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!