“Stop being so sensitive!” A post about the most common advice in rock climbing & why we should consider our privilege before constantly offering this advice to all.

There has been a recent wave of articles concerning bullying and harassment in the climbing community, likely a byproduct of the recent Sasha Digiulian-Joe Kinder incident in which Sasha, a professional female climber, reported that she had been harassed and bullied online for years by another professional male climber even after multiple attempts of directly asking for the behavior to stop.

I’ll go ahead and preface this here: I will be mentioning gender. I will be mentioning race. This is relevant and important in that it often dictates the unique ways in which we experience the world around us; our communities are not proportionate to the national population, therefore some of us see ourselves plentifully represented in the community, the outdoors & the media while some of us do not. Some of us enjoy careers and workplaces with 90% of employees looking like us and holding similar beliefs. Many of us do not. And some of us have to navigate daily examples of sexism, racism, discrimination, stereotyping or prejudice and some do not. This is important.

With the surge of articles concerning harassment and bullying, I also began to notice that many of the prominent white and male authors had a similar stance to each other. This included questioning whether it was right to “out” your bully, explaining how critique makes you stronger and offering examples of being heckled by their likely white male peers and how this was a catalyst for their personal growth and humility.

These men all horribly missed the point.

What I want to say is this:

White & male authors: you feel comfortable in sharing an opinion that has likely been reinforced by climbing and existing in a community that–the majority of the time–looks like you. Your reality and perspective is that, as white men heckling each other, there is no harm in engaging in that sort of behavior and that is or was a catalyst for your personal growth. This is your truth and reality.

For those who fall into the category of underrepresented and historically oppressed, there are power dynamics at play that affect the way communication is held or received. There are very different experiences that are steeped in historical and present day racism, sexism, homophobia, prejudice and discrimination. These are our truths and realities.

The problem that then occurs is that the reality of minorities is directly affected by those who hold power, wealth and influence in our country. That means that if you, as a white male writing for a national magazine, broadcast that people are being too sensitive and that these acts of harassment, bullying and discrimination are *just jokes* and do not necessitate further action, that is going to affect the realities of those underrepresented groups. Being in a position of power, influence and privilege based on your gender and the color of your skin, you have the ability to affect the realities of those who exist on invisible but seemingly tangible platforms beneath you. You have the ability to reinforce damaging behaviors that will continue to haunt and plague minorities for generations.

What we learn from this is: look at your immediate circles. Growing up, being a dirtbag in Yosemite, in your career, in your hobby, are you surrounded by people who look like you? Is your closest network of friends largely white? White and male? Has anyone in the workplace ever been able to challenge what you say, or are they too living in a reality where everyone in the workplace is equal because everyone is largely white and/or white and male? It becomes dangerous when you fail to recognize the lack of diversity around you and posit that everyone is like you, that biases don’t exist in 2018 and that we collectively need to toughen up with regard to harassment and discrimination because you and your immediate circles cannot imagine what that truly feels like. No, you heckling another white male about climbing rocks is not in any way, shape or form equivalent to the harassment that women and minorities face within and beyond climbing.

A small but powerful recognition that, as a white man in a predominantly white male community, you have not personally seen any harm from “shit talking” or heckling from your white male peers, but you see how this could be problematic for women, minorities or other underrepresented groups–that would be ground breaking. Instead, the bulk of articles I’ve read so far put the fear and discomfort of the author above the suffering and negativity pervasive in the lives of minorities and defensively say “well, maybe we should all stop being so sensitive?”

As an example of how damaging this can be when a white male in a position of power (by lying and calling himself a doctor without PhD or medical background) targets women who vocalize their very different and real experiences can be found here:


In this article, “Doctor” Gurian explains that by (me) calling out acts that may be steeped in sexism, it is disempowering women everywhere, exemplary of being too fragile and failing to see the “gifts” that the harassment is providing me and women everywhere. He suggests that, by calling out harassment, I am showing that women everywhere cannot handle criticism.

This man gets paid to go to schools and workplaces teaching women and minorities how to navigate their days. This is absolutely a part of the same larger issue, and one the white male narrative of “stop being so sensitive!” feeds in to when you fail to recognize your privilege, power and influence in your given communities. And when you take that one step further and give actual advice to people about experiences you have never had to truly face yourself.

In short: consider your privilege, don’t be defensive, don’t incessantly question the realities of people who do not look like you. Question why our outdoor communities are so homogenous. Question why your immediate circles are void of diversity. Question the source of your anger and bitterness. And instead of offering advice that folks should take it upon themselves to personally challenge each and every single person who harasses you (excuse me, there are not enough hours in the day to challenge every single person who opposes mentions of equality and feminism in the climbing community and beyond it) ask what you can do to better support these causes and use your privilege or platform to ignite change.

Andrea Sassenrath photo

2 thoughts on ““Stop being so sensitive!” A post about the most common advice in rock climbing & why we should consider our privilege before constantly offering this advice to all.

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