Patriarchy in the Parks: Six Ways that Gender Shapes Our Relationship to the Outdoors
Because gender and gender inequality shape so many aspects of our lives, it comes as little surprise that our relationship to the outdoors is also a product of patriarchy. Generally speaking, women account for about 46% of all outdoor recreation participants, so, slightly less than men. However, the ways in which women engage in the outdoors is gendered. For instance, women make up about 11% of hunters, 27% of anglers, and 25% of snowmobilers. 25% of Appalachian Trail completers are women, 30% of mountain climbers are female, and about 24% of cycling trips in the U.S. are completed by women, though 60% of bicycle owners are female. About 18% of International Mountain Biking Association members are women, 32% of snowboarders are women, and women make up 45% of cross country skiers. Even birding, which may seem like a feminine pursuit, is gendered. Birding that involves open ended checklists and extensive travel, involved 57-83% male participants. Competitive birding activities had 80-99% male participants (Cooper, 2011). This scattered constellation of statistics from across the internet offers a peek into how the outdoor activities are gendered, but begs the question, why do these differences exist?
One reason why men and women participate differently in the outdoors is history. According to Niemi (1999) outdoor pursuits did not really become popular until the turn of the 19th century. For most of human history, people lived closely with the outdoors or wilderness, so it was not seen as a separate space for recreation or leisure. It is only in recent history that hunting became a sport rather than a method of survival or canoes were used for leisure rather than navigation. Wade (2015) adds that hunting emerged as a sport or leisure activity only after the industrial revolution and the subsequent urbanization of America. The entire concept of “wilderness” could be thought of as a social invention. It is nostalgic idea of a place untouched by industrial society or modernity. It is a fantasy place, which ignores the existence of people who may have once or may continue to live there. From a feminist perspective, it is a masculine space of conquest, freedom, and exploration (Raglon,1996). American thoughts about the outdoors or “wilderness” is itself shaped by a history of expansion and colonization. Wild lands were places for men to test themselves and conquer in the interest of farming or industry. With the end of the frontier era and the growth of cities, the adversarial relationship to nature softened into one of using nature to compliment or escape from so called civilized life. Thus, in the late 1880s saw the founding of groups such as the Sierra Club and Boy Scouts (Waters, 1986). It is also around this period that the first campsites were established in the United States, national parks were established, and the conservation movement emerged as part of the larger Progressive Movement. Women were involved in the conservation movement and early outdoor organizations, however, these were middle or upper class women with the time to devote to these activities. They also justified their involvement in conservationist causes in feminine terms, such as that they were caretakers of the nation (Lewis, 2007). Despite women’s participation in the outdoors and conservation, the main leaders, writers, and seekers of wilderness were wealthy men. The wealthy purchased remote estates and camps, complete with servants and amenities, cattle ranches where they could pretend to be rough riders, hunting trips, local guides, and tourism to nature. Nature was a something to consume and to role play a fantasy of empty land or frontier trials (Cronon, 1995). Women of that time period did not have the same control and access to wealth or for that matter even basic political rights. Women also did not have the same autonomy for solo adventures. So, the transformation of the outdoors into a place of leisurely pursuits was not something that most women enjoyed. Though, the participants in this transformation were upper class white males. Even today, as we look at the state parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin, none of them are named after women. The parks are often named after mine owners, land owners, and governors. Parks are named after people like Jay Cooke or Martin Pattison, wealthy men who owned enough land to donate it to the park system. Access to nature, participation in nature, ownership of nature, and the social construction of nature were largely reserved for men.
After World War II, there was a shift in outdoor recreation. Rather than the solo adventures of upper class men and some upper class women, it became a middle class family activity. In the post war years, partaking in national parks and national historical sites through automobile trips increased in popularity. But, because of female roles and expectations within families, female participation in nature was centered upon making their families comfortable. Magazine articles in women’s magazines offered suggestions of how to pack or prepare for family vacations and how to cook over a fire. Women were also told what to wear on these adventures. A 1950s era study conducted by Yellowstone Park concluded, “Women want good trails, trails that they can walk on in high heels. Many are not prepared to change into walking shoes for short walks to points of interest. Trails to points of interest should be hard surfaced for all-weather use and smooth enough for all kinds of shoes (Barringer, p 131).”
While attitudes about nature and participation in nature has changed since that time, especially since the emergence of the feminist movement in the 1960s and the increased autonomy that women have enjoyed as a result, history can help to understand why things are the way they are today.
Another way in which patriarchy shapes relationships to the outdoors is through gender socialization. Gender socialization is the process by which institutions, artifacts, and individuals shape how gender is expressed or performed. In other words, it is how we are taught to behave like males or females. There are many institutions in society that structure how gender is experienced and thought of. One example is the media, such as television, news, magazines, books, etc. A study by McNiel, Harris, and Fondren (2012) looked specifically at magazines. In a study of Backpacker and Outdoors magazine, they sampled 424 advertisements from 2008-2009. They found that women are depicted very differently than men in this advertisements. In their analysis of these advertisements four themes emerged: women need guidance, women go outdoors to escape home or recreate home, women have low level of engagement with the outdoors, and women with higher outdoor engagement need to be feminized. In these ads, women were not shown to be dirty or unkempt and the focus was instead on posing for the photos to show off the gear or accessories. Only 28% of the ads featured women who were alone in the wilderness, 46% of the ads depicted a woman with a man, and 24% featured a woman with a group. The women who were paired with men were shown to be in an implied relationship through holding hands or sharing a sleeping bag. Most advertisements featured women doing activities such as hiking, rock climbing, or camping. When women were shown kayaking, the water was calm, as opposed to men who were shown with rapids. Women who hiked alone were depicted as crazy through the language of the advertisement. Finally, when women were portrayed as very engaged in their environment, they were given gender markers such as long hair or pastel colored clothes. Together, these ads send a message to women about what it means to be a woman in the outdoors: they shouldn’t be alone, they shouldn’t be dirty, and they should maintain their femininity. This is just one example of how we are socialized to think about gender and the outdoors, but we receive hundreds of thousands of messages about what it means to be male or female in the outdoors throughout our lifetimes from teachers, parents, TV, movies, school activities, politicians, advertisements, books, friends, etc.
Now, it could be argued that gender socialization is an interactive process. Women can make choices of how they present themselves, what activities they participate in, rejecting media messages, and defining themselves on their own terms. Indeed, every individual interprets societal messages their own way. However, these trends, unspoken rules, norms, etc. set a parameter of what is considered normal behavior. They also create structures that make other decisions more difficult. For example, a coworker of mine enjoys hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling. When she goes to buy products for these pursuits, she finds that the clothing and gear are often pink and purple. She could avoid this by purchasing male apparel, but they do not fit as well. Thus, she is corralled towards these products. The products themselves send a message that females are different than men. They need special fishing poles with breast cancer awareness ribbons on them, pink Swiss army knives, or feminine colored clothing. It even shapes what is considered feminine colors but reinforcing pink and purple as colors for ladies. There is nothing wrong with choosing these items or liking pink and purple, but it does create cognitive schemas, or templates in our mind, of how gender should be performed in the outdoors.
Closely related to gender socialization is gender roles. While gender socialization is a PROCESS which teaches individuals how to behave or think about gender, gender roles are the actual behavioral and social expectations. In order to behave a certain way (role), individuals must first learn what is expected of them (socialization). With that said, there are many ways in which gender roles shape how males and females interact with the outdoors. For much of white American history, a woman’s place was considered to be in the home, which is opposite of the outdoors. Within the home, female roles were the roles of mothers, caretakers, cooks, cleaners, clothing makers, wives, etc. Men, on the other hand have had more outdoor or worldly roles (Raglon, 1996).
While there are many female gender roles, one gender role that women have traditionally experienced is that of mother. While being female and becoming a mother are not as connected as they once were, around 85% of women between the ages of 40-44 have had a child. As mothers, women are expected to be self-sacrificing, loving, supportive, protective, and engaged with their children. Women are expected to put the needs of the child before their own needs. They are also supposed to construct a happy childhood for their children. The various roles and expectations of motherhood are not conducive to outdoor adventures. For instance, when Alison Hargreaves died on K2 in 1995 in launched a debate over if a woman should leave two young children to climb a mountain. Male climbers are unlikely to face the same criticisms. Mountaineering is more closely associated with death and injury than other outdoor activities, but there is not much mention in literature about mountaineering regarding fatherhood. A Danish climber, Lene Gammelgaard, did voice criticism over fathers who chose to leave their families to climb. Many of the men who climbed with her when she climbed Mount Everest were fathers. When a woman dies climbing, media emphasis is on her status as a mother. Hargreaves was portrayed as a selfish and obsessed woman who left her children and husband to pursue climbing. However, her own writings about her career as a climber makes many mentions of her affection for her children. She even mentioned her fear of getting frostbite as it would prevent her from holding her children. Yet, she dared to behave like a man, leaving her family to adventure in the world. For that, she was lambasted in the media. Two men who died on K2 a few days before her death were not given the same media treatment, even though they were fathers (Summers, 2007). Mountain climbing is an extreme example because it can result in death, but mothers who leave their children for any extended period of time are looked down upon by society. Women who have vibrant and interesting lives beyond their horizon of their children’s needs are not viewed as devoted or caring enough. These expectations make it less likely that women are going to go on prolonged adventures without their children or put themselves at risk.
When I moved to Mankato for graduate school, I decided to go for a walk in Rasmussen Park. The entrance of the park featured a woman’s photograph and some flowers. I was not sure what had happened in the park, but it made me more worried about my safety as I explored the trails. When I asked other students, they told me that they did not think that park was safe and said that a woman had been murdered there. I learned that the victim was Svetlana Munt, a woman who in 2010, was murdered by her ex-husband in front of her children at the park. The murderer had a history of abuse and decided to kill her during a meeting for visitation because he was disgruntled over their custody arrangement. More recently, in July 2016, a woman reported a sexual assault by a stranger in another park in the Mankato area.
Of course, violence against women is not unique to parks in Mankato. Parks themselves are not the most usual places where violence occurs. But, when violence does occur in public parks, especially the violence of strangers against women, it is picked up in the media. So, while violence in the context of relationships and homes is much more common, random or public acts of violence against women gets more attention and creates a consciousness that parks or remote outdoors are not safe for solo women. Thus, stranger violence is a spectre that haunts women as they go out anywhere alone.
The fear of violence is not unfounded. One in four women have reported sexual assault, but only 3% of men. Violence against women is something that is taken for granted in society and something women are socialized to know at a young age. On my first trip overseas, my grandmother warned me that I would probably get raped, with the same inevitability that I would probably find London expensive! To make matters worse, when bad things happen to women, they are often blamed for the way they dressed, what they drank, where they went, who they associated with, or not leaving sooner. Fear shapes how women relate to the outdoors. In depth interviews with 25 active outdoors women aged 18-mid 60s, found that these women felt that the outdoors was often viewed as a man’s place to be and they experienced some fear. Their fear was overcome by the importance of the outdoors to them. They also felt that if they were alone, people would blame them if something bad happened to them. The women reported that they felt that they were given messages that women who are outdoors are vulnerable and needed to be careful. At the same time, they felt there were some positive social messages, such as decreasing vulnerability through building skills and that outdoorsy women were role models (Bialeschki, 2011).
Supporting Bialeschki’s (2011) findings was a study by Johnson, Bowker, and Cordell (2001) which analyzed NSRE survey data from 17,000 participants who were interviewed by phone. The study found that women were twice as likely as men to report safety as one of the constraints for outdoor activities. Another study found a correlation between perception of safety and use of outdoor recreation areas. Child, Kasczunski, and Barr-Anderson (2015) found that older women are most likely to report fear of using outdoor recreation areas and females in general report more fear than men. Women expressed fear sexual assault as a specific deterrent from using outdoor recreation area and were 25% less likely than men to feel safe in outdoor recreation areas. Finally, Virden ad Walker (1999) also found that safety was a significant variable for women as they thought about forests. Females in the study were presence of law enforcement and maintenance as factors that shaped their decision to use an outdoor space. Female respondents were also more likely to view outdoors as a place to be with family and friends than males.
Violence against women exists in a social context and serves a purpose in capitalism. Laws regarding violence against women, how they are enforced, and who enforces them can all be connected to a larger capitalist framework. For instance, within capitalist society, the police exist to protect the rights and property of the ruling class. That is, they enforce laws that maintain the social inequality that benefit the capitalist system as a whole. The mass incarceration of Black men or the deaths of young African Americans at the hands of the police illustrate the racist nature of the criminal justice system, which is a part of racist capitalist system as a whole. Racism benefits capitalism by dividing workers, pinning them against one another rather than fighting for shared interests. In this same way, sexism benefits capitalism by justifying the unequal pay and status of men and women. How rape is defined or enforced has evolved over history, but as a general trend, women who are rape are not believed. The only “legitimate” rape is its most violent extreme: forceful stranger rape, rather than the more common rape that occurs in relationships. In fact, it was not until 2012 that the Department of Justice changed the definition of rape to be penetration of the anus or vagina without consent from the previous definition of “forcible” penetration. The new definition also added oral penetration by a sex organ. Likewise, laws regarding sexual assault required women to prove that they had struggled and it was not until 1975 that spousal rape entered into U.S. law. Despite this, women must still prove that they were raped by their husbands (usually through signs of injury) and prosecution is not as punitive as stranger rape (Smith, 2015). This legal atmosphere supports a larger culture wherein women are not believed, are blamed, and are shamed for the sexual violence against them. Rape and the threat of violence have an impact on women as a group in that it makes them afraid and keeps them in the private sphere. It also reinforces the idea that women do not own their sexuality.
Women experience a greater pressure to be caregivers of children, elderly, and men. Because of this caregiver role, women often do not consider their free time their own. In their review of research, Johnson, Bowker, and Cordell (2001) noted that women may feel constrained from pursuing leisure because of the responsibilities that they have about being mothers, caregivers, wives. Worldwide, women spend 4.5 hours a day doing unpaid labor. In the U.S. it is 4 hours compared to 2.5 hours for men. Girls 10-17 years of age spend two more hours doing unpaid work each week than boys. Boys are also 15% more likely to be paid. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/upshot/how-society-pays-when-womens-work-is-unpaid.html). Resulting from the gender roles that women must fulfil, they have less leisure than men. As such, they do not have the same amount of free time to adventure outdoors. It makes sense then that the average time spent per person in outdoor recreation activities was 2.6 hours per week for men compared to 1.4 hours per week for women.
Additionally, as the discussion of gender roles posits, when women chose to abandon these roles, they are looked down upon by society. In addition to time and gender role constraints, even the concept of leisure was first philosophized about by men like Plato and Aristotle. Female philosophers such as Theano II and Perictione, who had more restricted gender roles in Ancient Greece, wrote instead about harmony and their roles in families and community. At least some research has suggested that women view their leisure time as a way to connect with others (Warren and Erkal, 1997). So, even when women have leisure time, they may view it differently than men. Rather than time for solo adventures in the outdoors, it may be seen as time to connect to others. Again, this has to do with gender roles and gender socialization.
Traditionally, women’s gender roles have been defined as not to allow for leisure time. For instance, women have traditionally been responsible for the care of family members. As society began to view childhood as valuable, children benefited at the expense of women. However, the biggest beneficiary of unpaid female labor is capitalism itself. Every time a woman changes a diaper, cooks a meal, cares for a sick child, does laundry, or any other unpaid household activity, she is providing a service for society. Mainly, the service she is providing is ensuring another generation of workers and the upkeep of the present generation. In Marxist feminist terms, this is the social reproduction of labor. Thus, women serve the perpetuation of capitalism through the work they do in their homes. This work serves to increase the profits of capitalists as it means that they are not obligated to pay taxes for or devote resources to public childcare, public health care, public laundry services, public dining services, or any number of household functions that could be made into public services for working people. In short, there is an insidious reason why women have less leisure time and have traditionally been relegated to the home: it allows capitalism to maintain itself at little to no cost.
Beyond their findings regarding safety concerns, Johnson, Bowker, and Cordell’s (2001) survey analysis found that money was one of the leading reasons why individuals of all genders and races felt constrained from participating in outdoor activities. As of 2015, when comparing the median income of men to women, women made 79 cents for every dollar that men earned. As of 2014, African America women made 64 cents to each dollar earned by white men. Hispanic women earned 54 cents to each dollar earned by white men, and for Native American women, it is 59 cents (Fisher, 2015). Anti-feminists are quick to point out that this only compares two medians to each other and obscures the fact that women make different life choices, may be employed part time, may take time out of the work force, etc. There could be thousands of reasons why women make less, but the bottom line is that on average, women and especially women of color, do not earn as much each year as men do. Women make up 60% of the lowest paid workers, are 35% more likely to be in poverty, and 70% of the country’s poor are women and children. There are also 11.5 million single mothers in the country. They must spend their incomes on childcare and take time off of work to care for children. Thus, the simple fact that women make less money than men and are more likely live in poverty may impact a woman’s access to outdoor recreation.
Outdoor recreation costs money. Current camping fees at MN State Parks are between $18 and $25 a night and this does not include the cost of a tent, transportation, park sticker, or camping supplies. An all-time anytime ski pass at Spirit Mountain is over $300. An all-day mountain biking pass is $25. A chair lift ride with a bike is $15. Even low end cross country skis from Play-it-Again Sports will cost over $150. Use of city trails requires daily or seasonal fees which are usually $5 a day or $20-$25 a season. A MN fishing license is $22. Snowshoes, winter clothes, skis, hiking boots, backpacks, fishing poles, snowboards, bug spray, sun screen, ropes, climbing shoes, boats, ATVs, licenses, guns, bows and arrows, transportation, park fees, parking fees, cars, bus passes, etc. all cost money and are barriers to participation in outdoor activities.
History, gender roles, gender socialization, leisure, safety, and money are just a few reasons why women may participate in the outdoors differently and less than men. Experience, lack of role models, and sexism could also be added to the list, along with dozens of other factors. The common thread between all of these factors is that it shows how patriarchy shapes our everyday lives. Even something as mundane as taking a walk in a park is impacted by gender inequality. As such, feminism must be fought on thousands of fronts. The fight against violence against women, sexual harassment, and rape culture can help women feel safe enough to enjoy the outdoors, but also walking down the street, college campuses, homes, and work places. The fight for better working conditions, wages, unions, paid sick and maternity leave, and the building of the labor movement can help eradicate the wage divide between men and women and the economic challenges women face as single mothers. The fight against racism and sexism and the fight against mass incarceration, racist policing, and the destruction of welfare can eliminate the economic and social disparities between women and minorities and white men. Recognizing the value of unpaid work, paying for unpaid work, and providing more public services to alleviate some of the burdens of unpaid caregiving can give women more leisure time to enjoy the outdoors. But, everyone in general could enjoy more leisure time with shorter work weeks, paid vacation time, and better pay. Finally, all of these movements must connect to the environmental movement to make certain that there are outdoor areas to enjoy. Together, this makes for a daunting task. However, every right and freedom we enjoy was hard fought in centuries of struggle. Social change is not a walk in the park. It is a constant fight to build movements and educate others.
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