Reflections: The Search For Women In Nature: Where Are They?

When we think of “women for Nature,” we know there are many. Yet, where are they?

We are a group of four young women between the ages of 28-31 who desire to see increased visibility of female role models in Nature and outdoor education.

Historically speaking, outdoor recreation has been associated with masculinity (and colonialism), and masculinity has been associated with men. As young women in History class, we learned about voyageurs who traveled the country by canoe and on foot through rugged terrain. They were almost always male (and white). We learned about Bill Mason and John Muir, and many other male paddlers and conservationists who sought to protect places of wilderness. But where were the more than “token” women? Although many stories of women in Nature are emerging, the history of women for Nature has been dominated by “his” story.

This remains the case and is problematic. Every year we attend outdoor adventurer film festivals. We sit on the edge of our seats with the hope of watching films dedicated to female outdoor enthusiasts. Every year we are disappointed. Sometimes, out of a selection of 10 films, one or two might be devoted to women in outdoor sports, and it’s usually (although not always) a short production.

We are educators that come from across Ontario and we want to show young women that they can desire rightful recognition for women as Nature enthusiasts and activists. Three of us are certified teachers, two of us have degrees specializing in outdoor education, and one of us was previously a full time wilderness and canoe guide. We believe that access to, and experience in Nature cultivates the growth of strong, independent women who then become advocates, spokespersons, and caretakers for those natural places and each other.

However, the masculine dominated environment of outdoor education can discourage young women to engage in Nature activities and even seek employment in areas that are related to Nature. We believe that the presence of visible women role models greatly increases the self-actualization of young women. When we see women in positions traditionally relegated to men, we are empowered and emboldened by their example to follow in their footsteps and create similar opportunities for ourselves.

Arising from a desire to cultivate female bonds and to empower one another, we decided to embark on our first all-female canoe trip in July 2017. We will spend nine days paddling in Nature together, documenting our experience through film.

Our route will follow a section of the Path of the Paddle, a historical Canadian water route in Northwestern Ontario that has recently been redeveloped for public access. The film will follow each of our four narratives as we reflect on why we value time in the wilderness, what it means for us to be women in the wilderness, and the gendered nature of outdoor education.

We acknowledge that we are four women from privileged backgrounds. This has helped us to have a knowledge base to draw from for trip planning, access to equipment, and skillsets. For many women, however, embarking on a nine day canoe trip into an unfamiliar place may seem like a daunting task, and one may not know where to start. While backcountry camping is one example of how the wilderness can be experienced, the wilderness can also be enjoyed through smaller tasks such as learning how to start a fire or set up a tent. We aim to show young women they can choose their challenge according to their comfort level, financial ability, or location.

We will produce a film of our experience that teachers can use in the classroom as a curriculum resource for discussing gender and outdoor education. We will also develop complementary outdoor education lesson plans adaptable according to grade.

We are hobbyist videographers, but we feel that the “Do It Yourself” spirit of our film will connect with the younger generation. This project has been supported by Nature Canada and The Path of the Paddle Association.

At the heart of the project is our desire to empower young women to make choices so that they can become adventurers and stewards of the great outdoors.

Thank you,

Jocelyn Dockerty, Ledah McKellar, Katherine Scott, and Dayna Slingerland

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