Monday, May 17, 2010

I am woman, hear me roar!

Written by: Emily "Lightning" Ginger

I wouldn't feel right if I didn't start this entry with a shout out to the person who has shaped me into the woman I am today: My mother. As a little girl I told my mother I wanted to be a teacher. She (being a teacher) told me that I couldn't become one because there are already too many female teachers, and she wanted her daughters to pursue more male dominated professions. Along the same lines, when I was 12 years old I asked my mom if she would sign me up for cheer leading because I wanted to be a cheerleader. She responded to that with "No, my daughters do not stand on the sidelines cheering on the men, my daughters play the sport." Hearing her tell me I couldn't become a teacher or be a cheerleader was upsetting at the time, but I look back now and appreciate having had those moments. Since a young age my mother made sure I was aware of and thinking about gender stereotypes or inequalities. At the age of 18, while I was in the midst of "finding myself" and discovering who I am/ want to be, my mother handed me five posters to hang on my apartment walls- they were all posters of women who have had a significant and admirable impact on society: Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Emma Goldman, and Jane Addams. These women have adorned my walls for years now, and I feel empowered every time I look at them. So, thanks mom, you did a great job of raising two independent and strong-minded women. I love you!

On Mother's Day I was walking out of Dalevile, VA when I came upon a woman heading towards me, hiking in the opposite direction. This woman was dressed how I envision myself dressing when I am in my 40's or 50's (the sun hat, the jewelery, the sweater, the un-dyed grey hair, etc- she looked like she'd be shopping at Whole Foods in Berkeley, CA). We both said "hello" and just passed each other at first but then she stopped, turned around, and shouted "how far are you headed?" I shouted back to her "to Maine." She chuckled at my confident and ambitious answer, then replied with a heart-felt "I sure hope you make it to Maine, do it for me!" That woman has no idea how profound of an impact those few words had on me then, and probably will for the rest of my life. Though I know nothing about this lady, I felt an immediate connection and could sense that I was in the presence of a like-minded individual. Thus hearing a fellow strong-willed woman ask me to accomplish my goal was inspiring and empowering. I feel the need to hike all the way to Maine for that woman, and for any other woman who wishes she had the moxy, time, money, or confidence to take-off and hike the AT, or to pursue another dream or aspiration of theirs. I feel especially determined, empowered, and proud to be out here and representing the small percentage of women who thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Why are there so few women who thru-hike the AT?

Though I think my generation has come a long way in gender equality compared to my parents and grand-parents' generations, I think we still have a long way to go. Today's society is still casting women and men into their "separate" gender roles, detouring women from being strong, independent-minded, and out-spoken while we are pressuring men into being more "powerful" and muscular. For instance, when we give a little girl a princess outfit for her birthday, we are giving her the message that she can gain our respect and attention through her looks because we all ooh and ahh at how pretty she looks in her dress and fake plastic heels. However, when we give a little boy a set of lego's and then we all ooh and ahh over what he creates from those lego's, we are sending him the message that he can receive attention and "approval" through producing or creating something through the exercise of thought and application of his mind. In our society, muscularity and aggression are used to define masculinity, detouring women from wanting to partake in activities that might cause them to be viewed as aggressive or muscular. It's crazy to see all the advertisements displaying women who are too skinny, have their face "painted" with make-up, and wearing impractical clothing. When I look at "women" in the media, they look awfully bounded to me. These images are sending subliminal messages to women and girls that they should look good and act fragile in order to be accepted. Therefore we have a society comprised of women using razors, moisturizers, beauty products galore, while painting their faces, and walking around on stilts- a lot of them unaware that they have a choice in the matter. While we encourage women to look and act in a certain way, we are perhaps preventing them from pursuing a number of activities that might make someone all dirty or more sturdy. I have personally experienced the brunt of these societal expectations. Since a young age, my physique has been muscular and athletic looking. Over the years I have been put-down and made fun of by others, a countless number of times for having this genetically muscular body-type that doesn't fit into our "womanly mold."

I applaud organizations such as "Girls on the Run" who provide encouragement and opportunity for women to be physically active. I think that having a goal to work towards, being part of a team, and just feeling physically strong can really increase one's confidence in their capabilities. I know I wouldn't be the strong and confident person that I am today had I not been exposed to the sense of power, achievement, accomplishment, and success that I got from being an athlete my whole life. Also, without the focus on athletics in high school, I'm sure I would have had less self-confidence and been more troublesome for my parents by seeking out "attention" in other ways.

I think we need to throw this idea that muscularity means masculinity out the window (for the sake of both men and women) and "free" women from their passive high heels and dress wearing expectancies (please don't take the dress wearing literally, I actually longboard in skirts and dresses- they just aren't conducive to physical activity). Our society needs to encourage girls to get outside and be more active for the sake of their physical and mental health! I think a little dirt can look just as good as a little make-up! Plus I think a woman with a curvaceous, athletic figure looks a lot better and healthier in a dress than the "coat rack" body figures I see modeling clothes in magazines. I want to see more women with both a strong mind AND body- let us roar!


  1. Emily,

    I just wanted to let you know that I'm following your blog and living vicariously through your adventure. I'm so proud that you're literally living your dream!



    P.S. Girls on the Run is an amazing organization!

    P.P.S. I'm jealous of your muscles.

  2. Matt O

    Very intellectual post, I agree very much. Like the comment about how muscular women look better in dresses than coat racks, LOL

    P.S. A little dirt does look better than a bunch of makeup.

  3. Thank you for publicly acknowledging me Emily. Your kind words really touched my heart.

    You and your three siblings were the filthiest kids for miles. There were many days that I didn't see you kids for five, six, or seven hours, but I could always hear all of you playing your hearts out up and down the street. I'm so glad we never bought any of those video game systems which may have resulted in you kids wanting to stay indoors.

    I love the outdoors and wish I was with you.

    Love, Mom.

  4. Hi Emily,

    We have to mention that we do support your hike & your blog and envy you for hiking the trail (at this point in our lives and wanting to start a family, it's not in the picure for us). You are so strong mentally and physically; two qualities that we wish we could even compare to you (well maybe Jake compares physically).

    However, we must comment that we both strongly disagree with yours and Kate's (and maybe mom/your mother's?)views on feminism. We believe that choice is the main accomplishment of feminism and that equating feminism with women competing directly with men (which, to be sure is part of it) is just as limiting as restricting the definition of womanhood to the housewife. There are a variety of women in the world with different beliefs, values, traditions and hopes that do not need to be validated through the defeat of men, nor the rejection of makeup and high heels. We also believe (in disagreement with Kate) that women need to watch out for themselves no matter where they are, even (and especially!) in those places where they feel most comfortable. The truth of the matter is that women can be physically dominated in a way that men usually cannot and it is up to women not to put themselves at risk; not this ultimate freedom of "feminism" that allows women to be equal to men on all planes. We needed to include that as Emily Ginger Supporters and for those that are critisizing "the traveling circus". It is possible to still support one's actions and accomplishments in one area of life and disagree on another, without insult or injury. We can talk about it more when you get home after you climb Katahdin (we know you'll make it). We guess the Ginger's are good at disagreeing :)

    All the best. Keep climbing those mountains.

    Jake & Christie :) :) :) (Emily's brother Jake and sister-in-law Christie)

  5. Mom,

    Stop sounding like Oprah. Are't you being a little melodramtic about all of this?


  6. "We believe that choice is the main accomplishment of feminism and that equating feminism with women competing directly with men (which, to be sure is part of it) is just as limiting as restricting the definition of womanhood to the housewife. There are a variety of women in the world with different beliefs, values, traditions and hopes that do not need to be validated through the defeat of men, nor the rejection of makeup and high heels. "


    Well said. This post did not make me feel strong or empowered as a woman. It just made me shake my head and sigh. It sounds extremely insecure, to be honest. Like you, I'm pretty muscular - hiking, running, swimming, etc. I'm into traditionally male-dominated things, don't wear makeup and am probably more aggressive than most women. Who cares? I certainly don't. I think this perception you have that people judge women as being less "womanly" for having muscles or not wearing make-up is a reflection of your own insecurity.

  7. It is very distracting and a bit sad that in the midst of a beautiful journey that these are the preoccupations of the hikers. They seem to be continuously focused of classifying themselves and declaring who they are or are not in reference to gender and other stereotypes.
    Competing… racing… trying to prove themselves. Who are you trying to convince? I am not on the trail with you … but I have done plenty of back country hiking and I find the trail to be a place of community and peace. Time on the trail – for me- has always been a reversion to life’s basic and having a different set of social norms than suburbia or city life.
    I am happy to see the presence of strong will, deep thought, and self conviction… but I urge you to take a moment and to bask in the light that the trail is and life it breaths. Don’t try to read others’ minds and intentions if they have not expressly communicated them. Conflict is easy to find (manifest) when you are looking for it… and most hikers (M or F) don’t have it in their fabric of being to be judging or hateful. They are just trucking along like you… enjoying the trip.

  8. My entry from two months ago which drew a lot of controversy, was written during the beginning of my hike when I was still transitioning and becoming familiar with being on the Appalachian Trail. So I, like many other hikers came in with preconceived notions and expectations which no doubt influence my interpretation of interactions with others. I wrote that entry a long time ago and have learned much since then about myself and other hikers. The entry was never intended to be an attack on anyone; I apologize if I came off as abrasive and a competitor. This hike is to prove to MYSELF that I am capable of taking on this big of a task, commitment, goal, challenge, etc. However, this is not the sole reason that I am out here, it is one among the many reasons I have for being out here. In terms of this current post, I’m just wishing that I could see more women on the trail! Also, who’s to say that we aren’t basking in the glorious wonders of nature and being able to live in the woods? I assure you we are!

    Christie and Jake,

    Thank you for the comments!! Ginger’s do love to disagree and play devil’s advocate- and this is actually a continuation of the disagreement/ conversation we had over the summer  I agree with you 100% that women having a choice is the ultimate goal and accomplishment of feminism. I guess I have found that there are still girls (and probably women) who don’t know that they have a choice; they do certain things such as shave their arm pits, wear make-up, or high heels because that is what they have interpreted that they need to do as being part of that gender. I embrace diversity and the myriad of women that we have in the world- I don’t want to know what our world would be without it, perhaps similar to reality described in “The Giver”. I believe that our society (mostly the media) doesn’t portray the diversity and choice enough, if at all. Also, in terms of women competing alongside men, sure that is certainly part of it however I think what’s more important is that women hold as much of a presence as men in various societal and professional arenas. Considering our population is comprised of both men and women, I believe that we need women to have just an equal and as strong of a voice as men (of course this is not what everyone wants and I don’t wish to impose “my way” on others). I’m simply seeing things as they are, and expressing what I think might promote a more equal presence. Rather than blaming the victim, I look at what in society might be influencing the cold hard facts that though there certainly are many women from all walks of life and personalities who have helped balance that uneven male-to-female ratio in many arenas, there is still a ways to go. Not only would I like to see more women in the woods, but it would be nice to see more men in the female-dominated professions such as nursing and teaching. There are many male patients and students who I am sure would benefit from there being more of a male presence and voice/ influence in hospital and classroom environments.

    Jake- leave mom alone! Ha! She doesn’t sound like Oprah, she just sounds like a proud and satisfied mom.

  9. Yeah Jacob, leave your mother alone! Thanks Em.

  10. Dear Emily,

    I've been reading your blog as I prepare for my own thru-hike for Spring/Summer 2011.

    Just wanted to say that I like your thoughts in this post, and that I pretty much agree with everything you said.

    I don't know what the Trail is going to be like as a female thru-hiker, but I definitely know what it's like to face others' expectations that I'll be a weak woman unable to lift even 25 pounds, or facing others' disdain for strong, not-sterotypically-feminine women.

    You don't come off as insecure to me, but as realistic. I appreciate being able to read your and Katherine's perspectives as female thru-hikers.

    Congratulations on meeting your goal and making it all the way to Katahdin!