Mansplaining: manˈsplān/ verb
1.) (of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
Mansplaining, though not a new phenomenon, is a relatively new word that seeks to illuminate one way sexism can subtly (or not so subtly) infiltrate our experiences and daily dialogues. It is most commonly referred to when someone–usually a man–will tell a woman something about a topic she is already well educated or competent in. The outdoors is just one of many arenas where this can be overwhelmingly present. This post does not pertain to all men; many men feel unchallenged in championing and respecting women as equals. Others find themselves responding with anger, critique, complaints and belittlement of the idea.
Climbing, while being an incredible built in, supportive community is still not immune to the societal pressures and Stone Age notions that exist today. With the increase of social media usage and online dialogue, women are overwhelmingly sharing instances of “mansplaining” or situations where men (and in some cases, even other women) are found attacking and discrediting their knowledge, competency, strength and ideas. I found my own personal experience and those of the women around me to reflect this in disturbing ways.
To illustrate an example of this, let’s talk about the Moonboard…
The Moonboard is a tool largely used in climbing for building strength and raw power. The wall rests at 40 degrees and is decorated with a very specific alignment of holds so that climbers and commercial gyms on an international scale can build the exact same wall and repeat boulder problems set by Moonboard app users.
In my own training sessions, I use the Moonboard in one of three ways for my outdoor climbing goals.
(1) Limit Bouldering: I pick a problem that I can maybe only do a single move on, and work it by trying to do individual moves or link multiple hard moves. Sometimes I finish the problems, most of the time I don’t. The focus is on strength and power.
(2) Execution: I consider this a type of mental training. I pick climbs that might take a session or two and work them with the goal of finishing them. I noticed that I had some anxiety when climbing outdoors and coming close on a project, so this allows me to practice handling myself on a climb when all of the moves are done. The focus is on breathing, relaxing and executing.
(3) Power Endurance: I pick climbs that are just plain fun and do them back to back with little to no rest. (3x3s, 4x4s or just climbing with very little rest.) In these sessions, I don’t care how I get up the wall, just that I develop a nice pump. The focus is on fitness and technique.
Why does this matter, you might ask? It absolutely doesn’t. The way I train is specific to myself, my climbing and my own personal outdoor goals within climbing. However, after beginning to share videos of Moonboard climbs via social media, I’d received dozens of private and public messages voicing disdain for the way I use the board. These comments were all from men. When I tried to explain how I used the board in a variety of ways for my own goals and did not care about the rules when using the board for different purposes, I was met with anger and constant correction.
It’s no secret that using heel hooks or toe hooks help take off considerable weight and strain from our muscles while we climb. That did no surprise me. What surprised me is that these men were so insulted by my approaches and techniques that they felt the need to tell me how I was wrong or didn’t understand how the wall worked. Cue as many eye rolls as I gave my sweet momma from ages 7 to 15 (that’s a helluva lot, folks.)
Don’t get me wrong, constructive criticism is good. But I wasn’t asking for feedback. Nor was I confused about how a toe hook worked. I post videos because I love talking about training and seeing what others are doing too. I found it interesting that only men chimed in with any sort of negativity or judgement. Why were these men moved to message me, and why did my actions hurt them so deeply that they felt I invalidated them and their climbing by doing something hard with a different approach?
I firmly believe this is an example of frail egos and mansplaining. In my mind, insecurity is the only reason someone would be motivated to explain how you are not strong enough and not doing it “right” by someone else’s standards. The Moonboard does have a set of established rules, but it is a tool like anything else that can be used in a variety of ways pertaining to the user’s needs. The real questions to ask are: why do others care so much (especially concerning indoor climbs,) why are these opinions pushed onto people who haven’t asked, and why are women so often the subjects of this rather than other men?
When I asked other women via a Flash Foxy online forum if they had also encountered moments like these in person or online, I received so many responses from women who each felt they had plenty of experiences to share. For a very small moment in time, I felt relieved that I was not alone in my experiences. This was immediately replaced with anger and sadness after realizing how many women had, have and continue to feel underestimated, belittled, bullied or continually have excuses made for their accomplishments because of their gender. There were stories of men making comments about the size of womens’ fingers being the only reason for climbing harder routes or boulders, or men assuming a man must be present in the group to plan and guide trips, having advice offered on their warm ups, assuming only the men were trying harder projects, even having to ask men to stop giving beta while climbing on the warm ups! It is exhausting to continually feel like you have to answer to a society that feels you are never competent, strong or good enough.
This needs to be discussed, and men who feel inclined to troll or belittle women need to understand this: You’re not going to get stronger by putting down the women around you. You’re not climbing V12 because you opted not to use a toe hook and told the women around you that they couldn’t use it either. You are not achieving your climbing objectives by nitpicking the way other women around you train for their outdoor objectives.
And not that this should even be something I have to say, but I need to say it: Ladies, it’s okay to say no. It is reasonable and acceptable to disregard advice that isn’t necessary, helpful or contributing to your growth as a person or climber. You decide what this is. You decide what is helpful for you, what is insulting to you and what you do or don’t like, not someone else. I hope we can collectively be okay with saying “no” in these situations and not retreat when “mansplainers” attack us in person or online. I’ll admit that I don’t always handle these situations with grace myself, but here is my last response to someone I felt was off base in offering an unnecessary comment about (*you guessed it*) the Moonboard:
My response was long, but I hope this illuminates how exhausting it is to have to constantly explain and defend yourself against some men who feel the need to comment in person or online about your climbing. Climbing is extremely esoteric and ambiguous; it seems absolutely silly that something so meaningless and abstract could be taken so seriously and even aggressively by men towards other women.
Take a second to think about yourself and the feedback you get in your climbing. Do you get private messages about how wrong you are while training for climbing? Do people at the gym congratulate you for doing your warm up? Are others visibly upset if you cruise their projects but *you’re a girl?* Do people look at a double digit problem in front of you and look to the men in the group and say “good luck boys!” without considering maybe only the girl is trying it? I think it’s important to think about our experiences and understand how vastly different those might be for men and women, and what we can do as a community and as individuals to challenge some of those notions.
And if none of this applies to you, man or woman, remember that it still happens to so many women. (I hate to say this, but nearly every single climbing experience I have is met with these sort of interactions.) Next time you’re about to “spray,” offer advice or make an assumption, just ask. Spend some time getting to know the person you’re talking to instead of immediately making assumptions about their ability, knowledge or goals.