Climbing Media Is Not Sexist, You Are

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Julie Ellison
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Disclaimer: This is a rant against rants.

Surprise! I’m a girl. I’m also a writer, photographer, and you guessed it—a member of the climbing media. Recently, Sasha DiGiulian posted a lighthearted photo of herself and a friend in bathing suits and approach shoes (love the classic dirtbag combo) playing around on some boulders. I saw it, had myself a little chuckle, and went about my day. The following afternoon I saw an apology from this well-known climber and the ensuing weird ripple of online commentary about how climbing and the media surrounding it is sexist. Of course, most of the pointless discussions devolved into virtual shoving matches with both the men and the women equally lowering the bar for their respective genders, but the worst responses were from the self-appointed female defenders, most of whom are women themselves. One article (written by a female) was posted on a women’s advocacy website in response and boldly proclaimed: “We have a problem.”

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Miss DiGiulian (who is a champion for women in sports) posted this innocuous image of herself on her own personal social media page. Equal rights means having the freedom to post a bathing suit photo without being publicly shamed for it. Didn’t we get past that in the 1950s? It seems completely acceptable to praise Alex Honnold for his impressive skills on the wall and then openly swoon over him in his skivvies in a mainstream sports magazine, but then those same people are the ones up in arms when a strong and attractive woman posts a not-nearly-as-scandalous image into the cybersphere of her own accord? How does that make sense? Boy does it = Meh, keep scrolling. Girl does it = Why are you trying to ruin everything women have worked for over the last few centuries?! And then to go on and make the blanket statement that it’s the media’s fault… I’m sorry... I guess? Not many people, male or female, would choose to put their undercarriages in plain view with such a surprising amount of trust in a mere two inches of nylon, but to each his/her own.

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A few years ago, we editors got an email from a female reader who dutifully reported that she “was sick of every shot of a woman in the magazine being a crotch shot.” At that point I had been at the mag for about four years and had published precisely zero crotch-focused images. (Keep in mind this does NOT count advertisements, of which we have no control over.) Another woman emailed, saying she was “sick of the climbing media being run by men and all the featured apparel in the gear section being men’s clothes.” I pointed out to her that not only did I, a girl, pick all the products to be featured (my name was clearly featured on the page in a byline), but also that of the 18 or so

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items, at least a third were women’s-specific and the other two-thirds had both male and female versions. This ratio is actually way more female-focused than the current 4:1 male-to-female ratio of our print readership.

The previously mentioned women’s advocacy article (which specifically called out Climbing magazine) states the following:

After all, the dominant discourse goes something like this: Girls are pretty, but they can’t really do sports, so let’s put a token girl in here and there. Make sure she looks really hot. After all, it’s not about her skills, it’s about her cute face. She will make men buy the magazine and make other women want to be like her, because men find her attractive. I mean, what other things could a woman possibly want from doing sports apart from finding a guy? 

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This “dominant discourse” might be hypothetical, but the writer clearly wrote it to sound like it came from a man, which is—correct me if I’m wrong—a sexist notion in itself. “Climbing media” isn’t all dudes! I’m a card-carrying member of the chick climber club and have been at this magazine for 20% of my life. Check the mastheads of other climbing publications, pretty sure there are quite a few other ass-kicking females. Plus, if we follow this logic, we should only print photos of ugly women. This “problem” is not exclusive to climbing, but life in general. People like good-looking people doing awesome stuff. Some might feel that the discussed image is not in good taste, which is a valid opinion and definitely not exclusive to any gender, but this personal belief is just that.

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One of my duties is to select the images that you see in this allegedly exploitative rag, and the person I work with the most on image selection is—wait for it—also a girl! We pick photos that show off new areas, feature cool routes, illustrate techniques, fit the layout, and are friggin' sweet, meaning you’ll see middle-aged men on warm-ups, toddlers on routes I couldn’t dream of climbing, girls crushing, college bros punting, and everything in between.

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We see photos everyday that feature muscle-bound climbers, show off some skin, and/or generally suggest sexual things (have you even seen a desert tower?!). And guess what? Not once have any of us at the magazine looked at an image and thought, “Man, that guy/girl looks hot. This issue is going to sell like hotcakes and we’re going to become billionaires! Mwahahaha!” As an educated, equal rights enthusiast of questionably sound mind and body, my thought is more like, “Shit, that’s inspiring! Now I wanna go out, hop on my own project, and get radical!” All that matters to us is that the image makes you, the reader, want to get out and climb. It might be a man, it might be a woman, but it will definitely be a badass.

Julie Ellison is the senior editor for Climbing. She often gets worked up about stupidity on the Internet and then falls asleep mumbling to herself about it. Follow her on social media (@joolyhart) so you can give her a reason to rant.