Shauna Coxesy Wears Stilletos

November 4, 2012

I don’t know yet how to process this. Both psyche and hope, dismay and desire, feeling part of and separate from.

I have just returned from the female climbing symposium in Liverpool (pictures to come).

I imagine for male climbers it is quite normal to walk into a wall with lots of male climbers climbing at lots of different levels…but I was blown away. Girls, girly girls with make up and nail varnish and long hair, crushing. Climbing hard and psyched. I have never seen so much down in one place, I am pretty sure that the Climbing Hangar had the highest percentage of down per person in the world! Every girl and lady looked like a climber, the place was like an add for E9 and moon pants, hardcore girls with chalk bags and shoes hanging from hips and hands and from the back of bags.

On friday we had visited the wall for a bouldering session, Roofs and slabs and overhangs, crimps and slopers and sidepulls. Routes that I didn’t even understand and routes that were easy and technical. It is hard to be there and know that there is nothing like it to come home to.

It is hard to process, the talks were interesting, the coaching was fun but the information that I am processing is the climbing ladies. So many of them.

Role Models and Legends gave talks along side the practical and exciting. Lucy Creamer and Fran Brown both casually dismissed great trials and difficulties with compassion for themselves and understanding of the bigger picture. A great sense of optimism, drive and hope permeated the room.

From my little area of the world, the little corner at the end of Ireland there is something beginning…I hope. The girls in England are used to the scene, the psyche, the normality of women climbing, they are ready to push harder. In cork it is rare, indoors there are a handful of female climbers, when I am out at crags the ratio seems to be 20:1.

I am, by nature a type of pessimist. I believe everything is possible but in the midst of reality I lose hope. As I sat there, listening, I was wrapped in thought. A  noisy paradox, who thinks out loud, who looks to the women around her for some answer. Loving the wall, the size and scope of it, the openess and relaxed atmosphere, the normality of climbing hard…trying to find a way to return to cork and train, alone on a monday morning watching the sun rise and lighting up the 45degree board in the co-op.

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7 Responses to “Shauna Coxesy Wears Stilletos”

  1. vivibolin said

    I know this is a tricky one to pull off, but maybe try to see beyond gender? I never really notice gender ratios in things like climbing, because I don’t feel that what anyone has between their legs while they’re pulling on pinches makes any difference in the grand scheme of things. Yes, our physic is different to the stereotypical male body physic, but why linger on stereotypes while the world is trying to see beyond gender. Gender is not set in stone and there are definitely more than two genders (something which countries like Sweden and Australia has already officially accepted). There are girly men and manly girls, girls climbing like guys, guys climbing like girls and all of the in between. Yes, we still compete in two different gender categories, but should we? I know this is radical thinking (or maybe not), but gender divisions in sport in general is contested all the time and soon enough there will be a third gender category in many sports.

    Instead of seeing yourself as a lonely female climber, how about just seeing yourself as a climber? Of course our general physic will make us different from most male climbers, but is this reason enough to justify gender division? It’s our attitude to our physic and gender that will bring us down and make us feel sad and lonely, not our physic and gender itself. Why not see the (stereotypical) body shape and length that tend to come with the double x chromosome as just the way our bodies are? How about NOT letting it get in the way of your performance EVER.

    • karen2hill said

      Hi Vivi 🙂

      The problem is that what I see in the Mardyke is that girls who start climbing tend to disappear. Men move through the grades faster at the beginning. There is a biological reality that with a higher percentage of fast twitch muscles, power moves are easier, reaches are longer and they have (on average) more upper body strength. I would say the same amount of boys and girls start (maybe 2:1) but the guys stay and the girls leave.

      Girls disappear and those who stay are the ones that manage to deal with the machismo atmosphere. A female climber said to me that she hates *girls only* things, is that the ONLY type of female climber that should be able to survive in this environment? The few who can put their heads down and keep going even though there are continuously jokes made about women being worse than, weaker or just not able?

      Recently I started a ladies night on friday night for the CYCC mammies…and it was amazing. We went from ZERO climbing mammies to TEN in about two months. They belay now and climb with each other. They specifically said they would not have come in if it wasn’t just women.

      As a climber who climbs with almost exclusively men I have had to find a way to stop *chasing* to catch up and to just enjoy my climbing. Of the few girl climbers I know, many of them are hard. I have been given out to for having mascara by a girl! My identity is based in my Gender, I am a girly girl, I like wearing make up and dresses and love pink nail varnish. And I DO get shit about it.

      At the symposium data was presented on the bio-mechanical differences between men and women. And they ARE present. And David Simmonite (editer of Climber mag) who has been in the industry for 20years says he can’t publish a photo of a female climber if she has too much cleavage. Women are treated differently in the climbing community whether we want to be or not.

      The thing is…Gender is an issue but that is not my issue.
      My issue is that I want to see other girls climbing, to see that it IS possible. If a bunch of men can climb a problem it means nothing to my climbing. I can’t reach as far or pull as hard, but if a bunch of women climb it I see things that help me.

      I do see myself as a climber and I don’t identify as a *lonely female climber*. For the women there who are used to climbing with lots of girls they are used to seeing girls who climb hard all the time, it makes it achievable and possible. Here in Cork I see men who climb hard all the time and very occasionally, girls.

      This isn’t a *feminist* issue for me, I just want girls to climb and I want to climb with them.

      And yes, I do think men and women should compete in different categories as they do in other sports…we are bio-mechanically and structurally different, that doesn’t mean we are better or worse than we are just different.

  2. vivibolin said

    Hmm, maybe I’m blessed in the sense that I’ve never had to endure sexists jokes in relation to climbing. Sexists jokes, while climbing – yes, but never sexist jokes about any limited abilities I might have due to my sex (maybe because they know I would crush their skull if they did).

    I agree with you that women and men are inherently different in terms of physic. I often say that I think the difference gives women an advantage in climbing. Due to, generally speaking, having weaker upper bodies we need to solve problems by using technique instead of just pure strength. And once women get stronger they usually crush guys with the same or more strength.

    I can see that having more women around could definitely be a good thing in terms of building on a technique, or just for moral – but that’s not always the case either. The women I’ve climbed with have always had completely different technique to me (due to height, or, in one case, massive upper body strength) and the people I’ve learned from have been mostly guys. So, again, gender is not set in stone, and I usually get highly offended when suggested that I should go to a “girl meet”. When I competed I felt it was unfair (for the guys) that I was given easier problems. Some of the guys were skinnier and shorter than me, but had to do the same problems with fewer holds just because they happened to have a penis. Makes absolutely no sense! One girl was even alone in her class and so she chose to compete with the guys, because that’s the way she climbs normally anyways.

  3. Simon said

    I first start with three names: Kerstin, Maggie and Beatriz. for a small climbing community like Cork, there is quite some level for the “female” scene if you want to categorize them by their gender.
    Climbing still look as this big muscular (and licra wearing) men sport because it looks from an external point of view, it is what it takes to climb.
    I don’t expect to see a 50/50 ratio since even old climbing country such as France, Spain or UK don’t reach it. The best way to bring female into climbing is happening right through the CYCC and UCCMC but that takes time.
    Concerning the machismo thing, I don’t really feel like I witnessed it so I can’t talk really.

  4. Ged said

    HI Karen, I understand your feelings of melancholy that piggy back on moments of brilliance. When I was climbing in Smith Rock in the US a few years back, they had this event called the Spring Thing, where loads of climbers got together to spruce up and maintain the park, we did $42,000 worth of work that day according to the ranger and I was overwhelmed with the sense of community and the diversity within that community and knew that here in the UK, many people are far too unwiling to give upo a good days climbing to put some thing back in.

    I felt more alone because the event showed the possibility and the disparity in my own climbing community. I resolved to improve thngs and The Hangars support of the WCS was an effort to do that.

    I guess I’m trying to say that even as a male in climbing, I am often philiosphically isolated by my love of people together rowing in the same direction and giving of themselves for all. My lonliness was deepened by how well I connected with so many in the Spring Thing event and their acceptance of everyone, and the inevitable return to the UK cynical scene, much like I am guessing the WCS did for you.

    I think I grasp your comments, tell me if I’m wrong, but we are talking about being in a group of people like you and the fact that it is not easy for you to do that where you are. It’s not gender, it’s peoiple like me and I’m guessing it’s got to be a lonely place within a few girls to pull down with. From behind the desk, it’s very clear that GENERALLY men and women do their things very differently, from encourage to support, to talk to motivation. All paths may lead to Rome, but its nice to travel the path with someone.

    I love your reflection and would be keen to put it on our FB if you approve. O[pen invite to come back to Hangar if you fancy, we’ll find you somewhere to crash and holds to pull hard on!

    Ged MacDomhnaiill

    • karen2hill said

      Ged…I think you managed to say what I was trying to say better than I said it 🙂
      You’re more than welcome to put it on your facebook! Thanks for making us all feel so welcome at the Hangar!

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