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No Man's Land Aims to Dismantle Expectations

No Man's Land Aims to Dismantle Expectations

Photos courtesy of Michelle Smith

The second annual all-women adventure film festival, No Man’s Land, premiered last week in Carbondale, Colorado to a sold-out audience. Local families, friends, and supporters came out to view films that featured women exploring, adventuring, and living out their passions. Aisha Weinhold, the found of NML, made it happen with electric success despite the early naysayers that told her that she would have no luck finding enough material to exclusively showcase adventurous women. With submissions rolling in, Aisha proved those shortsighted, nonbelievers wrong – big time.  NML will welcome 2017 with a jam packed schedule with showings in numerous venues throughout the Pacific Northwest, various places all over the country, as well as Canada and Sweden.

Committed to building a strong community for women of the outdoors, Aisha hosts an evening of beers and discussion every night before the official festival screening. Dubbed “Ladies’ Night,” this casual and friendly evening encourages women to come together and discuss what it means to be a woman in the outdoors, our relationships to each other, and how gender comes into play, or not, when getting after it.

Knowing full well that discussing gender would not be complete without men getting involved, Aisha planned the first ever “Men’s Night,” which provides a space for men to commune and candidly discuss the importance of an all-women film festival, as well as any subjects related to gender stereotypes, limitations, and expectations.

This year, Sam Feuerborn, a self-proclaimed feminist (kudos, Sam), facilitated the evening. Nine men attended and Sam reported that most of the conversation was directed at concepts such as agency vs. empowerment. Agency is the ability for a person, or agent, to act for herself or himself. 

Common ways women are denied agency or are undermined:

  • When men speak on behalf of women, they deny them agency. Instead, men should allow women to speak for themselves.
  • Dismissing or lowering the value of a work created by a woman, as is the case with Miriam Underhill, along with a slew of other cases not just limited to the mountaineering realm

The group that attended Men's Night discussed how to be encouraging and supportive towards women in the outdoors without crossing over into condescending territory. How do you offer beta without mansplaining? Good question. A great place to start would be to ask if the person wants beta in the first place.

A tried and true strategy to be a male feminist ally is to interrupt friends when you hear sexist comments or bear witness to sexist behavior. The more we interrupt, the less often they will occur. You also have start talking to your peers of privilege (also known as white male friends). It may take some uncomfortable pauses and silences, but getting conversations going about feminism and how the patriarchy affects all of us would help. A lot.

The women of “Ladies’ Night” revealed a provocative notion: that many women grow up thinking that they are not a “girl’s girl,” or that they didn’t get along with girls growing up so they tended to form bonds with boys. The idea of being the “token girl climber” also came up. The “token girl climber” is the insidious and ugly feeling that a woman might get when she has been the one and only woman in the group of all guys climbing and hanging out, and suddenly another woman enters the dynamic. Many women around the circle of Ladies’ Night admitted to feeling as if they were in competition when a new woman entered the picture. They felt the heat of sizing each other up as if there could only be one “cool, badass, climber chick” in the equation.

This sense of competition can be found in any realm of a woman’s life, not just climbing, of course. From an early age women are taught by our society to undercut one another. We live in a society that teaches women that their value and worth depends on how they are received by men. This impulse women feel to self-promote and respond with indirect aggression towards one another is indicative of our culture - a culture that teaches women to degrade each other in order to make themselves look better. But how exhausting is it to have to constantly tear others down in order to build yourself up? It is a recipe for the worst kind of failure. This warped behavior only backfires and leads women plummeting into a deep hole of self-loathing and insecurity.

Even more despairing is the other side of the story: that we might not be competing with each other, but that we are competing ourselves. A woman might see another woman enter the room and do a comparison analysis. She may think the woman has better hair, prettier eyes, and cuter Prana yoga pants. Instead of seeing another human walking through the world we see what we aren’t. We see that we are not as pretty, smart, friendly, lovable, funny. This projection is detrimental to our own growth, power, and worth.

What is empowerment? It's not a Dove ad campaign. It's not learning how to lean in. If we really want to empower ourselves as women in the world we have to empower ourselves through our thoughts and actions.  We have to empower all women through our thoughts and actions. If we want to empower ourselves we must pierce through the dirty filter of a life lived to compete and compare. We must see each other as teammates, equals, friends, teachers, mentors, and allies. In order to dismantle the patriarchy we have to exhume ourselves of this nasty habit of tireless scrutiny. We are taught that women are innately catty or dramatic. However, this view only plays into patriarchal stereotypes and damages our ability to see the best in ourselves and others.

In these conversations we need to realize what we are still not talking about. We need to work towards inclusion of all genders. Gender and sex are not binaries, cut and dry. Gender and sex exist on a spectrum. It is time to start thinking about gender as something else besides “this or that,” “black and white,” or “male and female.” Our world relies on flawed logic - that we can only choose from two categories. However, once we free ourselves from binary thinking we will unveil the possibilities, the advancements, and the revelations necessary to live in a truly equal world.


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