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Decades after the first wave of feminism, the momentum behind women’s issues is once again growing.

Much of it is political – millions marched in January, and women are now rallying around health care – but the movement also extends to… recreation.

Heidi Kyser wrote about women and the outdoors for the May issue of Desert Companion. 

“It matters because feminist want equal access to all parts of the world for work and recreation and right now it doesn’t seem like the outdoors is as equitable as welcoming a place to everyone as it should be,” Kyser said.

Of course, the outdoors is for everyone, but Kyser said, it is the outdoors industry that isn't serving women as much as it could. Women don't get as much attention or notice in everything from the type of equipment that is sold to the activities that are made available in recreational areas.

The outdoor retail giant REI is looking to fill that space with it's Force of Nature campaign this summer.

“The whole intention is to really provide a space for women, women of all ages, all colors, whatever background to come into REI to find resources in the way of how to do camping, hiking, running, walking, backpacking,” said Ashley Lee, the outreach coordinator for REI.

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Lee said there is a huge gap in knowledge between men and women, which is why many women are afraid to go camping, hiking or backpacking. REI is providing classes on things like wilderness first aid and orienteering to help bridge that gap. They're also trying to connect women interested in getting outdoors with other women wanting to do the same thing.

Lifan Irwin is a co-owner of Irwin Cycles and she is trying to do the same thing for mountain biking. 

“I was most interested in helping ladies network with each other,” she said.

She has started a mountain biking group specifically geared towards women. Irwin said she's found that women tend to be more cautious when they're mountain biking and more concerned about planning ahead than men, which might be one of the reasons that women don't feel as comfortable being in the outdoors.

Another problem could the impression of what an "outdoorsy woman" is like, Lee said.

“I think women have this expectation that outdoorsy has to look a certain way,” she said.

But they want to break down that barrier to get people to understand that 'outdoorsy' can look anyway and be anyone. That is also a problem with people of color in the outdoors. Many people picture a certain type of person as an outdoorsy person and that picture often doesn't include women of color. Satra Cooley is trying to change that image.

She said many African Americans didn't grow up camping, hiking, mountain biking or kayaking so they're not sharing that experience with their children.

“If you’re not doing it, you’re not to going to pass it along,” she said.

Cooley said being outdoors has helped her cope with her own anxiety and depression and wants other black women to know it is a place to take a break from expectations and be in a space that is non-judgmental. 

 

Guests

Heidi Kyser, writer, Desert Companion; Lifan Irwin, co-owner, Irwin Cycles; Satara Cooley, outdoor enthusiast; Ashley Lee, outreach coordinator, REI Las Vegas