How to Make the Outdoors Inclusive in Five Easy Steps
Or How to Make Your Business the Most Inclusive Business Ever in the Entire History of All Time Ever, Or How to be so Inclusive People Will Give You an Award for Being the Most Inclusive Business of All Time Ever in the History of All Time Immemorial
Everyone desperately wants to know: how can the outdoors be more inclusive? How? How??? Businesses are begging. They are getting on their hands and knees. They are pleading to people on the streets. Facebook has experienced an obscene uptick in Facebook posts with people wondering, inclusivity, where is it hiding? The elusive animal of inclusivity is not easy to spot in nature. It’s as rare as Bigfoot. Everyone is clamoring to snuff it out, and put it on their trophy shelf next to their “I love Women” awards and “I’m Not Racist” plaques.
CEOs of REI, Athleta, Adidas, LuLuLemon, and more are standing on street corners with signs that read, “Will pay $2 an hour for inclusivity brainstormer.” Are you a person of color? Are you transgender? Are you a woman? Are you old? Are you fat? Are you houseless? Heck, are you an immigrant? Are you any kind of disenfranchised person? Then the outdoor industry wants YOU to lead them to marketing success. Never mind all that mumbo jumbo and political jargon of social or economic forces. The outdoors is for everybody! You just step outside and the sun is shining and your cup is suddenly full! The cup runneth overth in empowerment and choices – of gear design and workshops in which you will need extra calories to burn.
SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: if you are a woman who is houseless and fleeing an abusive relationship, these workshops may not be for you.
Let’s just talk about being a “Force of Nature,” and let’s use words like “empowerment,” in any context. Let’s play mad libs and insert “empowerment” wherever it sounds good. Let’s use phrases like “adventurers, makers, and rule-breakers.” But if you are standing in front of our store with a sign that protests anything we do we may call the police and respectfully escort you off the premises. We like to keep the peace.
This just in from the outdoor industry’s headquarters! They are closing gaps in gear design – forget about changing the wage gap that might actually be preventing anyone who is not a white, cisgender, male from even being able to buy that gear. Let’s give every woman every opportunity with over 1,000 classes and then surely, this will mean we are putting women front and center – leading the way in our return on investment.
Oh, and did we mention our intentions? Forget about impact for a second. Follow us, now – our intentions are honestly, bigley great. We really, really, truly, deeply want to make this amorphous, non-specific thing we call “outside,” the largest level playing field on earth. Never mind pesky and boring issues like race, class, education, and access to health care and child care: if you aren’t getting outside it’s because you aren’t taking advantage of all our opportunities! Obviously, 1,000 classes are a lot of opportunities! Are you a woman who has to choose domestic responsibility over paid work? We are here to make you feel empowered for half of a day, from noon to 4pm. We are zealous about projecting equality without addressing what that actually means. We are after all corporate and really don’t owe you anything. This is actually us doing you a favor. So you should be thankful, grateful, and praise us. Give us cookies. We deserve it. We are actually going above and beyond your expectations of us, right?
There is great skill in co-opting women’s movements, the language of empowerment, and the imagery of diversity to sell it back to us. Sure, for some women buying gear and different sizes of fashionable clothing items, or technical wear is helpful. But let’s not confuse this with addressing the nuances of political movement, which is necessary for true inclusivity and diversity on all fronts. Equality comes from involvement in the community, volunteering at a women’s shelter, advocating for trans people, marching for black lives and immigrant rights, or voting for a president who actually sees women as human beings, to name a few.
Marketing cannot help people who are poor, politically disenfranchised, and abused. Those whose lives are affected by these things on a daily basis are concerned with surviving, not recreating in the outdoors. Economic and social forces are the reasons why white people find it easier to get outside. Upper and middle class white cis males, more than any other demographic, (upper and middle class white cis women are right behind them), have access to opportunities that set them up to have the mental health, the physical ability, the free time (because time is money), and the literal money to do these activities.
At the end of the day, to think about one’s physical and mental health is a luxury some cannot afford (in the currency of extra minutes, extra calories, and actual disposable income). Economic and social forces are what keep the outdoors white. Race, class, education, and access to health and child care are issues we should be addressing. It’s not because people are not seeing themselves in advertisements, although, sure, that could have a small, encouraging effect on those small numbers of people who are minorities who have status-quo balls in their court.
But if we are really trying to empower people, like actually empower, like the definition of empower, then we have to dig deeper. It’s not about marketing. It’s about making change on a systemic level. Planned inequality is what we are dealing with here and it’s no easy fix. No matter how many times you ask the question and look for the answer you won’t find it unless you are willing to do the nitty gritty work of political action. We have to get our hands dirty, metaphorically speaking.