His and Hers Gear: The Gendered Marketing of Outdoors Goods

I’ve been working on a long-form piece about the outdoors industry and its relationship with marketing and business, and came across a few interesting articles that sparked another concern. Is the marketing of outdoors goods, separated for males and females, i.e, a pink backpack versus a navy one, continuing to foster the mental gender gap in outdoors recreation?


Sexism in Media

When I previously cited an article by Gina Begin on The Outdoors Women’s Alliance, it was apparent that female climbers feel the pangs of only the “sexiest” back muscles of women grace the covers of magazines. And they’re not even doing very hard routes most of the time, which is frustrating too. Outdoors climbing magazine aren’t the only place where this happens. The New York Post just published an article about how pissed off all the professional women in the LPGA were about some tan leggy woman in tight white who’s marrying a male golfer being on the cover of Golf Digest. Ready for a bigger shock? There has never been a professional female golfer on the cover. Never.(http://nypost.com/2014/04/04/paulina-gretzkys-sexy-golf-digest-shoot-angers-lpga-pros/).

Don’t even get me started on the choice to use the word “Ladies” in the Professional Golf Association title rather than Women’s. I don’t know, women just has a more respectful tone to it for me. But I digress.

Clearly, media really likes sexy women- and that’s probably not going to change too soon without much more of a revolution; especially considering the major switch from print to online. Print magazines probably have to pull out the big guns (ahem, bosoms) to sell copies.

Sexism on the Shelves

But this issue of separate arenas for male and female athletes, for male and female outdoors enthusiasts, comes down to the very products and their qualities. I’m not griping necessarily about the different facets that cater to the different male and female forms, obviously- men aren’t going to buy sports bras but we ladies sure as hell need them. But I do not need a pink backpack to climb a mountain, and no it does not have to have flowers on it.

Here’s a snippet from Adrienne Wadewitz and Peter James who wrote about this subject for Pacific Standard:

“One of the reasons for that is because these activities are advertised to women as an escape from their stressful lives, not as a sport meant to challenge their physical ability. Outdoors equipment marketed toward women, then, consistently focuses on comfort and style, in contrast to men’s marketing. Moreover, much of the gear that is produced for women assumes less of a desire to do activities that are as physically demanding as men—the gear is often less hardy and more decorative. The assumptions behind these marketing strategies reinforce stereotypical ideas of gender: that women are physically weak, that women are fascinated by fashion, that there is one specific female body type, and that women are ‘soft.'”http://www.psmag.com/environment/women-relax-men-mountaineer-backpacks-reveal-gendered-marketing-outdoor-sports-70861/)

Take this advertisement by Nike:

Courtesy of Nike, Women’s Marathon.

Though this advertisement could be a kind of “race yourself”, “be fierce” ad, it doesn’t really go that way for me. What I’m reminded of is a woman checking herself out in a passing window to see how she looks, and the tagline doesn’t help to take this impression away for me: “There’s nothing you can’t see yourself doing.” That’s inspirational and all well and good, but it shouldn’t necessarily be about the image of what it is you’re doing…it should be actually doing it. I’d be more impressed with a woman staring straight ahead, determined to finish the race. I used to run races and always smile to the camera, hoping for a good picture, but I’ve stopped doing that because I feel like it’s disingenuous and I’d rather get a picture of what I really look like running–intensity and all.


Me in my recent Charlottesville Half Marathon with a rather “real” face on.

But what Pacific Standard also points out is that these products, marketed for women, sometimes either are of worse quality (because women aren’t assumed to need something as durable as men), or the gender gap is entirely ridiculous and unnecessary sounding. Like why do you need a men’s or a woman’s sleeping pad?? Just sell by height! That’s how people purchase them anyway.

A Hard Look:

If you go to The North Face homepage right now, you’ll be greeted first by a bunch of muscular men representing their new “Mountain Fitness” regimen, click the Women’s tab, find the new fleeces for Spring, and see one measly jacket out of five that doesn’t have pink or purple in the thumbnail. And the one that’s not pink has a pink option, of course.

If you click on the Women’s Pitaya Swirl Jacket, the description reads ” Merging the comfort of a fleece with the wind resistance of a nylon ripstop exterior, this light jacket prepares you for blustery spring days or cool alpine summer nights.” To me, that sounds a lot more like a woman kicking back in a lawn chair and gazing at the moon rather than doing some serious hiking.

Conversely, the Men’s Kilowatt 1/4 Zip is described as “Execute workouts that are hard on your body and tough on your gear with reliable coverage of this ultra-durable quarter-zip pullover.” I don’t see anything about cool and blustery there, and “ultra-durable” definitely doesn’t come up in the women’s coat description.

This kind of thing is happening everywhere; The Pacific Standard article cites a Mountain Hardware example.

The counterexample I see, that treats women like the fierce athletes they are, might be Baltimore’s own Under Armour. One of the items in Under Armour’s women’s camo line: “Women’s EVO HeatGear Camo Tank” which is described as ” a lightweight base layer than not only keeps you cool, it keeps you hidden until you’re ready to strike.” Sure, Under Armour has some pink options, but this kind of thing is more in the right direction.

Advertisement courtesy of Under Armour


Why Every Young Person Should Run a Half Marathon

Tomorrow, I’m running my fourth half-marathon in Charlottesville, Virginia. While that sounds kind of insane to the average person, the truth is–running these kinds of races is one of the best things I’ve done for myself in college. And you read that right; it’s something you do for yourself

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On the verge of my race tomorrow, it’s making me think about why running these races is so amazing and challenging. And why every young person can and should run one. Each of these examples is definitely something that has happened to me, in some context–the ridiculous, the embarrassing, and the awesome alike.

On the one side, a half-marathon is 13.1 miles of:



3.trouble breathing aka sucking wind

4.having to go o the bathroom at least once and being pissed you didn’t before the race

5.joint abuse

6. brutal hills


8.being left alone with your own torturous thoughts telling you that you can’t finish

9. CHAFING (awful.)

10. being passed by people left and right and thinking you’re slow as hell

11. dropping your entire water cup on your shirt instead of in your mouth

12. doing this with gatorade and being sticky for the rest of the race

13. being able to see the finish line and having to run a 2 mile loop back (curse you, Nike Women’s Half in DC)

14. having that old ankle injury or IT band trouble start to twinge around mile 9 and hoping you won’t have to walk

15. having to tie your shoes

16. not having enough energy to wipe the sweat off your face

17. having marathoners pass you even though they’re running twice the distance

18. missing your family or friends who are trying to cheer for you and not getting that extra boost

19. wondering if you look like a kangaroo on heroine in photographs

20. realizing your socks are not fitting right and that a blister is gradually forming getting worse with every step

21. just hauling yourself a long ass distance.

However, running a half-marathon is also 13.1 miles of:

1.time for yourself

2. meeting really cool strangers

3. realizing the true value of water and food at fuel stations

4. being thankful for amazing volunteers

5. being thankful for incredible fans and their inspirational signs

6. the guy that pulls his car out to the side of the road at 7:30am to play music for you as you pass.

7. finding your stride

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8. thinking about life

9. feeling the strength of your legs

10. marveling at the power of the human body

11. seeing a stranger with a prosthetic leg and an 80 or so year old man pass you

12. realizing that you have a great thing going in this life, and if you don’t, that maybe you should do something about it

13. inspiration


15. sweaty palms

16.  banana craving and then eating that banana as soon as you finish

17. strangers thinking you’re their hero

18. passing that girl who dusted you at the starting line with a mile to go

19. crossing the half-way mark

20. seeing the 13 mile sign and kicking in your last bit of adrenaline for a sprinting finish

21. getting a shiny medal and nice t-shirt and loads of free food and maybe even a free beer if you’re extra lucky

22. having the excuse of having just ran a race when you look pathetic on the stairs for the rest of the weekend

23. the glorious pain of ice baths

24. planning for your next race

25. becoming addicted to racing.

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There’s obviously a lot more that fits into either column, because a race is really personal. Maybe you won’t look like a kangaroo on heroine; you might look like a koala on crack. Or maybe you’re extremely photogenic during races and everyone else hates you.

But the first thing to realize is that it’s definitely do-able. If you enjoy running at all and you could finish about 6 miles today, you could get to half-marathon shape in no time. Hell, I barely trained for this race anyway.

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Need advice on half marathons or want to make a comment? Shoot me an e-mail or comment here. I’m no pro, though! (: