“It’s Women’s Wednesday — climbing for female-identifying people only.”
“But there’s only two people in the gym: can’t I climb?”
“What if I just use the training room?”
“No, that’s part of the gym.”
“Why isn’t there a time dedicated to male-identifying climbers?”
As a monitor and now co-manager of the Ritt Kellogg Climbing Gym, I have had this exact conversation dozens of times. Men mistakenly enter the gym during our Women’s Wednesday hours, and, crestfallen, proceed to argue why they should be able to climb. It takes a lot for me to remain calm and collected as I ask them to leave. But that last question — why there isn’t a “Men’s Monday” or something like that — that question really irks me. How do you explain to someone how patriarchal forces from the dawn of time have led to women’s disempowerment, devaluing, and self-consciousness among a myriad of injustices?
I am a psychology major. At this time last year, I had no intention of writing a thesis, but instead planned on doing research and aiding a professor in their work. Then, while I was abroad during Block 4, an incident occurred that changed my mind. Two men entered the climbing gym during Women’s Wednesday and blatantly disregarded my female co-workers as they asked the men repeatedly to leave. The disrespect escalated to a point at which one of my co-workers called our boss and ultimately issued a formal Title IX case. I was furious.
After countless times denying men access to the gym during these hours, I had enough. I decided that I would apply to be a gym co-manager and throw all of my efforts into keeping this time and space sacred — advertising the weekly event heavily so that women would know to come, and men to stay away. But I had to go bigger than that; I had to prove why Women’s Wednesday is necessary. Thus, my psychology thesis idea was born.
There are virtually no psychological studies on rock climbing, let alone an interaction between rock climbing and gender. I embarked on writing my thesis by thinking about the space of the climbing gym itself; did it exude masculinity? Was it a gendered space?
I delved into the literature on gendered spaces and how people socially and behaviorally construct them. A gendered space implies that within its structure, there is a hierarchy in which one gender has greater status than another. This hierarchy, in turn, compels the lower status group to be more deferent, less vocal, and appear less competent.
In our patriarchal society, gendered spaces have serious implications for women. Within any context in which men have dominated, women must fight to establish themselves — whether it is young girls at the playground, female scientists in STEM fields, or female bodybuilders in weight rooms. Within these environments, women must combat gazes, stereotype threat, exclusion, disrespect, anxiety — the list is endless.
I started climbing at nine years old, first taking classes and then competing on a youth team. Starting the sport so young, I never perceived any gender differences; my teammates and I just loved to climb, and we shared the same status. However, I acknowledge how lucky I am to have had this privilege. Many female students — and female climbers in general — have expressed to me that they feel uncomfortable in climbing gyms, that they must prove to their male counterparts that they are strong. There are countless individuals I know that if it were not for Women’s Wednesday, they simply would not climb.
I’ve always had this anecdotal evidence to demonstrate the importance of Women’s Wednesday, but for my thesis, I needed statistical evidence too. So, for four weeks, I administered a survey in the Ritt Kellogg Climbing Gym. In the survey, I asked participants to rate what level they were climbing and how strong, self-conscious, and comfortable they felt. After, I defined what a gendered space is, I asked participants to answer whether they perceived the gym to be gendered, and if so, which gender?
I wanted to see if Women’s Wednesday participants climbed harder and felt stronger, less self-conscious, and more comfortable than female participants climbing during regular hours. Moreover, I wished to demonstrate that male participants would show the same effects as compared to female participants.
While I found significant results with respect to male–female differences, there was no significant difference between women climbing during regular hours versus Women’s Wednesday hours. Overall (and unsurprisingly), men feel significantly more comfortable and less self-conscious than women in the climbing gym do. While disappointed by no differences between the female groups, I was vindicated by results related to the gym’s potential for a dominant gender.
When asked if the gym is a gendered space, men and women during regular hours were about evenly split, saying the gym was either not gendered (60 percent and 47 percent, respectively) or male-gendered (40 percent and 53 percent, respectively). Women climbing during Women’s Wednesday split very differently, however. Only 19 percent believed the gym to be genderless, 74 percent believed it male-gendered, and seven percent believed it actually female-gendered. All three groups responded similarly to gender-dominating rockclimbing: about 75–80 percent said males dominate the sport, while the remaining said no gender dominates the sport.
Why Women’s Wednesday? Why no Men’s Monday? I could go into a rather lengthy analysis, but I’ll leave it at this:
Because there is a large population of female-identifying students who would not even enter our gym without a female-identifying time and space — in fact, they perceive the gym as male-gendered even when only women are present; because regardless of when they are at the gym, women feel less comfortable and more self-conscious than men do; because regardless of gender, the vast majority of people believe men dominate the sport of rock climbing. And Women’s Wednesday is just one way to change that.