Giving Voice—An Interview With the Founder of Outdoor Women’s Alliance

 

Gina Bégin is a free­lance pho­to­jour­nal­ist, writer and adven­tur­er who found­ed Out­door Women’s Alliance (OWA), an inter­na­tion­al non­prof­it media col­lec­tive that pro­motes women in human pow­ered adven­ture. Her work has been pub­lished in Out­side Mag­a­zine, Moun­tain Mag­a­zine, and many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. OWA works to pro­mote strength over sex­u­al­i­ty and abil­i­ty over aes­thet­ics. Their goal is to pro­vide an alter­nate mes­sage to the one put forth by main­stream media. OWA’s grass­roots teams also plan and host events, work­shops, teen pro­grams and trips to help devel­op lead­er­ship and con­fi­dence through out­door adven­tures and skill build­ing. They con­nect over 65,000 women world­wide from North Amer­i­ca to the Mid­dle East in both online and offline communities.


The Clymb: You have carved out a unique and out­door-ori­ent­ed career path. What advice for do you have for peo­ple who want to live their lives doing what they love?

Gina Bégin: To pur­sue doing what you love you need to have a belief that’s firm­ly plant­ed in every­thing that you do. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, you’re not going to get very far. You’ll tire out. If this belief is the right path for you and you have a real desire for it, the hard work basi­cal­ly gives you a push of adren­a­line all the time. You’re able to run off of that belief and desire. That is real­ly foun­da­tion­al in cre­at­ing the life you know you are sup­posed to live. After that, it’s all details real­ly. The fact that you have that belief and desire will push you into the right chan­nels and resources because you’ll con­stant­ly be look­ing for ways and avenues and chances and oppor­tu­ni­ties that can help you toward your life path.

First you devel­op the belief and have the desire, then you cre­ate the mind­set that you are actu­al­ly almost already liv­ing that life. Say you want to be a writer, just start call­ing your­self a writer. Don’t say “I want to be a writer,” because if it’s who you are, then just start own­ing that title. Real­ly as soon as you start adopt­ing those beliefs in to your life, things will start falling in your path because your mind is open to see­ing them. I know this sounds real­ly cliché, like, just think it and it will hap­pen, but there’s some truth to it.

There are a ton of sac­ri­fices that you have to make when you’re going after your dream, whether it be becom­ing a writer or start­ing a new busi­ness or cre­at­ing an orga­ni­za­tion, any­thing like that. They don’t actu­al­ly feel like sac­ri­fices when that desire is strong and its right for your life. There are a lot of clichés in there, but I real­ly have found on this path that there are truth to these clichés. I talk a lot about this in a book I wrote for the Peak Foun­da­tion called The Pur­suit of Reality.


The Clymb: Which came first, your suc­cess as a writer or start­ing OWA?

GB: OWA came first, it start­ed as an idea in late 2007. We had our first event in Jan­u­ary 2008. Free­lance writ­ing didn’t actu­al­ly start hap­pen­ing as a career path for me until June-August of 2010, although I have been writ­ing my whole life. I was writ­ing for my per­son­al site, my blog ginabegin.com, from 2006 or 2007 onward. It was just a per­son­al thing to update my fam­i­ly on what I was doing, how a lot of blog­gers start out actually.

I don’t write much for OWA, I pre­fer to allow the voic­es of women around the world be show­cased on there because I don’t want to take the spot­light from the orga­ni­za­tion and what we are try­ing to do for oth­er women. I might write things here and there if there’s a gap that we can’t fill but it’s been prob­a­bly about a year since I’ve writ­ten any­thing oth­er than a review. My role with OWA’s web con­tent is more of an edi­tor. One of my goals with OWA is to help bud­ding writ­ers get their foot in the door and be able to get bylines pub­lished so they are able to build their writ­ing resume.


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The Clymb: What have your expe­ri­ences been like as a female in the out­door industry?

GB: In the indus­try, I have found it is actu­al­ly real­ly quite easy. As an entre­pre­neur, I haven’t had a neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence, it’s just been pos­i­tive actu­al­ly. Peo­ple are very wel­com­ing to women in the out­door indus­try. They are very excit­ed to have us speak up and give our input and start orga­ni­za­tions. That to me hasn’t been a prob­lem. I still feel like women’s gear has a long way to go, but that is anoth­er story.

Being a female out­door enthu­si­ast has been most­ly pos­i­tive as well. I have found that in cer­tain areas of the coun­try, men are more open to women being their out­door adven­ture part­ners and don’t real­ly see a dif­fer­ence between, say going rock climb­ing with a girl or rock climb­ing with anoth­er guy. But there are cer­tain areas of the coun­try where I have noticed a major dif­fer­ence where guys are like, “Well, can you even do this?” Or they expect me to be at a low­er lev­el than they are, to not have the same experience.

I’ve noticed that my friends who are women have had that same prob­lem in dif­fer­ent geo­graph­i­cal areas as well. They’ve noticed there def­i­nite­ly are places where men still have the mind­set that women are not as skilled, strong or tech­ni­cal and they assume we don’t real­ly under­stand­ing the sport. It’s a cul­tur­al thing, and I try not to judge the men who act this way because we can’t help where we grow up. I think mak­ing peo­ple real­ize that they are doing it so they are aware of the prob­lem is the first step towards mak­ing a change for the bet­ter. I also usu­al­ly respond by work­ing that much hard­er to show them that women are on equal footing.


The Clymb: What do you think about learn­ing out­door sports from men ver­sus from women?

GB: I think that we can learn from any­body, right? I think that women can learn from men, women can learn from each oth­er, and vice ver­sa. There are advan­tages of hav­ing all women and hav­ing co-ed.

In co-ed, we can learn new tech­niques and styles that can help us progress in our sports. But we can also learn the way that men approach sit­u­a­tions. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, women’s brains are a crazy tan­gle of con­nec­tiv­i­ty because we process so many things before we act. It’s a lot hard­er for us to not think about some­thing and just go for it like men can. It’s some­thing that we have to learn as women.

In co-ed sit­u­a­tions, though, women will often defer to men. This is a gen­er­al­iza­tion, you know, there are strong women who don’t allow that to hap­pen and will speak their minds and take charge, but often times women will allow men to con­trol the group dynam­ic. Again, this anoth­er cul­tur­al thing that we need to over­come. But when we get togeth­er with all women, we act more as a group and we come to deci­sions togeth­er as equals instead of hav­ing a hier­ar­chy in place.

We also under­stand each oth­er, the ways we learn and approach sports. We under­stand what is going to make oth­er women feel com­fort­able, where­as men may just charge for­ward with­out giv­ing thought to the rest of the group. Women will make sure that every­body is tak­en care of, every­body is set to go, and every­body under­stands what’s going on before mov­ing for­ward. I do feel that women have advan­tages of learn­ing togeth­er in that way. We are able to look out for each oth­er as well as push each oth­er for­ward. Women a lot of the time will get real­ly excit­ed when they see each oth­er pro­gress­ing. They’re like, “She can do that? I’m total­ly going to do that.” There’s no excuse not to try. And again, I always apol­o­gize for the stereo­types, but when some women see a guy doing some­thing, we make excus­es like, “Well, it’s because he’s taller, or it’s because he’s way stronger than I will ever be because he’s a man.” But when you see a women doing the same thing, then the excus­es go away. We approach the sit­u­a­tion as an ath­lete regard­less of our height, our strength, our what­ev­er. There are a lot of advan­tages of learn­ing togeth­er as a group of women that are dif­fi­cult to have in a co-ed situation.


The Clymb: Why and how did you start OWA?

GB: It comes back to what we just talked about—that mind­set of a woman athlete.

I was a ski instruc­tor for a few years and I would have women come up to me all the time and say, “I wish that I could learn to ski but I just can’t. My boyfriend or my hus­band or who­ev­er will take me to the top of a black dia­mond and I’ll get scared and won’t be able to do it.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard that sto­ry over and over again, about not being able to learn because of the fear fac­tor. Obvi­ous­ly there’s a learn­ing curve. Peo­ple should take ski lessons with an instruc­tor who, whether male or female, knows how to progress a stu­dent. I don’t mean to blame it on boyfriends or hus­bands in gen­er­al but I’m just say­ing that it was that dif­fer­ence in men­tal­i­ties between women and men. If a women were to bring her friends ski­ing, she would say, “this is how you stop, this is how you slow down.” They would go through more of a pro­gres­sion and she would prob­a­bly take her friends to the bun­ny hill, then on to a green, then to a blue, and then on to a black. It would be a smooth tran­si­tion rather than the bun­ny hill a cou­ple of times and then a black diamond.

I real­ized that there were so many women who need­ed to learn things in this way. There were also a lot of women who used to be into out­door sports but hadn’t been able do to them very often because they were mar­ried or had chil­dren or careers—you know all these lit­tle caveats about why they weren’t able to get out­doors. I decid­ed that we were just going to get togeth­er and go out. It was very casu­al, very local at first. Peo­ple would invite their friends who would all invite more friends, and I showed them how to ski, or we would go hik­ing or climb­ing or kayak­ing, things like that.

We were writ­ing about what we were doing as well on a blog. I was very active on social media so I was talk­ing about this on Twit­ter and Face­book as well. Pret­ty quick­ly, women from dif­fer­ent areas of the coun­try were like, “Exact­ly, I want this expe­ri­ence, too. Are you guys doing any­thing in this area?” I real­ized there was a big­ger need for this out­side of where I lived.

There are always rea­sons women want to get togeth­er in the out­doors, no mat­ter where you are geo­graph­i­cal­ly or cul­tur­al­ly. OWA is a way for us to step over those cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences and sort of lev­el that play­ing field and allow women wher­ev­er they are to par­tic­i­pate and grow in out­door sports.

That’s one rea­son why we don’t do the top­less pho­tos on top of sum­mits and things like that, because we work world­wide. In a lot of cul­tures that’s just not accept­able, includ­ing many here in North Amer­i­ca. We’re try­ing to be care­ful and lay a very accept­able foun­da­tion that’s inclu­sive of every­body. That’s how OWA start­ed and why it grew the way that it did.


The Clymb: How can women get involved with OWA even if they don’t have a grass­roots team near them?

GB: We’re always look­ing for women’s per­spec­tives and their voic­es, no mat­ter where they are. We have women in the Mid­dle East, in Japan and the Unit­ed King­dom. They are show­ing us their per­spec­tive through their writ­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy, as well as through ambas­sador­ships, which are basi­cal­ly indi­vid­ual grass­roots teams. There’s a lot of dif­fer­ent roles women can play with­in the orga­ni­za­tion and it doesn’t just have to be as a mem­ber of a team. We con­sid­er every­one who con­tributes a mem­ber of the OWA team. Every out­door women’s voice is part of who we are and part of our sto­ry. Share your per­spec­tives and your approach to sports and the out­door world. There’s no one way to get involved, there are an infi­nite num­ber because we are always explor­ing new ways.

You can always send us sug­ges­tions of ways you would like to see OWA grow through our email: info@outdoorwomensalliance.com. We’re real­ly com­mu­ni­ty based and are entire­ly made up of vol­un­teers, includ­ing myself.

Take a look at our Insta­gram, @outdoorwomen. We’re real­ly excit­ed because we actu­al­ly have some great brands that are going to be tak­ing over our Insta­gram account this sum­mer with give­aways and great con­tent. Amer­i­can Alpine Club, Out­door Research, Scarpa, and Arc’teryx will all be tak­ing over our account in the com­ing months, so stay tuned.