Coping With Wilderness Mansplaining

According to the internet one of the most common forms of mansplaining is being mansplained on a topic in your own area of expertise. you have no doubt encountered this in your everyday lives (my pct partner and good friend is an engineer. woah does she have some stories.) but ladies, you’re not out of the woods just because you’re in the woods. once you become a thru-hiker, and thus a very keen expert in all things wilderness backpacking related, you’ll have to learn how to cope with various men – especially day hikers and random men in town- telling you about various outdoorsy things they don’t know very much about. men will want mansplain some wilderness crap to you because they will assume they know more about it than you since you are not a man. men: tarzan, you: jane. and golly, what would we janes do without tarzan?

Women of the trail – do not let this stand! this is the fucking worst and it’s a micro-aggression! i’ve spent lots of time working in the backcountry and have been encountering wilderness mansplaining for years. some choice moments:
mansplaining on skis. recently, while helping guide a group of ten men around a 3,000 acre parcel of wilderness in the sierra nevada mountains to rip powder, as i do most days, one gentleman kindly took the time to explain to me that our society now values women more than it used to. he knows all about it, he proclaimed, because he has three sisters…WOW DUDE. thanks for letting me know that! can you hear yourself when you talk?
And a few days ago a local insurance executive who skis about 20 resort days per year and has never skied in the backcountry (never! never ever in his whole life!) looked straight into my eyes and began trying to explain to me – his backcountry ski guide – what causes avalanches in tahoe. he trailed off quickly, though, when he realized he had run out of snow sciencey-sounding words and couldn’t keep up with the ruse that he knew what he was talking about. his buddies probably thought he was on point…i had trouble trying not to throw up in my mouth a little bit.
mansplaining on trail. on a weekly basis a local gentleman from here in the tahoe area generously shares his opinion with me on how, why, where, and whether i’ll encounter snow, cold, drought, flooding, heat, sun, impassable water, and generally strenuous conditions on the pacific crest trail this spring, and what i should do about it. they’ve all been hiking before, so they know…hey thanks dudes! even though i’ve been painstakingly planning this trip for about a year and i live right here in the high sierras i’d never thought about checking that snow table website before! thanks for that tip.
it doesn’t matter where you find yourself. when i hiked the appalachian trail in 2011 there were countless times where i would come upon male hikers who, when i passed them, would cheer on my male hiking partners with a ‘have fun!’ or ‘happy trails!’ and would send me along with a foreboding ‘be careful!’ it’s the same on the west coast apparently. i should definitely take a self defense class, a recent local man explained to me, because you just can’t assume all men will treat you with respect… oh! the irony! it’s blinding me!

mansplaining on a bike. oh this one seems to get me every time. whether i’m on my mountain bike, on my road bike which i maintain and repair by myself, or on the commuter bike i built with my own two hands, a friendly generous bro-brah will usually make sure to give me tips on how to fix my such and such doohickey, or let me know what gear mistakes i’ve already made, or let me know about a new FKT record on strava they’ve just set…a good approach to take in this situation is to crop dust this dude-bro as you overtake him on the flats because he hit his VO2 max trying to impress you on the uphill.

thank you, oh wise men of the front country! how would we know what to do with our delicate selves out there in nature if you were not willing to share your endless wisdom and expertise with us which you gleaned from that one time you left san francisco to go on a guided mountaineering trip in the himalayas where sherpas cooked your meals and carried all your gear for you?

thank you, men, for educating me on wilderness topics even though I’m a 32 year old grown woman with multiple decades of professional and personal outdoor and backcountry experience including:
alpine skiing, telemark skiing, snowboarding, backcountry skiing, ski instruction, ski racing, ski guiding, ski tech-ing and tuning, avalanche education, snowmobiling, route finding, mountaineering, wilderness navigation, canoeing, sea kayaking, kayak camping, sailing, day hiking, long distance hiking, backpacking, road biking, mountain biking, urban biking, bike repair, bike building, bike safety instruction, road running, trail running, road racing, camp counseloring, trail building, trail maintenance, trail stewardship, stream crossing, rope tying, rock climbing, open water swimming, surfing, traveling alone, hut croo-ing, caretaking, search-and-rescueing, wilderness first responder training, outdoor gear retail, and lots lots more!
what to do about it all? 
i mean it when i say thank you to the wilderness mansplainers of the world for showing us that women still have to fight and we still have to use the word ‘feminism’ and we still have to show up and we still have to be observant and mindful and vocal.  when you find yourself in the middle of a lecture from some guy who doesn’t care at all about your own experience or expertise, don’t take it lying down! i read about the following approach on the internet. someone said that one of the best methods for shutting down a mansplainer when he’s telling you, for example, about the pros and cons of going ultra-light, is to stump him with a question about some really minute and esoteric detail on the topic. go ahead and give it a shot! you can say something like, “bro. thanks for that tip about cutting my toothbrush in half to save weight, i’ve never thought of that on any of the hundreds of days i’ve spent backpacking by myself in the wilderness. hey i’d love your opinion on something. when i stick the now extra half of my toothbrush up your ass, exactly how many centimeters up there would you like me to send it?” see! try it. works great.

have fun out there ladies. don’t let the mansplainers get you down, and don’t keep your mouth shut.  if you have #wildernessmansplaining stories to share or ideas for shutting it down i’d love to hear them! please reply in the comments section below. we are wild women, hear us roar. loudly.
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Comments 17

  • A. Michelsen : Mar 3rd

    It’s not wilderness mansplaining, but I think it’s the most hilarious example of mainsplaining ever.. Once at a dinner party a man explained to me how my period works! He was not a doctor or any kind of health professional.. At the end I had to interject that since I had been menstruating every month for the past 12 years I was pretty sure not only how it worked but also what the frequency was and furthermore I REALLY needed him to shut the f..k up already. I mean really… !?

    Reply
    • Abby King : Mar 20th

      that’s outrageous! thank you for sharing. hope he reacted with humility and that he’ll take the lesson to heart.

      Reply
  • Jack Henry : Mar 3rd

    I know I’m a guy, but don’t discredit what I have to say hear. I totally get what you are saying. Condescension in all forms sucks, especially if it seems like it’s because of your gender. But this idea of “mansplaining” isn’t just something that happens to women. People explain things to me that I already understand in a condescending way all the time. And yeah it’s unpleasant, but it’s no travesty. Just because someone suggests that cutting your Toothbrush in half would save weight doesn’t mean they think you are less intelligent because you are a woman… just take it with a grain of salt. And I’m not saying that there aren’t tons of totally legitimate ways that women get discriminated against. And I support feminism. But really. This is not a big deal.

    Tear into me, I don’t care

    Reply
    • Dross : Mar 4th

      Did you just mansplain mansplaining?

      Reply
      • Steve : Mar 15th

        I believe so. It’ll take a few decades, I reckon, for men (really white men) to stop assuming that everyone wants to hear what they have to say.

        Reply
    • Abby King : Mar 20th

      thank you for your comment jack henry. i don’t discredit your input simply because you’re a guy. i do think it’s unfortunate and misguided (and a perfect example of this problem) that you think it’s your role to tell me, or any woman, what is or isn’t a big deal with respect to how we are treated by men…

      Reply
  • Cheryl : Mar 3rd

    Thank you. Do you need a new best friend? I’ve worked in natural resources and as a farrier for 40 years. I am so over the mansplaining thing. And the constant daily having to prove yourself. Playing stupid games that cost the agency you are working for just to put one over on the girl. The bullying is exhausting. I had one supervisor send me to a store in Wichita for a board stretcher. I knew there was no such thing, but went to town anyway. Treated myself to a haircut, went to the outdoor store for hiking boots, the western store and bought a new saddle. Made it back to work just before quitting time and told them I looked in every hardware store and couldn’t find a board stretcher. Asshats. I have access locally to several trails, a lake, and some abandoned federal parks. I use them for training by biking, walking, running, and hiking. I bring my dog. 14 years later, a guy in a white panel van cruised by, stopped and told me that it is dangerous for women to be alone in the park b/c there is wildlife. (Wildlife don’t attack men, just women?). I told him that wildlife isn’t scary but that old men in vans are and as such, I use them for target practice. He left. Seriously, if you do any mentoring or training let me know. I am on FB as Cheryl Swayne with a Kansas address. I do a lot of outdoors ‘stuff’ as an amateur and could use help training for my AT trip in 2019.

    Reply
    • Abby King : Mar 3rd

      Cheryl, you’re a total badass! Thanks for sharing your stories. I’d be happy to chat with you sometime about your upcoming AT thru-hike. Sounds like you have some time to plan it out… 😉

      Reply
    • Abby King : Mar 20th

      Hi Cheryl – Thank you for your comment! I can’t imagine the amount of mansplaining you must have to absorb working in a science/outdoor field. Thanks for sharing this story. I’d be happy to talk to you about your thru-hike. My email address is abigailking at gmail dot com.

      Reply
  • Cath Bennion : Mar 5th

    Happened to me just last night. I was hiking into an AT shelter near to a small residential area and encountered an older guy out walking his dog on the trail. He said I looked like a “serious” hiker in a very patronizing way. I dumped off my pack at the shelter and then proceeded to gather firewood. As he passed by me again a few minutes later he explained to me that it was going to be very cold that night, “down in the teens you know!” and asked me if I was going to be okay.

    What I actually said: “yes, I have the right gear and I’m going to build a fire.” What I really meant: “NO F**KING S**T, SHERLOCK!”

    Of course! My pretty little head is full of fluffy bunnies and kittens, there’s no space for trip planning or looking at forecasts or bringing the right gear or knowing how to build a campfire or generally stay warm and safe… I guarantee he would not have said this to a lone male hiker. Earlier the same day I had another guy (again, older) explain an alternative route to my intended destination as if it hadn’t occurred to me to look at a map at some point. Likewise, I doubt he would have said this stuff if I had been male.

    Most of the mansplaining I encounter on the trail comes from a kind place I think. They are just trying to help.

    But for any men reading this, lemme femsplain something to you: WE DO NOT NEED TO BE RESCUED. WE CAN RESCUE OURSELVES, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

    Reply
    • Abby King : Mar 20th

      Thanks for your comment Cath. I totally agree that for most men, the mansplaining comes from a kind place. I guess that’s what makes me wonder how best to respond! I don’t want to be rude to the guys because they’re not exactly being outwardly rude/discourteous to me, but it’s a larger problem and I want them to know they’re perpetuating stereotypes. It’s a fine line to walk, I guess.

      Reply
  • Gunslinger : Mar 7th

    You all stop worrying your pretty little heads! Just trying to be nice! LOL!

    Reply
    • Abby King : Mar 20th

      right…

      Reply
  • Kristy : Mar 7th

    All I have to say is… THANK YOU.

    We laugh about it, but it can seriously be annoying… and sometimes just downright disrespectful.

    Reply
    • Abby King : Mar 20th

      yeah i agree! i try to laugh about it but it does get exhausting after a while..

      Reply
  • Bob Davis : Mar 17th

    I think the instances where men were saying things like “be careful” to experienced wilderness women are definitely microaggressions, however talking about gear, weather, or other little facts is just how men are conditioned to communicate. Society has conditioned men to mostly share information in conversation, and as a guy I can tell you that every time I go outside I will hear lots of info about gear, snow safety, weather etc. and be explained things I already know well.

    I find it extremely frustrating that men’s lives are constantly filled with subliminal “man-offs” where what may appear to be a friendly conversation is really two dudes jocking for the most “man points”. Generally, any outdoor activity is ripe ground for scoring man points, and most men guide their behavior in the outdoors around what might give them the most man points, which often means sharing your knowledge no matter how little it may be. I thank you for bringing this issue to light and I don’t want to undermine your experience and frustrations but from a guy’s perspective, men who are acting this way are just on “man-off” auto-pilot and are sharing information with women (minus the “be careful” stuff) they way they would with other men. Thank you for writing about this since it is one step towards a culture where men don’t feel the pressure to constantly affirm their masculinity.

    Reply
    • Abby King : Mar 20th

      thank you very much for your comment bob. important to remember that men are “stuck” in this cycle/way of thought too.

      Reply

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