and reinforces rape culture. Blaming women for not being taken seriously because of their choice of clothing is akin to saying that a woman who was raped was asking for it. This places the blame on the victim. Without realizing it, Wright, through his language, has hit the nail on the head: we cement value to women based on what they wear. Women are held to value judgments solely based on their sex appeal through the white, hetero, cis male gaze.
And gaining respect is a losing battle. If women wear something that is deemed “sexy” you will not be taken seriously. If you wear modest clothes you will be dubbed the frumpy-cat-lady-feminazi, and still be an open target for the slut label. There’s nothing wrong with being sexy, or a frumpy-cat-lady-feminazi. The wrong is that these tropes stem from a culture that finds women and minorities to be disposable if they are not an appropriate serving of sexy. This is at its core an impossible standard to achieve, and should be a standard in which every member of our community works fiercely to abolish.
We need to question the way we view women and their bodies, and start honoring their free will through our language and our actions. I encourage Wright, and anyone else who makes jokes like this, to read up on the slut-walk and look into sex-positive movements. Slut-shaming occurs too frequently and it has violent, sometimes deadly, consequences. Samantha Gailey Geimer is probably the most famous victim of sexual shaming because it was Roman Polanski who sexually assaulted her. She was thirteen. The Unslut Project is important because it brings light to teenage sexuality in a healthy, productive way. In our culture, girls and women have no control over whether or not they will be labeled a slut. You could be called a slut for no reason. But it’s not even cool to call a woman a slut if she does frequently have sexual encounters, or she does wear a certain kind of dress. It is not up to the world to shame a woman based on the choices they make.
The language Wright uses may not have material consequences, but it can lead to an atmosphere where women feel insecure, uncomfortable, or unsafe. When this kind of speech is tolerated it encourages violence towards women. Political and social equality will not come if we continue to speak of women as morally-inept hookers who wear booty shorts.
Though Wright is reinforcing the idea that women are objects up for scrutiny right down to their sports bras, it also needs to be said that Cedar Wright is not the problem. The problem is that we are all influenced in subtle ways by our culture that is brimming with rampant oversexualization of women in media. This is not any one woman’s fault either. It is the fact that we live in a unnervingly stationary heteropatriarchy, and it affects the way girls come to know themselves and what others think of them. In “School’s Out: Slut Shaming and the Empowered Young Woman,” Sharday Mosurinjohn explains that the value of SlutWalk is that it publicizes “the connections between slut-shaming and other forms of sexual violence that are visited on all sorts of people located differently because of their class, ability, race, sexuality and so on.”
Kathy Karlo, Brooklyn-based rock climber and founder of for the love of climbing, published an essay one year ago about the misogynist vitriol she received about a photograph that Ron Nance snapped of Karlo on her first attempt climbing Human Chew Toy, 5.11d offwidth, in Stone Fort, Tennessee. “I was wearing a sports bra and jeans,” Karlo writes. “I’ve unapologetically posted many climbing photographs on social media channels; in some of them I’m wearing sports bras. Heck, some of them I’m wearing occasional booty shorts,” she asserts. Karlo describes going back and forth in her head, venting to her friends, and trying to rationalize all the disparaging comments she received that turned her into a human chew toy of judgmental contempt that she tried to ignore – but she decided the topic can’t be ignored. She didn’t stay quiet about it.
This kind of abuse should not be swept under the rug. Many thanks and deep gratitude to Karlo for speaking up and using her platform to bring awareness to this important issue. Through her essay, Karlo brings light to slut-shaming: the act of criticizing a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity, or for behaving in ways that someone thinks are associated with her real or presumed sexual activity. It ain’t nobody’s fucking business what a woman does with her body. Period. The end. Can you tell Terra Incognita Media supports birth control, Planned Parenthood, and pro-choice?
Karlo points to our American culture that revels in stigmatizing women for what they wear, how they talk, how they walk, heck, how they climb! “Hey, pretty lady, I like how you climb.” Ew. Gross. No. Back-up. Karlo’s brave stance is a voice in the dark about how slut-shaming is detrimental to women’s empowerment and equality. Speaking up is not easy. Emily Lindin, founder of the Unslut Project, admits in an interview with Bitch Magazine that though responses were overwhelmingly positive, she also gets regular rape and death threats. “I think it’s important to mention that because when I’m encouraging other women to share their stories as part of the project, I always encourage them to be anonymous if they think at all there’s a risk that someone could identify themselves in a story and retaliate against them,” Lindin continues, “It really breaks my heart that that’s the state of things right now, but it proves the project needs to exist.”
This shit is nothing new. A woman working at a gear shop is told by a male co-worker that her voice won’t be taken seriously because she has a nice ass. A man says he can’t work with a woman because he is too sexually attracted to her. A woman is sitting in Biology class and her fellow male student says that her cleavage is distracting him from concentrating on the dissection. Let’s turn the focus away from the victim of this sexualization and work towards changing the way we view, think about, and interact with women. Let’s build healthy, safe spaces in our community.
Being sexualized by our climbing partners should not be portrayed as something as innocent as your fly being unzipped. In the book, “Asking For It,” the author, Tasha Fierce, writes that “Rape is presented as an abstract threat to women, the way climate change is a threat to the earth – it’s a frightening specter we all live with, and we must change our behavior in hopes of warding it off, but you can’t really pin it on anyone in particular.” Wright’s language is the starting point for understanding the deep pit of rape culture. Sexual assault, sexual harassment, or rape jokes are so frequent in our culture that we have perhaps become desensitized to it. We may be so desensitized to rape culture that the Enormocast’s live audience actually laughed at Wright’s disparaging rhetoric.
Wright continued the harm by encouraging women to be modest, wear something baggy, and joked about handing his wife a “climbing burka” to wear to the crag. You done fucked up big time, funny man. This is an overflowing trivialization of women’s issues, and reinforces negativity and violence towards Muslim women.
The term “burka” is used in this context from a racialized, imperialistic, and gendered standpoint. It is important that in our everyday lives we strive to challenge imperial white supremacy even in our language, not reinforce it. In her essay, "'Good', and 'Bad' Muslim Citizens: Feminists, Terrorists, and U.S. Orientalisms," Sunaina Maira writes, "Feminist critics Minoo Moallem and Laura Nader argue that the 'Muslim Woman,' especially the veiled woman, is a foundational trope for Orientalism and colonialism. In the post-9/11 period, too, notions of the assimilability of Muslim women and men are intertwined with gendered discourses of neoliberal citizenship and imperial nationalism that are couched in rhetorics of Western modernity, democracy, and the 'American way of life.'" Jokes like this come from a place of an American imperialist attitude where people assume that they can have an opinion on another culture’s practices. This joke also harbors criticism and judgment towards a way of dress that is not up for opinion or debate by white westerners. This flippant comment is a reflection of how little is understood when it comes to the intersectional oppressions that women face.
To illustrate further, we’ll use Alex Honnold as an anecdote because everyone loves him. We love him. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t featured in Reel Rock 10 in a short film that had many women climbers disappointed (but not surprised) with founders, Pete Mortimer and Josh Lowell. The film was about Horseshoe Canyon Hell’s 24 hour climbing competition where climbers are challenged to climb as many routes as possible in 24 hours. You bet Andrew Bisharat wrote a piece about it in National Geographic’s adventure blog because he jizzes all over anything bro-club.
One second, I just puked looking at all of Bisharat’s writing on Nat Geo’s blog.
Ok, back to it. Of course, like any bro, Bisharat leaves no mention of Honnold’s female climbing partner. Well, not surprisingly, neither did the short film. The film focused on Honnold slaying routes and fending off the so-called “underdog” opponents, Nik Berry and Mason Earle, who are no underdogs at all. The two hold impressive climbing resumes. So, were there any women in the film at all? Why yes, as screaming, drunk groupies. This is no criticism of the women who were drunk and screaming. I love to scream and get drunk on occasion. I even like a good, drunk, karaoke session, where I make a fool out of myself singing, “Suzie Q” by CCR. It’s awkward as fuck and I love it.
Filmmakers are intentional about everything. I would never want to be so cruel as to say that the dudes behind this cinematically flat storyline were unintentional about the depiction of women. It was very intentional to leave out Honnold’s female climbing partner. It was intentional to barely show any women giving their all in the competition. It was intentional to drive home the message that women’s place in climbing is solely to be inebriated, cheerleader-fangirls for zee Honnold. But Honnold is innocent right? He just lives a quiet life, opts out of the party at the end of the night, goes back to his humble, jumbo sprinter van and sweeps in peaceful contemplation. In a conversation with Honnold two years ago after this film aired, I asked him about Reel Rock 10. He immediately got it. “Oh, you mean how there were no women in the films?” Honnold says bluntly as we sit in the retail area of Planet Granite Portland, “Yeah, my sister brought that up too.” He didn’t have much more to say.
Comments like Wright’s that admonish women for their choice of clothing, and films where women are framed as bimbos leave no question as to whether or not our slice of climbing life is untouched by sexism. When the same tired narratives are told, the same flippant voices are heard, the same (usually white male) bodies are in action, a great portion of our community is ignored and silenced. Pro-climbers or not, we are all responsible for shaping safe spaces for our community. Too often, the emotional labor of educating our community to the reality of racism and sexism falls on the shoulders of the most marginalized. This can be a very heavy burden. All of the rhetorical aversions and desperate rationalizations that people often throw at women for standing up for their autonomous space gets exhausting. The industry is stagnate and slow to real change because the poster boys of climbing take up the majority of the space. The question is, are they willing to correct themselves and be advocates for women and minorities taking up more space? Thankfully, women like Kathy Karlo are here to re-write the narrative and create that space.
Kathy Karlo's short film, for the love of climbing, won an award at No Man's Land Film Festival in 2016. No Man's Land Film Festival was founded by our good friend, Aisha Weinhold, to highlight impressive women in the outdoor community. Be sure to get your tickets so you don't miss this year's festival coming atcha in September in Carbondale, Colorado! If you can't make it, don't worry, this is a traveling show and will be making stops all over the nation. Follow the links above to find out when they are coming to a town near you.