When we think about people in nature, we often see images of rugged men in solo expeditions. Dirt on their face. Scuff facial hair. If we read their stories, it’s often a narrative of proof. Their solo backpacking adventure was a way to prove to themselves they could accomplish such grueling quest. Sure, that’s admirable but when this narrative becomes the story of what it means to connect with nature, well, that omits 101 other reasons why and how others connect to the great outdoors.
While the topic of gender has been explored by scientists, we are coming across new evidence that shows the benefits of women’s connection to nature, what it means to them and the rest of us. In the 2014 More than S’mores Outdoor Experience study by the Girl Scouts, they found that monthly exposure to the outdoors contributes to girls’ leadership, problem solving and pursued challenges. These attributions are characteristics of persistence, strategy, negotiation, and adaptability.
As we think about the moments that instill connections with nature, these are not stand-alone moments. These experiences have a long-lasting impact on individuals. If California’s 50.2% of the population identifies as female, we must reset perceptions and work towards equal park access, programs, experiences and opportunities across sectors. The goal is not to bring one group over the other. It’s about ensuring equity across all fronts. On the bright side, we are seeing a shift. In the recent Outdoor Participation Report by the Outdoor Foundation, they are seeing young women emerge as the future of outdoor participation.
Let’s celebrate the women who have paved the way for today’s leaders. Their contributions were groundbreaking then and continue to be today. We must continue to remove barriers and encourage access to the outdoor for women. We will do our part. We will continue to uplift accurate narratives and images of women in the outdoors. We will spotlight women leaders because as the saying goes, you can’t be what you can’t see. And if you have women in your life – young and young at heart, go outside. Fresh air brings fresh perspective to all.