An Open Letter to Andrew Bisharat
If you’re an active member of social media and the climbing world, you probably know that Andrew Bisharat and I have fiercly disgareed on pretty much everything that has to do with gender and rock climbing. I recently wrote a message to Andrew expressing my thoughts. I’m sharing this with everyone because I think it’s an important and complex issue that we all have a lot to learn about. Please feel free to respond to this with your own thoughts and comments. Andrew Bisharat is a writer, editor, and climber based out of Colorado.
I read your comments on the Moja Gear article that Amanda wrote and I have a few things to say.
In any entry-level sociology, psychology, or gender studies class, we learn that things like our race and gender greatly inform how we see the world. I think you know that. I agree with you in that this does not prevent you from being able to have smart opinions about issues that involve groups outside of what you are. However, forming opinions of this nature that are not influenced by our privilege or bias require a lot of work — we have to learn and listen to the people within the group we’re speaking of. We also must do the work of looking at how society has affected the group we’re forming an opinion about. The way I see it, you did not do that work before forming your opinion on FFAs or writing the article.
The problem that I see in your approach is your unwillingness to listen to what people have to say that disagree or challenge you. Instead of taking opinions like Amanda’s (who is a member of the group you’re writing about) and saying: hmmm, what can I learn from this, how can I use this to inform myself further…you simply say that we are wrong. The comments* you made a while back on my Facebook post about sexism in climbing were not only degrading but they were in no way made in the spirit of curiosity and learning. It’s imperative for all of us to accept the fact that we cannot possibly fully understand what it’s like to be someone else unless we ask a lot of questions and listen really hard. And even after we’ve done a lot of learning, we still cannot escape our bias, but we have a much better chance at forming an opinion that is real.
If you want to speak on issues that are outside of what you are — in this case, women — that is fine, and you have the right to do that. But what you must do is inform yourself as much as possible before writing articles like the one about FFAs. Informing yourself requires asking women how they feel on the issue and setting aside your pre-formed opinion on the subject. This is hard work. In doing this, you will probably find that some women agree, and that others do not agree with the way you think. It is your job as a writer to not only state your bias, but to also include the opinions of the group you’re speaking about. This was lacking in your article.
I think that because you’re a man writing on women’s issues that you have a responsibility to do more research than you have done, just like I would have more work to do if I wanted to write something about, say, why Latina women are paid less than white women.
However, my underlying issue with your thesis about FFAs has nothing to do with your gender. I would take issue with it if it was a woman who said this, too. Here is what I see as a problem with what you’ve said:
To suggest that women are holding themselves back because they are over-emphasiszing the importance of their sends and not putting up enough first ascents is not only narrow-minded (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, I just can’t think of another word), but it is false. Let’s go back to my example of Latina women and pay wages. What you are saying is quite similar to if I were to suggest that the reason why Latina women don’t get paid the same as white women is because they don’t work as hard. Your thesis refuses to acknowledge that we live in a society (and climbing is not unaffected by our society) where women have been and still are held back in many ways. Pamela Shanti-Pack’s Facebook post about FFAs is a great example of this. She spoke of not being believed when she put up FAs, being harassed, having to get restraining orders, etc. Perhaps it is much harder for women to simply “go put up FAs” than your article suggests.
And to suggest that female climbers are responsible for holding themselves back is not only misinformed, but it’s also offensive.
I also disagree that the key to breaking down gender barriers in climbing is for women to put up more FAs and to downplay their first female ascents. I think that the way for women to empower themselves is to do whatever the fuck they want to do. Paige Classen is a great example of this — she thinks FFAs are lame, so she doesn’t report them. That’s badass. However, if another woman wants to report her FFA, that’s badass too. A lot of people will be inspired by both scenarios. One of them is not better or more empowering than the other. The power lies within these women doing whatever they want to do — regardless of what society and articles like yours are suggesting that they “should” do.
Do you know what I mean? I hope that I have explained myself in a way that gets you past thinking that I take issue with you simply because you’re a man. That is far from what’s happening. I think that you are a fine writer and that your heart is in the right place. These are just really tricky issues and we all have a lot to learn. I hope you have a great week and thank you for reading this. No pressure to get back to me if you’re busy.
Thank you, Georgie
*Andrew deleted the comments that he made on this post.
Update: Bisharat gave a response to this letter the day after I published this but he has deleted it. I have opted out of re-posting his response because it was so degrading, disrespectful, and in no way added to this important conversation. Bisharat is also now accusing me of editing this letter, saying that the letter you just read is different from what he initally received. He is reporting that the letter he received was “critical of him personally”. This is completely untrue and I have extensive documentation that proves this. Please contact me directly at email@example.com with any questions or to request information. Thank you.