Ladies’ Climbing Night offers space to women climbers

Martina Pansze

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As the clock strikes 8 p.m., women start to trickle into the climbing gym. By 8:05, Beyoncé is blasting from the speakers, and women are harnessing up and beginning to climb.

Every other week, The Whitman Climbing Center hosts Ladies’ Climbing Night from 8 to 10 p.m. Started by juniors Josephine Adamski and Brooke Bessen, the event aims to provide a space where women can feel comfortable in the gym no matter their level of expertise. In a sport that is typically male dominated, women climbers often lack space to practice exclusively with other women.

“Brooke and I feel like sometimes the climbing gym can foster an intimidating persona to those who do not regularly climb, so the Ladies’ Climbing Night is an attempt to make the climbing gym more accessible to females who may be intimidated or want an environment more conducive to them,” said Adamski.

The pair came up with the idea of Ladies’ Climbing Night earlier this semester and spent a lot of time planning the first event, which took place on March 2.

“We wanted to make it really big,” said Bessen. And it was –– nearly 50 women showed up to climb the very first time it was held.

Brooke Bessen '16 climbs on April 27th, 2015. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

Brooke Bessen ’16 climbs on April 27, 2015. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

Offering a space to female climbers revealed a potential disparity in a normal gym day. Senior Jacob Bradley has worked at the Climbing Center since his first year in 2012.

“You would never see that before,” said Bradley of the March 2 turnout. “As a freshman when I came here we had three women on staff, and there would never be more than a handful of women climbing.”

Bessen agrees that it’s the first time she has ever walked into the gym and seen so many women. The unexpected turnout suggests that a space for women in the gym is necessary. The amount of women in the gym surprised many people.

“There was one guy there working the desk, and he asked me, ‘Is this how you feel all the time? It’s terrifying!'” said Bessen.

Bessen says its important for women climbers to feel welcome.

“Josephine and I both are both really passionate about climbing, and whenever we’re in the gym, it’s pretty much just guys or it’s a large majority of men, and the atmosphere in the gym is very male-dominated in a way that it makes women feel intimidated to go climbing,” she said. “A lot of [women] don’t feel like it’s a resource that’s available to them … Climbing is a sport meant for both genders [but] it’s hard for people to see that when they don’t see women in the gym.”

Although there are many successful female climbers growing in popularity, famous climbers in popular culture are usually men, such as Alex Honnold and Chris Sharma. A 2010 New York Times article referenced a study by “Rock and Ice” magazine that reported about 70 percent of the regular climbers in the United States are male. Despite Whitman’s gender ratio, the climbing culture on campus seems to reflect this national trend.

The success of Ladies’ Climbing Night has proven that women are interested in having a space to climb without an obvious gender disparity. Although the first night was the biggest, Ladies’ Night continues to have a large turnout every week with both regulars and newcomers.

“We wanted to do something that was continuous and consistent rather that sporadic because if females do start to come that haven’t before, they automatically start setting a routine that they get used to. Eight to 10 every other Monday –– that repetition helps foster a pattern,” said Adamski.

Dana Bolster '17 is another avid participant of Ladies Climbing Night. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

Dana Bolster ’17 is another avid participant of Ladies Climbing Night. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

Sophomore Emma Massie is a Ladies’ Night regular. She appreciates the space that the event provides.

“I like the idea of a Ladies Climbing Night because I know a lot of people can be intimidated, especially girls, because the climbing wall can be kind of a bro-out place, where guys climb and show off and make it seem really intense,” she said.

Massie agreed that guys can be a little less inclusive and less welcoming, which she think might deter girls from coming in. The intimidation factor at Whitman’s gym seems to be a largely agreed-upon issue.

“Sometimes guys gather in groups and start campusing, which is where you basically do pull-ups all the way up and don’t use your feet,” said Massie. “That’s kind of intimidating and creates a space where there’s eight or nine guys, and no one, girls especially, really wants to go over to that area of the climbing wall because it’s kind of being crowded by this intensity that’s not very welcoming.”

This sentiment seemed to be a common one among female climbers.

“You’re speaking to my soul right now,” said a nearby climber who overheard the interview at the event.

The gym is not closed to men during the Ladies’ Night hours and a handful were climbing during the event.

“It would really be appreciated if guys could help foster an all-female environment,” said Bessen.

The gender disparities in the climbing gym can affect more than just Whitman students. Senior Emily Ford has been taking a local 11-year-old girl climbing in the gym recently. Since the young climber isn’t top-rope certified, the pair needs to be checked off to be able to climb.

Ladies Climbing Night provides a space for women to climb but is also inclusive to male climbers. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

Ladies Climbing Night provides a space for women to climb but is also inclusive to male climbers. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

“There are often no girls in the gym at all, so every time she wanted to climb up the wall, a guy had to come and give permission. And I’m hoping that women’s climbing night encourages more women to come get involved so that this girl doesn’t have to feel like she needs to get O.K.’ed by a guy to climb,” said Ford.

Ford has been climbing casually for four years, but Monday was her first Ladies’ Climbing Night. She says that the atmosphere is fun and supportive, and she appreciates being surrounded by other women who are having fun and climbing the way they want to climb.

“There’s less pressure and the motivation is different in a way,” said Ford. “Climbing is often seen as a rough and tough sport, which is parallel to stereotypes of men, how you conquer a route or summit something. Right now we’re just enjoying being on the wall pushing ourselves and each other.”

Adding to the atmosphere of female empowerment, songs by artists such as The Spice Girls, Shakira and Britney Spears were played over the loudspeaker. Senior Allison Work runs the desk during Ladies’ Night and is often the mastermind behind the event’s playlists.

“I’m definitely going for girl power vibe, which can be achieved in variety of ways,” said Work from behind the counter, gesturing to Spotify.

Work thinks Ladies’ Climbing Night is a good thing for the gym.

“If you’re comfortable with your climbing ability, [the gym] is a welcoming place for everyone,” said Work. “You do tend to see mostly guys in here. That can be intimidating as a beginning woman. But Ladies’ Night is usually packed and has the coolest vibe.”

Unfortunately Ladies’ Climbing Night doesn’t receive funding, so attendees have to pay to rent gear. Adamski and Bessen looked into ASWC funding but were denied. ASWC’s bylaws state that it supports clubs open to all students and cannot discriminate based on gender.

“That doesn’t mean we do not support groups like the Ladies’ Climbing Night which is exclusionary to build a community –– just that we cannot support them financially,” said first-year ASWC senator AnnaMarie McCorvie.

Bessen and Adamski are still looking for grants to cover the cost of the rentals to make the event possible for more members of the community.

With or without funding, they see change in the future.

“Gender imbalances have historically been an issue pretty much forever, so for a lot of things in the U.S. it’s been an issue, and it’s been an issue in climbing, too,” said Bessen. “And I think that it’s a huge bummer that it’s prevalent at Whitman right now, but Whitman is certainly a place that has the capacity to change that.”

The next Ladies’ Climbing Night is on Monday, May 11.+

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