By Allison Titus
Most people don’t find their inner peace 345 feet up in the air walking barefoot on an inch-wide piece of webbing suspended between towering rock formations. However, Faith Dickey is not most people.
Slacklining is a sport created by climbers in Yosemite, and involves suspending various types of webbing between two points and using balance, strength and focus to walk across. The sport has evolved to include varieties such as highlining, which requires walking on a slackline between two high points, and waterlining, or walking on a slackline above water. Faith Dickey holds the record for longest female waterline, longest female highlining length, and longest female highline free solo, which means walking without being clipped to the rope.
Her story of focus, drive and facing fear on the line was one of the many adventure sport tales featured in the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Banff Film Festival is a worldwide outdoor film festival tour showing the best adventure sports films from around the globe. On February 20, 21 and 22, hundreds of local outdoor enthusiasts flocked to the Rio Theatre for the Santa Cruz feature of the festival, searching for inspiration and entertainment alike.
Out of a lineup of seven films on Sunday night, Faith Dickey’s 4-minute film was the only one that featured a woman as the main adventure sports athlete. This is a classic format of the Banff Mountain Film festival; every night had at least one “token female” film squeezed amidst a lineup of films primarily featuring white, male athletes.
The outdoor industry has long struggled with representation and diversity, and the lack of women and other underrepresented groups of people in outdoor media is just one way in which it continues to fall short.
As an aspiring outdoor leader, a beginning climber, skier and a woman, I too came to the Banff Film Festival hoping for inspiration and ideas, and I was not alone. Despite the lack of women featured on screen, at least half of the audience in the Rio Theater were women. This begs the question: are there truly less competent women in extreme sports, or are they just not being covered by outdoor media?
I don’t know the answer to this question, but from personal experience, I can say that I don’t believe there is a lack of women “crushing it” in their element of choice.
Outdoor and adventure films are just a small slice of the film industry in the United States that still struggles with accurate and fair representation of women and other underrepresented groups (Did you watch the Oscars?). Women are paid less than men across the board in the United States, even in jobs that are female-dominated. The missing women in outdoor media are representative of a larger problem at work.
It’s not just the lack of women represented in outdoor media but also how they are represented that is problematic. Faith Dickey’s poise and strength on a slackline speaks for itself, but much of her short film was spent interviewing Andrew Craig, a fellow slackliner and male, as if to validate Dickey’s skill.
“The delicacy and beauty and precision that a female can bring I think is something that oftentimes has a lot more value than the grunting, muscle-y force of males,” commented Andrew Craig in the episode of Wild Women on Faith Dickey that was featured in Banff.
While it is true that Faith Dickey brings “delicacy and beauty” to slacklining, it’s an issue that these are some of the only qualities that Craig highlighted. What she also brings is strength, focus, balance and drive to the male-dominated sport, although Craig spent much less time highlighting those features of her highlining and slacklining technique.
This brings up another problem in the representation of women in outdoor sports: the relationship between being a “successful” female adventure sports athlete and being considered “attractive” by society. When researching information for this article, the top results of a simple Google search of “women in extreme sports” were articles such as “12 Hottest Women in Extreme Sports” and “50 Hottest Female Athletes in Extreme Sports.” Beauty should not be a prerequisite to media coverage by the prominent outdoor magazines and news sources, gender aside.
As an aspiring female outdoor leader, it is discouraging not to see myself represented at this festival or in the larger scope of outdoor media. Women bring much more than beauty and femininity to the outdoor world, and shouldn’t have to feel pressure to “prove themselves” to make up for their gender identity.
Despite the current lack of representation, there are many people and organizations out there doing work to get more women outdoors and to tell more stories about women in the adventure sports world. Lynsey Dyer, professional big mountain skier, began a Kickstarter campaign in to fund a skiing film called “Pretty Faces,” a double entendre for both literal pretty faces and sheer mountain faces. She dreamed up the film with the intention of giving women, young and old, an inspirational skiing film from a female perspective. It is composed of all-female athletes, and won the 2015 Coldsmoke Femme Fatale award for most inspiring female presence and performance.
Also, there are events and film screenings happening in the local area to promote women in the outdoors and outdoor media. The Save the Waves chapter in Santa Cruz recently hosted a preview of several surfing films at Sawyer Land and Sea Supply on March 6. All of these films featured women who surf and many focused on themes such as desexualizing surfing culture and breaking gender stereotypes. These are just a couple examples out of many improvements being made to empower women to get out there and accurately represent their experience.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by competent, strong women who trail run, rock climb, kayak, ski, mountain bike and surf. I have no lack of female role models that I know personally or work with. However, this is not true for every young girl just learning how to pop up on a surfboard or do parallel turns on skis. Improving women’s and other marginalized groups’ representation in outdoor media will ultimately make these sports more accessible and inspiring to more people. Whether it’s a slackline, a huge granite boulder, a perfect wave or a drop down a waterfall, the outdoors hold an infinite amount of mediums for pushing limits, getting to know yourself better and feeling the pure joy that comes from a mix of challenge and fun, no matter who you are. The rocks, rivers and waves know no gender, race, nor class.