OUR OWN WAY
A different body, a different mentality, a different approach.
By Eva Toschi.
I've never felt like a particularly great example of the female gender: perhaps because I don't recognize myself in the stereotypes that have been created - at times justifiably so, at times not - about women or perhaps because I don't like to be identified within a certain social group. Yet when it comes to climbing, I feel proud to be part of this gender that has to face new challenges every day.
I feel a little sceptical about the women-only initiatives that are all the rage in the outdoor scene, not because they are intrinsically wrong, but because I think that they arrive at the complete opposite of what they set out to achieve. Despite the very best of intentions, they end up touting the idea that "also us women can climb (run, ski, live in the wild) like men too", when in actual fact, we can't do any of those things like them. And that is the beauty of it. It all lies in understanding that what we believe to be the limitations of our much coveted equality can actually turn into wonderful tools of distinction.
A different body
I started climbing in March. By May, I had thick fingers, calluses all over my feet and extremely defined muscles in my arms and back. My rings didn't fit anymore, I was ashamed to wear sandals and vest tops, not to mention the little dresses. All of a sudden, my body had changed and, with it, my perception of my femininity. But as I've already said, preconceptions mainly come from our minds and that is where we can get rid of them. It took a while, but I began to accept the change, until I almost ended up loving it. Now I like climbing wearing tops or vests that show off my shoulders and backbones. I feel comfortable. And not just about how I look. I feel good because I'm using my body to do something that I love. My old rings don't fit any more, but it is what it is. In any case, they only get in my way when I’m climbing.
Yet if on the one hand it was difficult to admit that I had a less feminine body, on the other hand there are somethings about our bodies that don't change with a few months of climbing. And at times it's hard to accept that this is the case. For example, in the beginning I found particularly frustrating that I wasn't able to do some moves that were a breeze for any guy taller than me. Falling over and over again would get on my nerves because my limbs were and are shorter than average. It didn't matter how well I climbed: I simply could not free some routes, perhaps even those below my level. With time, I began to find morphological moves more and more motivating, until I was almost having fun finding a méthode that worked well for me. What I viewed as a limitation ended up becoming a resource, it made me understand that sometimes it is more important how you achieve the result, than the result itself. And then, if I really can’t free one route, I can always try another.
Try as you might to state otherwise, mountaineering began as and still is male. Yes, there are more women cliff climbing and more women on the mountains today than in the past. Yet instead of redefining the image of mountaineers, this change has created caricatures more than anything else: stronger women have become tomboys without - necessarily - ever feeling as if they are good enough, while more sensitive women have hidden in their partner's shadow.
It's obvious that if we keep trying to step into someone else's shoes, we're only ever going to feel awkward. We must do away with all preconceptions, the majority of which come from our own minds, and find our own way of doing things. Not better or worse, but simply different.
A different mentality
Is it true that women handle risk and fear differently than men? Maybe it is. Perhaps we have a sense of self-preservation that tends to make us avoid any kind of risk. Perhaps we have the tendency to think a lot and "throw ourselves into things" a little less. Perhaps our legs begin to tremble at the sight of the bolted anchor beneath our feet, perhaps we don't feel that we are good enough for the route, the situation or our climbing companion. Yet if climbing is all about pushing ourselves beyond our limits, we must embrace this passion and all that it entails.
Is it harder for us to cast these demons from our minds? It only means that when we succeed, we'll savour it all the more.
A different approach
When I started climbing, I was with a guy who was much stronger than me. I learnt a lot from him, but I was never able to feel like climbing was my thing, something for which I was fully responsible. I spent my days attempting to free the route that he was warming up on and I was rarely successful. And whenever I was successful, instead of feeling satisfied, I felt as though I had only succeeded in freeing his warm-up route. Later, when I was alone, it dawned on me that I'd set the wrong goals. That I wasn't enjoying climbing. In actual fact, I realised that I hadn't understood what climbing was at all. I began climbing with other women or men who were more or less at my level and I started to give my all, because I finally had something of my own to devote myself to. Sometimes it seems helpful having someone who you can rely on, someone who leads the routes for you, someone who drops the rope from above for you, someone who gives you advice on what to do. It appears helpful but in actual fact it only helps you to continue to hide behind your own insecurities. When you manage to leave this dynamic behind, whether it be a man, woman or a group of friends, you can also start to enjoy small daily victories, like leading a route or being able to resolve a crux by yourself. It's true that climbing is about sharing, but until you climb for yourself, you won't have anything to share with anyone else.
As I’ve said, I'm no great example of the female gender, but when I climb I'm happy to be a woman. I'm happy about all the little victories which involved big sacrifices on my part. Accepting the invitation of a better female climber. Going first on a pitch. Having placed a friend well where I didn't lob off, and lobbing off on a friend that I wasn't sure about. Trying a pitch that was above my level. Explaining to a friend how to pass the crux and not feeling envious when that friend freed the pitch before me. Loving my broad shoulders, gnarled feet and thick fingers. Accepting the salty taste of tears when resting and turning towards the others without feeling any shame while I cried. Because one day it will not be the grade that I've free climbed that will be important, but rather who I have become as a climber, as a woman and as an individual.