In a conversation a few weeks ago, a climber friend of mine described herself as “not super-girly.” Her expanded definition of that was:
I like cute clothes as much as the next girl, but I’d rather spend my money on new rock shoes, or spend my time hiking somewhere rad to go climbing … so sometimes the cute clothes and hair suffer. But the fun factor is pretty high! Is it bad that one time a dead bee fell out of my hair after being out in the Creek for five days?
My first thought was, That sounds like a lot of the women I know, who climb, trail run, mountain bike, backpack, and ski, and usually their favorite $150 shoes are downturned and have sticky rubber, or clip into bike pedals. I wouldn’t even try to act like I can understand the pressure to maintain a balance between being pretty and pretty rad, or how rare it is to be like my friend Susan, whose husband Mick describes her as “a chick who could pick up a chainsaw during the day and put on a dress at night.”
I was thinking being a guy in the outdoors is a lot more straightforward. You wear pants and a t-shirt to go climbing, and if you’re going out on a date later, you shower and put on pants and a t-shirt, or possibly a shirt with buttons and a collar on it, depending on the restaurant. Dudes are dudes, right? And then I caught myself playing First Aid Kit’s “Emmylou” while driving around in my van. More than once. Like 100 times in the span of four or five days.
Then I remembered a conversation last fall with a friend, in which she said I fell on the feminine side of the masculine-feminine spectrum (making me, I suppose, not super-manly). I believe this comes from having long hair, a scarcity of chest hair, constantly wearing open-toed footwear, and being somewhat in touch with my emotions. But then she said in Portland, I was quote, a real man, unquote. So I don’t know what to think of myself or the men of Portland.
I think there are other dude-bros who will unashamedly blubber at the sight of a puppy, right? And who will listen to bands whose lead singer is a woman, and are not afraid to gush about sunsets, but can build a fire or a bombproof rappel anchor in the dark, or change a car tire or shorten a bike chain.
But try selling outdoor gear to a man. Easy, right? No company feels like they have to do anything special to men’s gear, or “masculinize” it. Yoga is arguably maybe the most feminine (or just female-dominated) of any active pursuit, but you don’t see any companies making yoga mats with patterns on them that look like cascades of hammers or football helmets or beer mugs, to encourage men by saying, “It’s OK, dude. You can own one of these and still love Home Depot.”
But friends of mine, who wear dresses but also drive trucks, build fires, and know their way around hardware stores are part of the target market for women’s gear. And women’s gear is great when you consider it didn’t even exist not so long ago, and women just used ill-fitting men’s gear. But does women’s gear need to be made in “girly” colors, and have flower patterns on it? Maybe for some, maybe not for others. As an outside observer, I would guess that the market for sweatpants with the word “Princess” emblazoned on the ass and the market for women’s Gore-Tex climbing pants don’t share a lot of Venn diagram space.
My friend Amy, who works for a gear company, told me, “None of the women I know in the outdoors are girly-girls. That flower shit is for people who want to look like they’re into the outdoors.” Or my friend Tracy, who sarcastically said, “I love pastel colored stuff. Because it never shows dirt, right?” And Jill: “I just got a backpack with a flower attached to it. You know, so everyone knows it’s for girls.Â I bitched about that flower thing the last few times I’ve gotten backpacks from them, but they’re not taking the hint at all. Maybe they should start sending out dude product with a pair of truck balls dangling from the straps.”
Perhaps it’s just evidence of the old adage that women are complicated, and men, well, we are kind of simple, as far as our motivations are concerned.* Or, maybe it’s best put how my friend Teresa says it: “Girly, outdoorsy, what does it all mean anyway? Like many of my friends, chick or dude, I am part mountain, part ocean, part desert and granite, a bit of pink, a hint of city verve and touch of lavender and peony. And 7/8 sunshine. And all of that just wont fit in a box labeled Girly. Or Outdoorsy. Or City.”
(photo by Forest Woodward)
*I made that up yesterday