The Women's Panel
In college I minored in Women and Gender Studies. Obviously, the majority of those courses were taught by women to classrooms filled with women. There were exceptions, but this was a femme’s sphere. I used to feel kind of weird about it.
Early on in the degree I brought up my concern for this title - Women and Gender Studies - to a department head. Don’t you think we’re alienating ourselves by pushing the woman card? It’s really important that men be in these classes. Why is it and gender? Why not just gender? That’s really what we’re studying, anyway.
I learned one of my most valuable lessons that day: the obvious. In this town, in this society, in this county, in this world, it’s all and women. We’ve been the plus ones to every party, to every academic subject. So here’s one for women. And everybody else. Where our history is the priority. Just once. And to those who feel a little eh about it, it’s okay to feel a tad uncomfortable. Women do it all the time.
Five years later, another moment like this came up for me. This past weekend I attended the first ever Evolve Summit, an incredible conglomeration of outdoor professionals, enthusiasts, and non-profit people who work to protect our environment. The event was hosted by The Inertia in Los Angeles and highlighted nine curated panels.
Smack in the middle of the whole thing was Caroline Gleich, a professional ski mountaineer who is currently preparing to summit Cho Oyu, the sixth tallest mountain in the world at an elevation of nearly 27,000 feet, in the Tibetan Himalayas. But Caroline was not on a panel purely dedicated to her athleticism, she was on the panel I had been waiting for: The Future of the Outdoors is Female.
For those who aren’t familiar with her success, Caroline summits the tallest mountains across the globe and then skis down them. She was the first woman (and fourth person) to ski all 90 lines in “The Chuting Gallery,” a steep skiing guidebook to the Wasatch Mountains in the backcountry of Utah. Caroline is an allstar athlete and a kickass human being who gives any moment she’s not on the mountain back to her community.
In her introduction, Carlione expressed her thanks for being included but also shared her initial uneasiness about speaking on a panel that highlighted her female-ness. The only panel of the day, mind you, that literally only had women on stage.
Women have a kind of “separate but equal” thing going on, she noted. To Caroline, it initially felt like there was a bit of “disdain on femininity” for having a panel solely dedicated to women, in a summit dedicated to athletes and their environment.
Ultimately, Caroline valued her spot on the women’s panel and served it as an accomplished professional and radiant female. Part of that platform meant addressing where the two overlap. Caroline opened up about an online troll who haunted her Instagram page, insulting her success on account of her femininity. Most notably, this anonymous stalker wrote from the cowardice of their screen: “How many dicks did you have to suck to get on the cover of that magazine?”
“I didn’t choose this,” says Caroline, whose career came with gendered strings attached. She shared having tried to ignore these types of messages. Deleting them from her social media pages and working to reject them internally. But off screen she has continued to face sexism. Despite being covered head to toe in gear and snow, Caroline is often asked to be in photoshoots with minimal clothing.
Before getting back to the sporty talk, Caroline shouted out the #MeToo movement and the importance that high alert moments like this one follow through as more than a trend, because “this is happening all the time - it’s the state of our world.”
Many women go through these conflicted feelings, caught up in asking themselves if they’re being cool enough to men. “I’m a humanist, not a feminist.” Literally my worst nightmare. Because even women themselves have to unlearn this feeling that tells us we’re burdening the situation. That we’re overstepping, that we’re too much. We have to unlearn and realize that we’re as deserving of space as the next guy. For the majority of our history up until this very moment, we weren’t.
The women’s panel isn’t random and it’s not there to make you feel snuggly. It’s the same unearned platform men have always been given, except women had to fight for theirs. It’s not an eye for an eye thing, it’s giving women a pair of glasses. And eventually, LASIK.
I understand the backlash, because I’ve also experienced my share of doubts. We want to be integrated, so why separate ourselves? We want equal rights, not better rights. So why is there a fem in feminism? The very question is why we need feminism!
We want to be athletes, not female athletes. But that was never an option. And we lose again and again by ignoring that.
The most valuable thing I learned from a man in college is to constantly ask “where are the women?” We have a human responsibility to look out for each other, and the girls need a boost. All the time, in every industry. Because at the end of the #MeToo moment, every woman who Tweeted goes home with her story. Sharing it, the visibility of it, just takes one piece of the pain. We’re still up for grabs.
So we’re going to keep talking about it. Because being a woman is our superpower, not our excuse. We’re going to keep unlearning what they worked so damn hard to make us believe about ourselves. And amazing, forward thinking events, like the one I was fortunate to attend last weekend, are going to keep on having a special panel dedicated to women.
I want a seat at the table, but not because I’m anything like the men there - because of exactly who I am. For me, being a woman is the essential part of my identity. It’s okay to be seen! To be integrated, and I mean really part of it, we need that designated space. The extra platform. The chorus of voices. Because these stories exist. Because we exist.
x Dani Pinkus
Special thanks to Caroline Gleich for her voice, input, and action. Follow her adventures @CarolineGleich.