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Changing women's gender norms and roles through empowerment of hiking

Changing women's gender norms and roles through empowerment of hiking
Author: Anne Karlen
2 Commentries
Changing women's gender norms and roles through empowerment of hiking'

Abstract: While women have been interested to participate in hiking activity in the past years, women still face issues with old gender roles. These gender roles cause issues such as fear of an insult and discrimination of men in wilderness. However, hiking has a positive effect on women and can help to break these gender norms through empowerment of hiking.

Keywords: Gender norms, women solo hiking, fear, empowerment, wellbeing

Hiking is a popular activity in wellness tourism context, amongst 47 million population in USA. Hiking is taking place in wilderness which offers different variety of long and short paths and trails in natural parks or public spaces (Sima, 2018). Hiking in wilderness is a way of escaping the social responsibilities and allow one to create themselves again. Wilderness attracts population to participate to activities as it allows one to connect the mind with the natural world and escape pollution, human and spoiled nature (Sima, 2018).

Of women, 46% hiked in USA in 2016, whereas 54% men hiked in the same year. The gap between women and female hikers is due to gender norms that still today, can affect the women not participating to hiking (Bittman and Wajcman, 2000). Hiking has been seen as men's activity and wilderness a place for men to experience their masculinity. It has been argued that the recreation and outdoor spaces are especially designated for the purpose of men (Bittman and Wajcman, 2000).

National Parks and public wilderness places are women who have been participating to hiking, have often got an image of being keen to show their feminism or to be homosexual. This is because of an old social role of women taught to be feminine and to in a way, fear men, which has been started and still continued by both men and women (Fondre and Mcnial, 2012). This cultural perception and fear is keeping some women under the control, so that women always tell where they are going, plan their activities and remain close by (Bittman and Wajcman, 2000).

In past years, women have been increasingly interested of hiking, although participation features issues and fears. When compared to men, of men 351 solo hiked while only 122 women solo hiked. This can be due to issues of hiking which include fear of assault by men, injury, isolation and loss of femininity (Fondre and Mcnial, 2012). The fears of assault can retain women from hiking, especially solo hiking. Personal safety and capability to survive in the wilderness are one of the great concerns of women. Furthermore, women tend to retain from hiking especially if they have a family (Bittman and Wajcman, 2000). Therefore, as hiking is very time - consuming activity, some women can only participate to hiking activities in a certain point of their life. For instance when the whole family hikes together (Bittman and Wajcman, 2000).

As women in general experience social inequalities which may lead to social, political, economic, sexual and religious discrimination of women's life, benefits of hiking to women are vital part of the changing view of the old gender roles (Bittman and Wajcman, 2000). Post hiking experience, some women are found to depend on themselves more, making them more independent (Fondre and Mcnial, 2012). This is important aspect of equal gender roles. It has been found that participation to wilderness recreation can play a part in interpret the gender roles and develop the overall status of women in society (Fondre and Mcnial, 2012). Women are argued to be less aware of their usual social role in after they return from their hike than before they experienced hiking.

Hiking can provide a sense of accomplishment when situations have been survived, but if the situation is exceeding the skills of a women, can lessen the hiking experience and cause anxiety and stress (Fondre and Mcnial, 2012). It has been suggested that women's main reason to solo hike is the desire for independent travel and to be able to challenge themselves, gain self-determination, encounter new people and put themselves out of their comfort zone (Fondre and Mcnial, 2012). The accomplishments of women are often down looked and not appreciated, whereas men receive greater credits of their achievements. To attract more women to participate to hiking, it is encouraged to advertise without stereotypes and to have women in the lead when making wilderness movies or advertisements instead of male leads (Fondre and Mcnial, 2012).


Bittman, M. and Wajcman, J. (2000) the rush hour: the character of leisure time and gender equity, Social forces, 79(1), 165-189.

Sima, C. (2018) Hiking memoirs, wilderness therapy and female empowerment: Cutting edge, Tourism Review, Exp. 73:3.

Fondren, K., Harris, D. and Mcniel, J. (2012) women and the wild: gender socialisation in wilderness recreation advertising. Gender issue, 29(1-4), 39-55.

Commentary on "Changing women's gender norms and roles through empowerment of hiking"
Author: Siiri-Matilda Maununiemi
I have chosen to comment on this paper as I find the topic interesting due to the female perspective on it, as I conducted my own research on the unequal treatment of female flight attendants. While my research was based on flight attendants, the treatment of women is a shared interest in both researches.

The author has produced a good piece of work, introducing the topic well and broadly, considering the word limit. The statistics and the comparison of genders in these statistics are presented in a great manner, gaining the interest of the reader. It is great to see that the author has considered the argument that the recreation and outdoor spaces are designated for the purpose of the men (Bittman and Wajcman, 2000). It was truly interesting to learn the reasoning behind the lack of female hikers, as the mentioned reasons are relatable from a female’s point of view. Changing the society’s view on female solo hikers is essential in order to allow these females to experience the solo hike in the same way as the males.

The author has clearly demonstrated the understanding of the post hike effects on the female solo hikers. These are clearly introduced and discussed. It is upsetting to learn, that the accomplishments of the female solo hikers are down looked, whereas male solo hikers’ experience is complimented on (Borrie et al., 2000). Gaining the feeling of empowerment and self-determination, as female solo hikers have reported post hikes, should be used in the marketing of solo hiking and wilderness movies (Fondre et al., 2012). This could decrease the stigma and fear around the topic, increasing the numbers of female solo hikers and improving the image of females in the current society, proving that females can do other things that what are included in the old gender roles.

The author has provided clear evidence on the effects of the experience of female solo hiking to the women’s confidence and further gender roles in the current society. However, while these findings are interesting, questions rose, whether all the mentioned aspects are valid in today’s society. More recent data could have increased the validity of the research, even though it is understood that this topic might not been researched recently, or that this data might not be available yet.


Bittman, M. and Wajcman, J. (2000) The rush hour: the character of leisure time and gender equity, Social forces, 79(1), 165-189.

Borrie, W.T., Pohl, S.L., Patterson, M.E. (2000) Women, wilderness, and everyday life: a documentation of the connection between wilderness recreation and women's everyday lives. Journal of Leisure Research, 32(4), 415-434.

Fondren, K., Harris, D. and Mcniel, J. (2012) Women and the wild: gender socialisation in wilderness recreation advertising. Gender issue, 29(1-4), 39-55.
Commentary on "Changing women's gender norms and roles through empowerment of hiking"
Author: Pavla Vavrikova
I have decided to comment on this paper because I have an interest in wellness tourism and enjoy hiking myself. As a woman, I am particularly interested in the issues related to solo female hiking.

The paper is very engaging, introduces the topic of female solo hiking well in the context of wellness tourism and discusses the issues that women hiking alone are faced with. It is discussed that some of the main reasons for women to choose to hike alone are escaping social responsibilities and pollution and searching for the connection between the mind and nature. Coble et al. (2003) add that other benefits sought by women hiking solo include improved health and fitness and the experience of self-reliance.
However, the author points out that solo hiking has traditionally been seen as a predominantly masculine activity and this perception persists to these days, with many women claiming that the idea of solo hiking has an element of fear for them.

The author presents statistics on the difference in volume between female and male solo hiking, with the numbers being significantly higher in the second case. She goes on to explain the main sources of fear among women, which limit their participation in solo hiking. These include the fear of being assaulted by men, injuries, isolation and the loss of femininity. Trimble (1994) agrees and explains that in today’s society, it is not acceptable for women to engage in many outdoor activities after they have reached adolescence. Instead, they are expected to attract men, yet also fear violence from them. To this day, this established set of rules and expectations impedes many women from setting out on a solo hiking adventure.

However, the author claims that recently, the situation has been improving with the number of female solo hikers increasing. She discusses a number of post-hike factors which female solo hikers benefit from, such as independency, sense of accomplishment or improved mental health and confidence. Yet, the experiences of female solo hikers are still undervalued compared to those of men’s and according to Henderson and Hickenson (2007), there is still a still a stigma of being a tomboy associated with these women.

It is evident that the society still needs to evolve in regards to gender norms and limiting each gender by a set of expectations. Therefore, further research of methods of challenging social and gender norms and promoting the benefits of solo hiking adventures among women is suggested.

Coble, T. G., Selin, S. W. and Erickson, B. B. (2003) Hiking Alone: Understanding Fear, Negotiation Strategies and Leisure Experience. Journal of Leisure Research, 35(1) 1-22.

Henderson, K. A. and Hickerson, B. (2007) Women and Leisure: Premises and Performances Uncovered in an Integrative Review. Journal of Leisure Research, 39(4) 591-610.

Trimble, S. (1994). A land of one's own. In G. P. Nabhan and S. Trimble (eds.) The geography of childhood. Boston, USA: Beacon Press.