“You’re never gonna make it in this industry,” he tells me. “Your standards are way too high.”
I roll my eyes and scan the brewery for anyone else I can go sit with.
“I mean, what do you expect…that you’re gonna open up Climbing magazine and read something that’s just so fucking good that it’ll change your life? Come on. This is rock climbing,” he says, laughing and shaking his head.
I look back at him. “See, that’s what I don’t get. On one hand, this community is obsessed with climbing. We think it’s the best thing in the world. Most of us claim we would die without it.”
“I sure would,” he says, raising his glass.
“And then on the other hand, everyone’s like, oh whatever, it’s just climbing, who cares? That’s the attitude that leads to all of this horrible shit getting published.”
He raises his eyebrows and leans in close to me. “Georgie. You’re in the wrong industry. You’re expecting way too much.”
“I don’t think I am.” I tilt the last of my beer back and set the empty bottle on the table. “I think I should be able to expect well written and interesting articles in every issue of every major magazine.”
He laughs once, letting out one single “ha”.
“And to expect the climbing industry to uphold the incredibly basic value of respect for the members of this community is not too much to ask for.”
That makes him laugh harder. “Respect? Come on. To them, that’s just some word that millenials came up with to use when they feel left out or bullied. Seriously Georgie, you’re not just going up against big companies and big people. You’re up against attitudes, egos, and history. And that shit runs deep.”
Almost two months ago, I wrote an open letter to Andrew Bisharat that created quite a stir in the climbing community. As I wrote and published the letter, I had no idea how big of a deal it was going to be. After a few weeks of not really wanting to think about the situation anymore, I now feel like I have enough energy and distance from it to reflect in a real way.
To make a very long story short, Andrew Bisharat is a prominent writer in the climbing world. He has written a few things that have offended members of the climbing community, and when called on this, he degrades the people who confront him. My letter was an attempt to help the community realize that we don’t have to be quiet when we see something that offends us, and that we don’t deserve to be ridiculed if we choose to speak up.
The public response to my letter was overwhelmingly positive. I have received over 500 personal messages of appreciation and support and I’m still receiving messages today.
From the beginning of this whole process, I knew that this was much bigger than me and Andrew. That is why I made the letter public. But I had no idea how big this actually was.
Let me take you back to a few years ago.
When I was just getting into this freelance writing thing, I had no idea what I was doing (still don’t). I did, however, know that I needed two things: 1. a mentor—someone to look up to, learn from, and tell me that my work is shitty, and 2. a publishing goal—a magazine or blog that produced high-quality content that I would have to work my ass off to get published in. In search of these two things, I started reading. A lot. I read all of the major climbing magazines, and to my surprise, none of them were producing content on a regular basis that I was blown away by. And while I did find writers that I liked, most of them were not professional writers–they were random climbers with blogs, and none of them were publishing in the mainstream media outlets. I was confused and wondered if I was just being snobby or not looking in the right place. So I asked my climbing friends and a few people involved in the industry to give me a list of writers I should be reading. Graciously, they sent me their suggestions, and I noticed that there was one writer that every one of them had included on their list:
Looking back on that now, it’s kind of funny, but this is also a serious problem. When one of the most widely read voices in the climbing industry writes things such as, “Women can be relied on to do at least three things well: make brownies, turn an older man’s love into dollar bills, and complain that their size makes climbing harder because everything is ‘reachier’,” it’s not just the problem of some girl from California trying to find her way as a freelance writer. It is a problem of an entire industry.
That quote was published in Rock and Ice, one of the industry’s leading magazines. When they were called on this, they edited the sentence out of the original piece without an editor’s note. And when Rock and Ice’s Editor at Large, Andrew Bisharat, was involved in a major debate about sexism in climbing media, Rock and Ice distanced themselves as much as possible from him and told the climbing community that they are a publication that supports women because they have a “Chick’s Corner” section of their magazine.
This the magazine that many people have told me I ought to submit to.
We have a problem.
Even if I were to set the misogynistic writing aside, I still haven’t found a publication that, in my opinion, consistently puts out excellent content. And I still don’t feel like I have many writers to look up to.
Who am I supposed to be obsessed with? Who am I supposed to send fan mail to? Who am I supposed to want to plagiarize?
I’m not saying all of this because I think I’m a better writer than anyone else. In fact, I usually suck at writing. I need someone to tell me that I suck and how to suck less. I also need a publication to submit to that I believe in, that has incredibly high standards, and that will reject me over and over again until I write something worthy.
A fellow climbing writer recently wrote in his blog that when he pitched an article (to a magazine he left unnamed) about climbing in the Dominican Republic, they told him to be sure to get a lot of pictures of chicks in bikinis.
This is not the problem of one writer and one magazine. Again, this is a much bigger issue. We, as an industry, have a problem.
A few weeks back, La Sportiva, arguably the most popular climbing shoe company in the world, posted an Instagram photo of Paige Claassen that described her as “young” and a “pretty face”. This is a woman who is one of the strongest sport climbers in the entire world and someone who I look up to immensely. However, I don’t look up to her because she’s pretty or young. I look up to her because she is a really nice person and absolutely crushes on the rocks. A few people commented on the post, expressing that they were disappointed to see that Paige’s appearance was put before her accomplishments. It was then suggested by La Sportiva and by other commenters that the people who confronted them were being too sensitive.
We have a problem.
When women who write articles or make comments about their experiences with oppression in the climbing industry are called bitches, whiners, attention-seekers, wanna-be-feminists, and man-haters, we have a problem.
When a climber writes to a magazine to tell them that they wish to cancel their subscription because they found some of their content to be offensive, and gets told by the magazine to calm down because “it’s tongue and cheek writing”, we have a problem.
When Reel Rock features men almost exclusively, we have a problem.
When a person collects stories from women about their experiences in rock climbing and is then told that they must have been raped as a child to want to write an article of that nature, we have a problem.
When multiple women come to me and say, I want to say something about this too but I’m scared because of how poorly other people who speak about this have been treated, we have a problem.
When an article that pokes about fun the way a well known female climber dresses and acts on social media becomes widely popular, we have a problem.
When the writer I’m told to look up to writes articles that are degrading to women, and when called out on this, he attacks me publicly, lies to and manipulates the entire climbing community in an attempt to discredit me, and accuses me of getting sponsorship because of who I’ve dated, we have a problem.
When even one person comes to his defense, we have a problem.
When the magazine I’m widely told to submit to publishes sentences such as, “…I sat hypnotized by the sight of a tight little package, all hot with hair full of body and bounce, pumping an elliptical machine,” we have a problem.
When I could keep going on and on and on, we have a problem.
And when almost every person working in the climbing industry denies the seriousness, existence, and validity of all of these issues, we have a really big problem.
It has been made clear by multiple members of the climbing industry that my voice is not welcome here. The amount of shaming that I have received from the industry for simply speaking is shocking. And I’m not the only one–it seems that whenever someone speaks in a voice that sounds even slightly different from what we’re all used to, they are ripped apart. But it’s not the climbing community that has a problem with different voices–it’s the industry. Like I said, I got over 500 messages of support in response to my open letter. These messages were from climbers, not the people who work in the climbing industry. That’s important, and I listened.
I’m not going to write for this industry, I’m going to write for this community. Because when I write for the community, for climbers, the bro-club that is the climbing industry gets quieter, weaker, and less prominent.
It’s taken me a while, but I now understand what my job is here–to fuck with everything. Thankfully I have a lot of experience in that field. I have in fact found a few platforms that welcomes my writing, including Moja Gear and The Climbing Zine. But my purpose is not to write for the mainstream magazines, it never was, and I never even wanted to in the first place.
I also have faith that I will find a writer to emulate. I know that you’re out there somewhere, but perhaps your voice has been shamed or unpublished. I need you to write, and to write loudly. This community needs you. We also need more publications that welcomes media from all members of this community, not just the dudes who can hold on to small crimps.
I also know that I’m not the first woman to write about rock climbing. I know that many women have come before me, and that they have paved the way for me and made it possible for my voice to be heard.
I can feel the shifts happening in this industry, slowly, but we need everyone to get louder, to keep pushing, and to not stop anytime soon.
The good news? There’s no wrong way to go about this.
And yeah, there will be maybe like three dudes that will call you a bitch, and it will suck, but not as much as those dudes suck. This community needs your voice SO badly.
A few months ago I told one of my friends that I was done–done with this industry, done trying to write, done with the ridicule. But I said that out of frustration and exhaustion–I’m not going anywhere. I’m just going to get louder.
“Do you want my advice?” he asks.
I shrug my shoulders. “Sure.”
“You’re gonna get ripped apart trying to do what you’re doing. Believe me. Don’t write about all this political stuff. I know you care about it but just write that shit in your journal or something. You’re a smart girl and a good writer and people like you. Well, they like you right now at least. But this industry, I’m telling you, they will rip someone like you apart. They like to pretend they’re all progressive or whatever but you’re dealing with old school shit. So just let it go. You could write for anyone you want to if you just play by the rules.” He smiles and looks at me as if this is good news.
I get up from the table.
“Why are you leaving?” he asks.
“Because you don’t get it.” I zip my down jacket and turn towards the door.
“Oh and also,” I say, looking back at him. “Fuck you.”
To make a donation to Georgie’s writing, click here.