The Outdoor Industry: Our Watershed Moment

No pain no gain, or so the saying goes.

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of needing to continue a conversation for which I have a lot of feelings and few words. I wrote a little bit about this when I hit a personal moment last winter of needing to say something. Now I’ve been called out publicly by a leading voice in an industry I’ve been part of for a relatively short time. So I’ll stretch the limits of my comfort zone and try to put words to what I feel.

Grab your favorite beverage and settle in. This is a long, meandering paddle.

Here goes anything:

A Watershed Moment

I have heard a number of well-known women call this period in time – in which we, across all industries, fight for equality in the workplace (whether this means fighting against sexual harassment and abuse, abuse of power, pay inequality, how we’re portrayed in the media, etc.) – a watershed moment.

I like the word watershed. In this instance we use it to describe a crucial dividing point in time (Merriam-Webster).

watershed moment
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As a paddler and a map nerd, a watershed is commonly defined as the whole geographic region drained by a river and its tributaries. Geologists and geographers argue that a watershed is technically a ridge that separates waters flowing in opposite directions (Merriam-Webster). And of course that’s where the term “watershed moment” is derived.

I find it funny that these two instances of the word intersect here:

Rapid Media’s Paddling Magazine

In early September, the inaugural Paddling Magazine landed in my mailbox. I raised an eyebrow at the “James Raffan on Summer Fashion for Wild Women” coverline. As I walked in my front door, polybagged magazine in hand and eyebrow still raised, I received a text from a friend who wanted to know my thoughts on that very piece.

So I tore open the bag and read the article. It’s on page 80 of the Fall 2017 issue if the link doesn’t work for you.

After reading it I wrote this open letter (or this one on Facebook, if you prefer).

Imagine my surprise when my letter appeared, excerpted and rebutted, in the 2018 Buyer’s Guide. You can click the images for a bigger view.

watershed moment watershed moment

While it may have made the publisher feel good to disagree with me in the pages of his magazine, the response isn’t exactly conducive to continuing a conversation about how outdoorswomen are portrayed in the media and by extension, treated in the workplace. Particularly as guides.

I’ll do the best I can to leave that door open, to listen to what you all have to say, and to respond if it’s appropriate. The comments are open below and on my various social media platforms.

Outdoorswomen in the Media

Canoeing Couture

I took issue with Raffan’s essay because here I was yet again reading stories of some kick-ass women through the stereotypical feminine lens of how they looked, what they were wearing. How about celebrating their accomplishments full stop? No need for running commentary on their “canoeing couture”.

Or follow Emerald LaFortune’s advice, an O.A.R.S. raft guide, who wrote the excellent “A #MeToo Guide for Outdoorsy Dudes” piece for this watershed moment:

Include women in your creative projects and let them have equal say. Always, but especially if your creative project is telling the story of another woman.  Also – don’t expect one woman’s story to be all women’s story any more than you would expect Alex Honnold to represent all male climbers.

Guides in the Industry

In the last 15 months I had a casual conversation with Rapid’s publisher about a creative project I was excited about diving into: weaving the stories of female career changers who are now guides in the outdoors industry with those of historical female guides from centuries ago.

His response? What about the male career changers?

Man, that is not my story to tell. And… Don’t you think outdoorsmen already get enough air time?

I want to tell women’s stories for women: the bigwig publisher turned world-class sea kayak instructor and guide, the flight attendant turned whitewater canoe guide on the rivers of the Far North, the engineer turned backcountry canoe outfitter, the diplomat / activist turned owner of an outdoor adventure travel company for women, the financier turned big-mountain mountain guide.

Women might care about what these women were wearing when they changed careers but more likely they want to know how they broke into a male-dominated field. Did they encounter harassment or derision? Did they have kids when they changed careers? If yes, how did that work? Did it change the dynamics with family and friends? What training did they go through? How did they afford to make the change? How did it feel to make such a leap?

What I Want to See

I want to see more female photographers and writers in the pages of a magazine that represents an industry I work and teach in. I want to see less of white men in ads for SUP boards, PFDs, whitewater kayaks and more of everyone else. This means working towards equal representation. There is enough data from the Outdoor Industry Association to support an outdoors media shift to inclusivity. Our time and our dollars are out there. As I noted in my first letter, the editorial team at Outside Magazine is already making the shift.

The Paddling Magazine team has sway over what appears in its pages. I know it can do this.

Let’s Talk

Tell me what you think. Did I leave something out that’s important to you? You can comment below. You can comment on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. You can send me an e-mail. I want to have respectful conversations about what we can do to bring about change in the industry. Or if you don’t think change is needed, tell me why.

Let’s Do Something

Are you done talking about it? Ready to do something? Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you see something, say something. Don’t let inequalities slide by.
  • Donate to Time’s Up. The organization also has a great list of suggestions of things you can do to help.
  • Write the media you follow regularly and ask for equal representation. Do the same of their advertisers and sponsors.
  • Subscribe to Outside Magazine.

I’m ready for some change. This is our watershed moment.

Published by Kate Monahan

Travel happy. Outdoors professional. Writer. Photographer. Educator.

4 thoughts on “The Outdoor Industry: Our Watershed Moment

  1. I would LOVE to hear your ” stories of female career changers who are now guides in the outdoors industry”….much more interesting in what clothes to wear 🙂


    1. I’m all yours, Brenda. I don’t know why I waited so long to start working on this project but it absolutely feels like the right time to write it. I’ll jump in with both feet this spring.


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