FEAR & GENDER
The fight against fear
When asked to do a short audio recording for International Women’s Day for 2SER radio at first I thought I had nothing interesting to say, but when I started talking I realised the 6-minutes allocated only skimmed the surface of what I wanted to cover. The recording is up and live, but come with me for a deeper dive.
It’s International Women’s Day, and I am aware that a gaping gender inequality exists in other countries that should be addressed, however I can only tell you about my experiences living in Sydney. Instead of talking about my experience of being a woman of colour in the media industry on radio and TV, I’d like to turn our attention to men and women in outdoor adventure.
Looking at the mountain biking (mtb) competitions in particular, 83% of participants are male, with a higher percentage in the downhill category. The women comps have grown, and continue to grow. Looking at the downhill comps this year, the men’s podium race times are faster than the women’s podium times competing on the same track. This year, there’s a 22-second average difference between the men and women in first place, it’s much higher for the second and third placements. Last year, the difference was a 32-second average. The skill is there for these women, it’s not a doubt of skill - I believe we deal with fear differently.
I know I deal with fear differently to Mik. I have to think twice before sending it down a line; Mik just goes for it. When I ride with other women (which isn’t often), I try to be the 'Mik' ignoring that fear and just go for it - trying to lift the confidence of those around you. This explains all the scars on my body that I wear with pride.
With more women getting into the sport, the mtb industry is showing their support of female athletes. Red Bull Rampage is one of the biggest freeride mtb comps of the year, held in Utah USA since 2001. Riders and their dig team build the lines on the course, aiming for difficult, dynamic, explosive and sometimes dangerous lines. It’s a mamonth event and it's an invitation only ride - all male. Last year, Red Bull opened a women’s version of Rampage - Red Bull Formation - spearheaded by freeride veteran Katie Holden, inviting 12 of the best female riders and their dig teams from around the world. Formation is not a comp, it's just a ride to appreciate with other women. It’s a massive step forward for women’s mtb.
These women are skilled, steezy and fearless hitting BIG lines. There’s an interesting article from Outside Magazine that briefly showcases how these women talk about dealing with the fear on the lines of Red Bull Formation, and the apprehension is evident compared to the many interviews I have read and listened to from male mtb athletes, and I understand these feelings. Is it a chemical makeup that makes us different? Is it something we are taught in our formidable years that we carry throughout our lives? There is a plethora of research out there showing a difference in fear and confidence levels.
Research on fight-and-flight and tend-and-befriend have circulated with both genders tending to react the same way when faced with danger. With fight-and-flight, you tend to face the fear if you have a better belife in your skill required to get you out of the situation. Both genders can experience the same bodily reaction to fear, however men are better at hiding it than women. A sense of 'bravado' is used to push the fear away so they can rely on their skill.
As mentioned with Red Bull Rampage and Formation, riders and their dig teams create the lines in the ride. According to Outside Magazine building a trail was a new thing for a lot of the female riders. A skill they picked up for a better understanding on the technicality of the trail they're riding. "If we build the lip a touch higher, I can pop at the top and land safely there..."
Do we treat our children that identify as female, differently to those that identify as male without realising it? I am not a parent, I don’t know, but I know that I was raised delicately by Mum, and adventurous by Dad. Dad raised me to do “what-the-boys-do”, but I was still ‘Daddy’s little girl’ when times were tough. I know they raised me out of love and protection seeing as I’m their only child, but would they have raised me differently if I was a boy? Would they have used different words, given me different toys, taught me different life skills, treated me differently outdoors and in times of hardship?
Are female-identified individuals treated differently by family members throughout life? I know my parents, family friends, aunties and uncles constantly ask me when I’ll be having children as opposed to asking Mik. They are asked out of love and the desire to understand - all small questions that amount to a big indifference between Mik and I.
IWD helps us realise the difference, push those boundaries, and break that mould for the younger generation. I've seen more 10 year old girls and younger out on the mtb trails with their dads. Seen girls and women out on mtb trail dig days, picking up the skills needed to further their riding ability. More Women's Ride Days on local trails, pushing more women to ride together and get better at it like Red Bull Formation.
The more women upskill, more fears can be faced. The more women that break that fear, whether it be sending it downhill, going for a career, or going for something you love - that’s where we can break the mould and better our human potential.
Being more fearless, and that starts from within us.
Hit the play button below to listen.