Survey Results: Female Competition

My goal here is to untangle competition and insecurity to foster better female partnerships. I’m taking this on because it’s something that I need to work at. It sounds like I might not be the only one.

Female competition isn’t something that can be summed up in a singular blog post written by a single woman. Instead of beginning by wringing out all of my ideas, past experiences, bias and insecurities, I posed the idea and questions to the internet via Instagram, Facebook and Reddit.

There were 5 questions, with the final question asking for permission to share the answers anonymously. Of 61 respondents, 60 granted me permission to share (I read and then deleted one of those responses.) Here’s what they had to say:

I feel competition FROM other women when…

“In almost all aspects of my life. I’m known as one of the best female climbers in my gym, so when I see someone better than me, I panic a little even though I know I shouldn’t.”

“I compare my body to theirs.”

“Almost never. Only when it is explicitly stated or when we are actively competing in a sport/game/etc.”

“In social situations where I’m a newcomer.”

“My female climbing partner is very competitive and will often climb a route I’ve struggled on just to prove she can do it. For the most part I’m not bothered by that type of competition because it doesn’t have any impact on my climbing or how I approach a climb.”

“They are of similar level to me in the activity. When there are men in the group, or someone whose opinion they perceive matters.”

“They aren’t supportive. When I am not invited to join.”

“They take actions to demean or diminish my voice in shared spaces when this action was not needed.”

“Doing physical activities. But I’m competitive by nature so this applies to men as well.”

“Everything! I know it’s stupid to do, but every time I’m in a room with multiple women, I think “am I the fattest one?” “Am I the only one not married?” It is fully internal. I admit, the lower I am feeling, the more I compare myself to others (which is a terrible self-sustaining cycle!).”

“There’s a lot going on and it feels like visibility needs to be fought for.”

“I honestly can’t think of a time when I felt a lot of competition from other women. I do sometimes feel just excluded or left out from other women but I also spend most of my time outside with guys and this is probably partially my fault for not putting in more effort to create a better community of women to recreate with.”

“They talk down to me.”

“Pretty much ALL THE TIME. Maybe it’s just the area I live in but I feel surrounded by it.”

“I don’t really experience this.”

“They have achieved something that I have achieved in the past, by no longer strive to achieve.”

“Constantly, especially regarding things I find pride in, but I try not to compare myself to others! We live in a pretty competitive society where you have to be one of the best to get ahead.”

“I don’t know the female well and it seems like she’s trying too hard to be one of the guys.”

“We are both in a male dominated workplace.”

“Kid accomplishments, vacations, lifestyle.”

“I used to feel it constantly in the work place. I’m 59 years old, and spent 26 years in the insurance industry, which traditionally was very male-dominant. I felt like other women didn’t believe that there was room for all of us to grow.”

“They seem to have it all together somehow. There are only so many hours in the day, and it is just impossible to be skinny/fit/strong/pretty/perfect/all the things.”

“Honestly, when the woman’s more attractive than me.”

“First meeting them. It’s like an immediate competition before we really know each other and know they are ‘cool.’ In corporate settings. competition to rise above, faster. Generally, with women we don’t know. So in passing, strangers on the street, driving, while traveling, etc.”

“They post about their accomplishments on social media, cut me down or ignore me in front of men, use language that is demeaning (whether this be consciously or subconsciously.)”

“Women minimize, criticize or dismiss my career and interests.”

“Usually never because a lot of women don’t do anything fun anymore they just pump out babies and then their lives are over and then I find myself skiing with a pack of men, sausage fest skiing. Then I wish they were there when I need a tampon but they are not. ( exhibit: Swift Creek three-ish weeks ago). I do have one lady friend who will mountain bike with me. We are calling it a clam bake instead of sausage fest. I do not feel competitive with her. It’s more of an INspiration and sort of relief to ride with her. I tend to ride better than I usually do when I’m with her, Which is pretty cool. I tend to try harder while riding with her than with the sausages, but it’s not a competitive thing. It’s more like she is athletically on my level and if she can do it so can I.”

“They are threatened by me.”

“When their insecurities show through in the way they act towards others.”

Discussion about how to manage jobs and family at the same time … I feel like I have to be superwoman.”

“There are too many of us and no dudes to balance it out. Ever tried to get a group of 8 extroverted women together? I end up leaving usually very drained of energy instead of energized.”

“I don’t feel the woman is approachable; if she is friendly and warm I feel a kinship.”

Perhaps the most poignant answer, which I will note was the only answer this respondent provided:

“The main thing fueling insecurity and anxiety of any kind that has now infiltrated the the outdoor industry, are people spraying their personal accomplishments across social media for everyone to see and needing constant validation. What is worse, are people doing this under the guise of feminism and empowering others. Bragging about accomplishments in the mountains and the need to spray everything you do on the internet fuels insecurity and competition. That is literally what social media is, comparing your life to other people. Blog posts, trip reports after the simplest of ski tour and what someone literally ate for breakfast that morning doesn’t matter. Using social media to promote oneself is at the center for self comparison and literally is a competition. If people want less female competition they can stop using the internet as a self promoting tool to get ahead. The only pure thing left in the world, where self comparison was meant to go to die, has turned into a bigger competition cause of bullshit like personal blogs and updates on what a hard climb someone climbed.”

Half out of spite and half to address somewhat legitimate concerns, I will address this comment in my next blog post. But for now, let’s move onto the next question:

I feel competitive WITH other women when…

“Honestly, I try to fight this whenever I see it in myself. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting it. It was hardest with my mom, but she has passed away now.”

“They try to step on my toes on a topic I know more about, or when they pretend they know more than me when that isn’t the case. I also feel super competitive when other women steal my ideas/words and start using them as their own. It can be very frustrating when we are all just trying to get ahead in the world.”

“With men involved, with sports, and when first meeting them.”

“They spend a lot of time putting together their “look” and I don’t.”

“I see them supporting others in ways that I’m not supported.”

I’m in a competition. I try not squish any competitive feelings when I and the other women haven’t specifically chosen to compete against each other. I’d rather choose to be in a competition and feel those feelings than be going around feeling randomly competitive all the time.”

“When I’m in public and see a woman who I think is skinnier or prettier than I am.”

“I lose sight of my own path and compare myself to them in my head.”


“Again – I am so glad my 20s and early 30s are behind me as I rarely feel this any more! But I will still occasionally feel it when I see other competitive women posting their achievements on social media… I don’t ever seem to feel that way with non competitive women.”

“I feel as if I do not have a competitive drive and am not helping you with my survey. I feel more competitive with my self internally than other women. Again, I am so relieved and excited when another female wants to go do something cool, that it really inspires me to lead by example (in the mountains and outside.)”

“I feel I am not being respected or heard.”

“I see someone better than me.”

“It seems like a woman is getting more attention because of her looks than her ideas. Maybe it’s not true, but looking “good” certainly helps get you noticed.”

“They are at my level or a higher level at something I want to be better at.”

“When I feel like I don’t get a chance to speak to convey how I feel about decisions. I don’t think it should be “who can talk to most/loudest” gets the say.”

“I feel competitive with other women if she is close to a man that I am attracted to/interested in.”

“All the time. When other women get more attention, when I feel they are more attractive or more talented or more intelligent. I don’t even like being the center of attention, but I always feel insecure and competitive towards other women who are getting more attention or are “better” in some way.”

“Truthfully, I rarely feel competitive with other women. Most women I work with and socialize with go out of their way to lift one another up.”

“…I compare my beauty, skills, or expertise with theirs. Or if we’re vying for the same social spot or same job.”

“I’m not by nature a compete against others person. I prefer to test myself against the elements. The only times I’ve felt/noticed competition is when I’m in a place where I feel insecure about my performance or some external part of my life is causing me to question my self worth. If I’m in a good head space, which is most of the time, then I’m cheering others on.”

“They are about the same skill level as me or a little bit better. Especially with rock climbing. When another woman is new to the sport, but climbs about the same level as me after a short amount of time, where as I’ve been climbing for 5 years.”

“It involves something I’m really good at, otherwise, I would rather not.”

“Women who have been climbing for less time than me start climbing harder grade routes than I can.”

“This is harder for me to answer because I’m not quite sure when this happens. I think it happens when the other women succeed in something I know I can’t. It’s like it’s tied up in jealousy for me. Like I feel competitive when they excel in something I can’t do well (like running really fast or sewing a great costume or outfit). I feel this is kinda good because it motivates me to try new things.”

“I can’t really think of a time when I’ve felt this. The women at the gym are so much better than me they are more inspiration than anything. Fitness, positivity, and climbing wise.”

“I see something come so naturally to a woman who has just started with it, when I have been working my butt off to do something for years.”

“They are faster/younger/more attractive/more badass than I perceive myself to be.”

“Never, really just when playing silly games then i let it out, jokingly.”

“I’m insecure.”

Most days, I feel very secure (5) or insecure (1) or somewhere in the middle.

1 – 2% of respondents feel insecure.

2 – 15% of respondents feel somewhere in the middle.

3 – 17% of respondents feel indifferent.

4 – 46% of respondents feel somewhere in the middle.

5 – 20% of respondents feel very secure.

I feel competitive with other women because…

“It’s not women, per se. it’s just knowing you’re better at something than someone even if its just checkers. But I don’t take it seriously and I’m not competitive at work or at the gym or for anywhere else.”

“I forget that it’s not them or me.”

“I believe I was raised by a mother who harbored internal misogyny and as a result taught me that women were competition and potential enemies instead of potential friends.”

“I sometimes have trouble seeing the bigger picture.”

“They are my only real competition!”

“It’s fun, challenging and gives me something to strive for in certain situations.”

“They are always looking to undermine other women.”

“I feel like I’m not good enough and can’t achieve what they achieve, particularly with regard to dating and social status.”

“We’re all trying to prove ourselves to the men, and sometimes don’t want to be seen as ‘girly’ or ‘women like’ in front of them. And sometimes being associated or around other women, makes me feel more that way, thus feeling more ‘girly’ in front of men. Which in turn sometimes makes you feel less powerful, or less highly regarded.”

“I’m always trying to prove myself.”

“I feel that if our kids aren’t as seemingly successful in sports, grades, elite colleges that we are a failure and other parents are judging us as such. This is the most intense area of competition between women I know. The second biggest area is weight and looks meaning other women seem to like if you are heavier, more out of shape so much like girls even at an older age, women don’t like to feel that they are the bottom.”

“I want to be seen as capable, or like one of the guys. Which in turns makes me feel I need to be better than other women.”

“Wanting the same promotions.”

“Sometimes I sign up for contests or races and I’m naturally competitive. Otherwise, I don’t feel this way.”

“I still feel my self-worth is measured best by what others think of me.”

“I’m usually feeling attacked by them. Again I think it’s just the area I live in. People are not nice here.”

“It’s a way to gauge your strengths and progress within your peer group.”

“Usually, I want to be like them.”

“I think that it can feel like there is competitions because I am used to being the only woman so often within the things I do in the outdoors. I am actively involved in working on this both personally and through work attempting to bring more women into the outdoors, and especially create more community. It can be easy to compare myself to people, or think that other women have it all together, especially when there is a lack of a real relationship (such as social media), and you only see the highlights or what is put out there publicly. I think creating more community between women in the outdoors (which is definitely happening!) is a big key to this. I wish I didn’t feel the competitive aspect, but unfortunately it’s kind of there often.”

“Because I am totally unfulfilled in my life? Not a psychologist, just guessing. But I just feel like a total failure at most times compared to the ‘average’ woman around me.”

“Unfortunately, some women seem to behave as if the spaces available to women are limited. I sometimes respond poorly, and I’m not proud of it, when other women are not supportive.”

“I don’t. Why would I?”

“I want to keep up.”

“I have the tendency to compare myself, it never presents as outwardly competitive, but it certainly affects my head space in whatever it is that I’m doing.”

“I think others judge me.”

Sift through it. I’m going to sit on this and think about it. I’m still welcoming your responses at the following link:

I also welcome your thoughts in the comments below.






Why You Should Climb with a Girl

This weekend, I had the special opportunity to guide on Mount Baker leading a rope team of women. We were fast. We were strong. We summited on Friday via the Coleman Deming route in just over 5 hours.

After coming back to Bellingham, the mother of two sisters on my team — who also climbed and summited Mount Baker with my co-guide Arthur Herlitzka — told me that it was special to her that her girls got to climb with a female guide. I smiled and told her that I was excited about it too; but I didn’t realize exactly how important it was to me.

On the way down from 10,781 feet, Michaela, Tatum, Scarlett (my rope team) and I began to talk about feminism, outdoor media and climbing. At first, I didn’t have much to say beyond that I thought it was important to see more women outside and in positions of leadership, like guiding. And then I recalled and talked about the post I’d written about a bizarre and frustrating encounter with someone essentially mansplaining in a classroom environment how he understood the plight of all women in outdoor leadership because his wife had been slighted too… Yeah, I’m still a little salty.

But anywho, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you — as a female guide — about how climbing with a girl might differ from climbing with a guy. I’d also like to add the disclaimer right up front: the traits that I’m going to list are not necessarily gendered nor does gender exist in a binary. These are just my observations of climbing with women in the last couple of years and are not absolutes (i.e. women always X, men never Y, etc.) I mean nothing more than to highlight the things that I’ve really enjoyed about climbing with women. Also, I use “women” and “girls” interchangeably and don’t mean any offense by it. That said:

Girls are so fun to talk to. I’ve had a lot of really interesting conversations with women while climbing. I think that having a steady conversation while grinding uphill for hours on end is an impressive feat in and of itself. It definitely helps with the passage of time and mileage. I’ve also observed that women are more inclined to uphold their end of the conversation.

Breaks tend to happen right when they need to. Seems to me like a lot of women aren’t afraid of speaking up when they need to take a sec and adjust their pack, their boots or whatever comes up. When climbing with girls, I find that I’m well-hydrated, well-snacked and comfortable cruising at a sustainable pace. I find that girls tend to be more communicative about how they’re feeling and what they need before something like blisters become an issue. And I appreciate and respect that.

Speaking of snacks… Besides taking breaks for snacks, it seems like girls like to take a little bit more time with food prep and tend to bring the goods. And by goods, I mean chocolate. To be honest, I think most of my climber friends — guys or girls — are keen on summit chocolate. And post-climb beers. Yeah.

Girl-stoke is different than boy-stokeGirl stoke comes out in giggles and shrieks and proclamations of love for the mountains. Boy stoke seems to come in the form of hoots, hollers and whoops. Stoke, regardless of the source, is often contagious. But as a lady, I find girl stoke to be especially infectious.

Oh man, can we take a second to reflect on the awesomeness of lady-beta? Yep. It’s happening. Right now. First, I’d like to say that I really appreciate when people pause to ask you if you actually want beta. Props to the people that deny it. Props to people who don’t automatically spray you down. However, I gotta say that I love getting the crucial lady beta that gets you through the crux (because I’m not 6′ with a 6′ wingspan and man-powerful-muscles. I’m 5’1″, short & powerful, but sometimes require a more delicate sequence.) I don’t know if there’s any way to describe in words how great it is; but when it happens for you, you’ll know.

And while we’re on the beta note, I’d just like to briefly comment on the numerous times I’ve been on trail and people have asked either my male clients or my male coguide for beta on a route — not me, despite wearing the patches and gear to suggest that I’m a guide. While it might seem like no big deal — and often isn’t in and of itself — I raise the issue because it’s happened on more than one occasion. While I can’t say conclusively that it relates to being a lady, I just wanted to mention the observation and I’ll leave it at that.

The bottom line is that I’m psyched when I get to climb with women.

I’m psyched when I get to climb in general; but it’s extra special to climb with an all-lady rope team. It’s different and it doesn’t happen very often (at least not in my climbing thus far.) I know that more and more women are getting outside and getting themselves into positions of outdoor leadership. I think it’s awesome; it’s necessary. I look forward to roping up with them.

Lessons Learned

I am in the middle of a wilderness first responder course. It’s been awesome. The human body is absolutely fascinating. All of the structures, systems and interactions sustaining you at this very moment are incredibly complex and intricate.

Today I learned about how to respond in the event of a cut, a burn and even an evisceration – definitely got a little queasy during that part.

Today, we also talked about leadership as informed by NOLS 4-7-1 model. We talked about the importance of each of the seven aspects of a strong leader. Communication being one of those 7 traits.

… and then we talked about women in leadership. We were told that the qualities of leadership are not gendered traits. We were told that a leader isn’t necessarily a “broad-chested drill sergeant-type.” However, we have implicit biases (we were encouraged to discover our own implicit biases using this tool designed by Harvard.) These biases can be overcome, but the instructor told us that we’re conditioned to expect certain traits of leaders. Y’know, like how society thinks your gender might effect your judgement and leadership in an emergency situation.

I should specify, a male instructor told us that women might experience push-back in leadership roles. Which got my gears turning because I know this to be true.

He warned us of the possibility of coming off “bitchy” or “bossy” in leadership environments and to be careful of our tone and the way that we approach leadership. Generally, he addressed leading with confidence without being overbearing. (He also mansplained how he gets it because his wife is an emergency responder.) However, the instructor failed to address men in the same way. Hmm.

What happened next is laughably ironic:

He did not open the topic to discussion. Women in the classroom were not invited to discuss the topic – despite healthy conversation throughout the entirety of the morning lecture.

A woman with guiding experience in the back of the classroom raised her hand to address the other women and said: do not be afraid of the push-back. It will happen. You do not need the approval of the one or two guys who will resist your leadership. If you have control over a situation, proceed.

To which the instructor then said that cohesion is important — and I’ll admit, at this point, I was frustrated. I’d raised my hand to contribute to the discussion to simply say that we should move away from gendered words like “bitchy” and “bossy” because they’re seldom – if ever – applied to men. If we want to reverse some of society’s conditioning, we must knowingly utilize vocabulary that can be applied to any obtuse, overbearing leader regardless of their gender.

I was told that we were going to move on and that the topic was closed for discussion. My question or comment was denied. Another male student raised his hand. His question was answered.

At that very moment, I became a feminist and advocate of women in outdoor leadership. Call me what you want, deny me how you will. I will rise. I will speak. I will overcome.