Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Selective Hearing: The Unrecognised Contribution of Women to the Outdoor Profession

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Selective Hearing: The Unrecognised Contribution of Women to the Outdoor Profession

Article excerpt

Introduction: The gendered workplace

When asked why she would want to undertake her dangerous solo flight across the Atlantic, aviator Amelia Earhart replied, "I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others" (Langenheim, 2010, p. 240). Women are often drawn to the allure of working and playing in outdoor environments because these offer liberation, empowerment, and freedom from certain societal norms. As Tonia Gray and Carol Birrell (2015) confirm, the outdoors "is not exclusively a male domain; it has been the impetus for pioneering women to start expedition companies, travel through untrammelled regions, and push against socially imposed limits" (p. 207). Indeed, through the outdoors, "women can redefine themselves in terms of their capabilities and strengths, gain an awareness of cultural immersion, boost their self-esteem and develop life-long passion for travelling in adventurous settings" (p. 207).

The authors of this paper entered vocations in the "outdoor learning profession" (Wright & Gray, 2013, p. 12) based on a love of the outdoors and a passion for leading and teaching in natural environments. However, in so doing, we presumed that this outdoor learning profession, which prides itself on being inclusive and liberating for its participants, would also be inclusive and empowering for its leaders and instructors. It is only as the years have passed that we have grown to be aware of the common traits which the outdoor learning profession, involving outdoor recreation and outdoor education, shares with other gendered professions. Those running outdoor courses - leaders, managers, directors of outdoor centres - are predominantly men, and they are the primary voices in outdoor leadership. Avery, Norton, and Tucker (in press) support this point, noting that "whilst growth has occurred in the number of women entering outdoor vocations, white men are still the dominant face in outdoor recreation, outdoor education, and wilderness adventure pursuits." These findings concur with other researchers such as Johnson, Bowker, and Cordell (2001), McNeil, Harris, and Fondren (2012), and Siikamäki (2009). Elements of social role theory (Eagly, 2013) and gendered leadership (Eagly & Karau, 2002; Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992) play a pivotal role in this emerging situation.

As Bob Sharp (2001) has highlighted, males dominate in many arenas, and masculine characteristics and behaviours are often rewarded whilst female voices go unheard (see also Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Humphrey, 2014; Warren, 1996b). Collective experiences of many women in outdoor education, whether they be practitioners or researchers, suggest that at times they feel relegated, side-lined, and undervalued (Bartley & Williams, 1988; Jordan, 1991; Martin, 2013; Martin, Maney, & Mitten (in press); Oakes, 2016; Smith, 2016). A heavily gendered professional environment can be a site of oppression and marginalisation (Eagly, 2013; Eagly & Karau, 2002; Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992; Gilligan, 1993; Sharp, 2001). For women working in outdoor recreation and outdoor education, numerous authors have identified experiences of alienation and invisibility over the past 30 years or more (Allin, 2000; Allin & Humberstone, 2006; Allin & West, 2013; Gray & Mitten, in press; Loeffler, 1995; Mitten, 1985; Pinch, Breunig, Cosgriff, & Dignan, 2008; Saunders & Sharp, 2002; Wright & Gray, 2013). This paper investigates the "hegemonic experiences" (Vahabzadeh, 2002, p. 98) of women working in the outdoor learning profession and explores the factors that contribute to their lack of visibility in the academic and wider outdoor community.

A reflective look at the outdoor learning profession through the examination of keynote speaker invitations, editorial board memberships, awards, and public acknowledgements of contributions indicates that there is a systemic bias towards profiling male perspectives and stories. …

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