Sexism in the Climbing Community

Stephanie Holt

Key Terms

· Mansplain (v): when a (man) explains (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.

· V4: The way bouldering climbs are graded is by a V-Scale. The easiest climbs are V0 and they can go all the way up V17 (or potentially higher one day)

· Crux Move: The ‘crux’ refers to the toughest move or sequence of moves of a climb

· Jug: a large hold that is easy to grip

· Bouldering: A style of climbing that is done closer to the ground and without ropes. Instead, climbers land on mats or pads for safety protection.

· Free Climbing: A style of climbing where only hands and feet are used on the rock. A rope is used as well but only for safety and climbers do not rely on it for progress.

· 5.15a: For rope climbing on big walls, a grading system is used that begins at 5.0 and goes all the way up to 5.15d (or potentially higher one day)

On cold winter days, when the real rocks are all frozen over and our hands are too numb to face them anyways, the local climbing gym is always packed. It is especially packed today because of the student discount they offer and because temperatures have yet to get about 25 degrees all week. I’ve been climbing for about two hours and I’m about maxed out for the day, but I decide to finish up my session out on a fairly easy and super fun V4. There’s a crowd around the section of the wall that I want to get on, but I recognize most of the people as climbers from the campus climbing gym that I work at, so I decide to give the problem one last go.

I hop onto the problem for my third time that day, expecting to flash it like the past few times. I cruise the crux move and then fall going to the jug at the top. I’m pumped and my fingers are raw and I know that by the time I’m falling on problems I can easily do, that its time to call it. I turn around to grab my chalk bag and head out, but before I can make it to the end of the mat I hear a fellow climber chime in with “Hey! you really just had to put your feet a little higher, I know you can get it!” I turn towards him just as he nods his head towards me and tells me to watch as he climbs it.

My blood begins to boil. Luckily, my climbing partner chimes in for me and informs the know-it-all climber that I have climbed that problem over a dozen times before. He blushes a little and apologizes to me and I simply walk away annoyed, without saying another word. After all, it’s not the first time I’ve had beta mansplained to me.

A few weeks later, I told my friend about the mansplaining incident. I expressed to her how mad it makes me when men interrupt my climbing with their beta, especially when those men have seen me climb before and know my capabilities. She rolled her eyes and told me she knows the feeling. She told me that just the other day she had been climbing a boulder problem that she had set in the gym when a male climber tried to tell her she was doing the problem wrong, that it was a bump and not a cross of the hands. From her position on the wall, while holding the crux move, she looked down and informed the climber that when she set the problem herself, she intended it to be a cross move. She said it was satisfying to watch the expression on his face when he realized he had tried to mansplain beta to the student manager and a setter of the gym.

These stories are all exhaustingly familiar to female climbers. We lose count of the amount of times that men interrupt us with their detailed versions of how to complete a climb just as we are working the problem, or redoing a problem we’ve already done. It shouldn’t really surprise us that the pervasive toxicity of masculinity seeps into even the most supportive and seemingly inclusive communities. With that being said, every time a male interjects my climbing with his beta, I am somehow still caught off guard.

The problem is that mansplaining, like most micro-aggressions, mostly goes unaddressed and unnoticed by the men who do it. I don’t believe that the men from my local climbing gym mean to belittle me, devalue me, or criticize my climbing abilities when they spray beta at me. Unfortunately, whether they intended it or not doesn’t really matter; The reality is that these are the harmful effects of mansplaining. There are psychological implications.

You see, interruptions of mansplaining are linked to power dynamics. Mansplaining reinforces stereotypes of gender inequality. It presumes that women know less, or are capable of less. And in climbing, mansplaining reinforces the idea that women cannot be as strong or as smart of climbers as men.

Of course, we’ve watched as female climbers have shattered the glass ceiling over and over again. Ashima Shiraishi became the youngest person and first female to climb a V15 boulder problem in 2016. Lynn Hill was the first person ever to free climb El Capitan in 1993. Most recently, Margo Hayes became the first woman to climb a 5.15a with La Rambla in Spain. Female climbers have clearly demonstrated that they are just as capable, if not more so, than men, but apparently that message has not quite made it back to many male climbers.

So what can we do to stop the mansplaining and end the belief that women are less capable than men altogether? Well first off, we can call it out.

Women: it is okay to say no, to say you do not want the beta, and to explain to men why it is inappropriate to spray unwanted beta at anyone, especially women, in the first place. But I am tired of asking women to solve the problems of men.

So instead I will tell men: it is your responsibility to recognize the space you take up and the point of privilege you speak from when you try and “just help out” female climbers. When you see someone mansplaining beta, or acting shocked that they had their ass kicked by a woman, remind them that the glass ceiling of climbing has already been shattered, and they won’t get any stronger trying to force women back down under it.

Stephanie Holt

Written by

Global Studies and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies. Activist & outdoor enthusiast.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade