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Our first guest blog is from Heather Kay. I first met Heather at a mountain bike event on Dartmoor. I was struck not only by her awesome skills on the bike, but also her kindness and generosity. Her journey is an interesting one and this will hopefully be the first of many pieces for Girls Who Climb Trees.....
I’m a feminist. It’s taken me a long time to be able to say that. The word has so many ugly connotations. A feminist is someone who advocates social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. What is so wrong with that?
I see Kamala Harris become the first Vice-president of the USA and the Telegraph runs an article with the headline “Why Kamala Harris is the modern beauty icon the world needs” and I feel outraged that this is what they focus on. Is this all women will ever be? Beauty icons? Her intelligence, ambition, and years of hard work reduced to nothing but her looks.
It’s 1996 and I sign up for the Mountain Biking residential at school, I get told girls don’t do that, I have to get special permission from my parents to be able to go. I feel outraged.
I’m walking in the streets, marching. Around me, more women, with placards and banners. We’re angry, an old woman is beside me, her placard says: “why am I still having to fight this?” I don’t know the answer. I feel her outrage.
I’ve just finished college, I’m looking for work, the temping agencies tell me they only have work for men. I’m outraged. I manage to get an interview with a building supplies merchant, they walk me round the yard, the man interviewing me jokes with all the male employees: “she’s come for the job.” I see their sniggers. He shows me the 15kg bags that I will occasionally have to lift, and I want to pick them up and throw them in his face, I want to shout at him “I can do this job just as well as any of you!” I don’t, I walk out embarrassed, shamed, and outraged.
I’m working in science, we go to a huge symposium, I look at all the stages as I walk around. All I see is old white men, and again I’m outraged.
I travel to Bulgaria, I win my first ever race, I’m over the moon, I can’t believe it. I get pulled to the side. Sorry, they say, we miscalculated the budget, they say. There isn’t any prize money for the women, they say. My heart drops, the tears are welling up, the outrage is boiling inside of me and I don’t know what to do with it all.
I’m in a night club, I’m dancing, the music is awesome and I’m skanking like crazy. A man grabs my bum. I swivel, my eyes are like daggers, my fists are clenched. His eyes widen, he holds up his hands, he retreats. I’m outraged.
This is why I’m a feminist, this is why I’m contributing to this blog. I see how far we have come in the short span of my 40 years. I watch women’s rugby on tv and see the respect from the male pundits and commentators. I watch the rise of women’s mountain biking, see articles with photos of women, read reports written by women. I organise a conference and all my colleagues help me ensure we have a fair representation of experts, no one questions me, I hear their interest when the young women raise their opinions. I look back and I think, if we can make this much progress in such a short amount time just think what more we can do.
A Note from The Author
I live and breathe nature, the little birds we feed, the wildflowers I’ve sown in my garden. Every week day I go out for a walk around my local nature reserve and find my peace among the birch trees, dragon flies and rowan berries. Every weekend I climb the mountains and watch the goats clinging to cliffs whilst the ravens soar above the heathery slopes. I’ve always been like this.
This love for nature took me all over my native Devon: climbing, cycling, kayaking, and adventuring on the moors. It led me to the French Alps, through summer and winter seasons, breathing the mountain air. Despite this, depression kicked in and drew me back to the UK where my brother opened his arms wide. The long road of healing started, and I threw my need for nature into mountain biking.
That healing road has been long and arduous, but along it I have travelled, read, explored and learnt. The 3 years I spent living in my van, studying Environmental Science with a year study abroad in Norway taught me more about myself than I dared imagine. The best way to encapsulate this is through a quote from one of my favourite authors, Patrick Rothfuss: “No human is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveller, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueller than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet.”