Dan McCaslin: Against outdated advice, women can take care of themselves when hiking | Outside
Reading an old 1967 edition of “The Sierra Club Wilderness Handbook”, I am both edified and horrified by the obvious gulf that separates 2021 when I think of the hikers and attitudes of the previous century (see 4.1.1. Books).
Under the guidance of David Brower, there was a lot of good information and wise advice in this 270-page tome, and I have great respect for the Sierra Club today and for its influential role in the past (founded in 1892 by John muir). Despite everything, having grown up in the middle of a sea of four sisters, married half a century to the same wonderful Cisgender normative woman, appreciating several patron women during a long teaching career as well as all my teaching colleagues, the Mainstream The 20th century attitude towards American women reflected in these yellowed pages still stuns the reader of 2021.
In the future, sociologists in the American West will examine 60-year-old books like Brower’s, as the approach and the writing highlight the extraordinary disparities between views of the wilderness and those of the women who hiking at the time (and women hiking alone). While the legacy of Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt have lost some of their pristine luster, looking at the supposed role of women walking in nature around 1960 can help us understand gender attitudes today.
“The Sierra Club Wilderness Handbook” never mentions female hikers or backpackers going alone, although it accepts that they may have “hen parties”. In this collection, women are almost always accompanied by men, who automatically assume the authority of patriarchal leadership.
A glance at the table of contents reveals 17 chapters on the usual camping topics, but “Children” (No. 14) and “Women” (No. 12) need their own special sections because the wilderness will be. so difficult for them.
We learn that “the doe is just as well adapted to its environment as the deer” (p. 163), that “women seem, in general, to be more sensitive to cold feet than men” (p. 166) and about “A luxury item: if you are round, dig a hole for your hips at night” (p. 168).
Thus, in the mid-20th century American backpack, “the fair sex” should be treated like children, and they are assigned a maximum backpack load of 25 pounds while large white stallions can carry up to. at 80 pounds. (I’m 6ft 1in tall and an experienced backpacker, but carrying even 30 pounds is too much for me!) If I remember correctly, neither Muir nor Roosevelt ever took their ladies on real camping.
The 1967 Sierra Club Wilderness Handbook, edited by David Brower, offers now outdated ideas on women and hiking, among other tips. (Photo by Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk)
Chapter 13, hilariously titled, “Especially For Men”, contains excerpts from a brave hiker who wrote directly “to the guys”, and it dates from 1949. It gives three major rules for the man who dares to bring ” his “wife go out on the trail. Writing to the men, she points out:
»1. Don’t let her get tired (p. 173)
2. Don’t let her be afraid (p. 174)
3. Don’t let her be bored (p. 176)
This Sierra Club writer tells the guys that getting her spouse out “doesn’t mean the little woman will necessarily be able to wave an American flag next to you atop K2,” but she can with the right tutelage learn to still enjoy the campsite (p. 173).
The “theory of mind” is something that anthropologists believed had tremendous survival value for Stone Age humans. Somewhere in evolutionary development, homo sapiens developed the mental ability to guess what another human being was thinking, a huge aid in communication, and this also leads to the birth of empathy (Torrey in 4.1. 1.).
The table of contents of the book. Note the titles for 12 and 14. (Dan McCaslin / Photo Noozhawk)
Despite a life spent working with many women here and abroad – my sisters hikers, teachers in mixed schools, etc. – as a normative cisgender man, I realize that I still lack some of the empathy necessary to even begin to understand woman (and other genders). My sisters, my partner and various friends often send me to school, but my theory of mind remains deficient. Here is the proof.
I have a dear hiker friend, and since she is a renowned naturalist, we would go on long getaways where I would learn exciting details about flora and fauna (especially birds) that I would never get out of the books. A longtime member of the Sierra Club, she has roamed all over California and still has an admirable thirst for adventure and nature.
I love solo hikes and think these short periods of relative seclusion in nature are a boost to the mind and spirit. After several years of this, I realized that my friend has never gone out solo. Guess I had been stuck in patriarchal thought as we read in Brower’s book – but then I thought more about the fact that none of my other backpacking friends had gone to places on their own. wild areas either.
I then innocently (stupidly) addressed my naturalist friend, asking her why she never went out alone, noting that Manzana Narrows Camp is a fantastic solo, adding that she was missing a key aspect of nature immersion and remarkable opportunities for deep reflection. She looked at me coldly and with a little friendly disdain.
“Dan, I’m a five-foot, six-inch woman, and rock solid, but as a woman I’m much more at risk than you are in your aggressive 6-foot male body. I also refuse to carry a handgun or bear spray.
What a thoughtless question, I realized with great sorrow – without theory of mind and without empathy for the female of the species.
Ach! I apologized. There may be limitations for female wrappers in our violent society who don’t hit men as hard. Smaller body size, reluctance to carry a gun, overly protective patriarchal wives or male family members, the power of patriarchal traditions… just the social norm of “never backpacking alone”. As a society, we need to examine these limitations and mitigate them where possible.
My sister hikes around Boise, and she goes there on her own sometimes with some trepidation but also some strategies. Keychain alarms, pepper spray, and maybe picking up a fit scavenger dog could all help. (I’ve sometimes been advised to carry bear spray or a gun, but I won’t and honestly never needed it either – but being a man probably helps, unfortunately.)
For the record, there is no recommendation for solo hiking in any of my columns, but I admit that going solo camping along the Sisquoc or Manzana remains one of the biggest lures of the hinterland. for my heavy male body and stressed urban mind.
Maybe the adventurous outdoor women (at the Sierra Club and outside) are like novelists Edith Sitwell, who wrote about herself: “I’m not eccentric. It’s just that I’m more alive than most people. I am an unpopular electric eel settled in a catfish pond. We all want to wander outside of our urban ponds and savor the less traveled lands, and often solo, and why shouldn’t women and other genders feel safe going solo?
Edouard Abbey wrote: “Why this desert cult? … Because we love the taste of freedom, because we love the smell of danger. So, the real question is, does the solo hiker bring a cell phone or emergency beacon (and know if there is cover where he is solo hiking)?
I find that I have always supported the Sierra Club and its four Chapters of the Santa Barbara region, and I know there are some powerful campers. I applaud the particularly vigorous stance of the club against oil development in our county.
– Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone anchors in Antiquity and has written extensively on the local backcountry. His latest book, Autobiography in the Anthropocene, is available on Lulu.com. He serves as steward of the archaeological site for the US Forest Service in the Los Padres National Forest. He welcomes readers’ ideas for future Noozhawk Columns and can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read the previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.