Over the past few years I have become interested in learning a little bit about Feminism and other social justice issues. Mostly be more aware of biases I might have, how to avoid acting on them, and to be a better person. So when an article discussing sexism and climbing comes across my screen I usually pay attention and read it. 2015 had several articles of this nature. More recently Fringe’s Folly wrote about sexism in climbing. I thought all the articles were thought provoking and provided interesting points for discussion. One article though I thought was incredibly stupid. It coins the term “Dude Grade” which basically means the grade of a climb more accurately represents the difficulty of the climb for more men than women.
The article goes on to suggest a color grading scale which represents a subjective range of difficulty. This is silly because the YDS and V scale already represent a subjective range of difficulty. One 5.10a could feel easy to a person and a different 5.10a could feel a lot harder to the same person. I fail to see how a color scale which represents a broader range of difficulty solves anything. Just because a person can climb “yellow” doesn’t mean they will be able to climb all “yellow” routes.
The “problem” the article discusses is not one of gender but instead the physiology of the climber. More specifically their height. The author’s friend who can send V10 but gets shut down on some V5’s not because the grading scales and guide books have historically been written by men. Not because she is a woman. But because she is short and trying to climb what is most likely a “reachy” route. The guidebook should just say, the route will feel harder than graded for short people…
Based on my own experience there are some 6a’s I have had an extremely difficult time climbing even though I have by now red pointed 6c. I’ve seen men easily send 6b and struggle on 6a. Just today I saw a guy climb a 7a and need to rest on a 6a+. The problem of getting stuck on routes far easier than your limit as far as I can tell applies to all climbers. Not just women. Not just short people. It is incorrect to think that just because someone has done a few climbs (or a lot) at one grade level should mean they can do all climbs at or below that grade level.
Should we also coin the term “Fatshame Grade” to indicate an overhanging route will feel more difficult to someone with a few extra pounds? “Chick Grade” to indicate any route that might feel easier to a woman. Perhaps crimpy or slabby routes? How far are we going to take this? It’s absolutely ridiculous!
How to Approach Climbing Grades
Climbing grades should be taken with a grain of salt. Grades are supposedly decided by a consensus but that consensus is never 100%. Because of this they will always be subjective. Don’t climb just for the numbers and leave your ego on the ground.
For myself I think for a climb at a certain grade, what’s the probability I’ll be able to onsight it? Based on my ability today, that might look something like this: 7a or harder: 0%, 6c+: 5%, 6c: 10%, 6b+: 15%, 6b: 25%, 6a+: 50%, 6a: 75%, 5: 95%, 4 or easier: 99% So if I’m getting ready to climb a new 6a, I’ll be pretty confident I can onsight it. But if I don’t no big deal. I’ll save the redpoint for another day.
Time for a detour. Yoga Asanas are sexist. Yep. I said it! I’m pretty sure if I mentioned this in a yoga discussion forum I would be laughed at but I’m going to coin the term “Chick Asana”. What is a Chick Asana? It’s any yoga pose that favors the physiology and morphology of the female body. This could be something like lotus pose, or wheel pose. Pretty much any yoga pose that requires flexible hips, shoulders and spine is a Chick Asana. Let me tell you, it can be frustrating to see a new student come to class and on their first time practicing yoga perform better than me who has now been practicing yoga nearly every day for over a year.
So yoga teachers, please stop teaching these asanas! Think of how it makes your male and other less flexible students feel in class when they are not able to perform these poses. To be safe, I suggest only teach sukhasana and savasana.
Another frustrating experience I recently had was with a guest ashtanga teacher at my usual place of practice. In this session the teacher who happened to be male only assisted the cute (female) Thai yoga students and completely ignored this ugly white dude. I also see similar behavior from female yoga teachers. They most often assist the advanced students who usually happen to be skinny women and ignore or provide minimal assistance to the struggling students.
Why is Climbing Sexist?
Back to climbing. Climbing itself isn’t sexist but sexism in society as a whole has always been a part of climbing. In the early days of climbing the vast majority of climbers were men. Perhaps due to what society considered to be acceptable activities for women. Nowadays there are many more women climbers but the majority are still male. The majority of new route developers are men. When a man is climbing with a woman, it’s usually the man leading and the woman climbing on toprope. Men tend to give horrible advice and beta to women. I recall an instance in a climbing gym where I heard a guy giving advice to his female partner struggling on a 5.10 or 5.11 route. He said something like “You’re climbing this like a 5.11. Just climb it like a 5.8.” Ridiculous. Then there is the issue of how women are portrayed in climbing media. Again, I suspect these and other problems are related to patriarchal issues of how men and women are socialized in today’s society.
But there are a lot of women crushing and climbing hard routes in this environment. One of the best rock climbers in the world is a 5 foot tall 14 year old Japanese girl. As more women come to the sport it won’t be long before they are climbing as hard or harder than the guys. They continue to break down barriers and push the limits of what is possible. It will be exciting to see what is achieved over the years.
Everybody is different and every body is different. The rock doesn’t care if you are young, old, fat, skinny, weak, strong, male or female. Climb something because it looks fun, looks like a good challenge, or inspires you in some way. Don’t worry too much about the grades, check your ego, and just have fun.