Women of Adventure
We are Stronger Together
Climber and community advocate Shelma Jun lives in Brooklyn, New York. While the city lends energy to her work in urban planning and female-focused events, she makes time to escape to remote areas to climb, camp and hike with her girl crew.
By Shelma Jun
When I was in the fifth grade, I went through a short phase where I insisted on wearing only boys’ clothes. It drove my mom crazy. After all, there was a large bag of hand-me-downs that my older sister had outgrown. While I can’t recollect the exact reasoning for my stubbornness, I think it had to do with an idea I had that boys were better suited for the outdoors. While my Girl Scout troop sold cookies and canoed peacefully at a calm lake, my brother was canyoneering and rappelling out in the desert with the Boy Scouts. Maybe I thought that by wearing boys’ clothes, I could join in the activities that suited my passions and sort of blend in as one of the boys.
Fast forward 2 decades. I wear red lipstick, men’s button-down flannels and climb mountains — sometimes all at the same time. I love that my body is strong enough to get up rock climbs, but I don’t equate its strength with masculinity. Rather, I see it as the natural strength and grit of a female body. Many of these realizations have been nurtured and reinforced by the community of strong, smart, bold women now in my life. Most of my days consist of collaborating with women on projects, events and rock climbing missions. These women are my colleagues, climbing partners and mentors, and many have become my closest confidants. Many of these relationships began with the genesis of the first all-women climbing festival.
When I decided to create an event that would bring female climbers together, I wasn’t sure where to start. I had never even been to a climbing festival, and my climbing community did not extend much past the geographical borders of New York City. However, when I announced the festival, women from all over the world contacted me. They offered to help through contacts in the industry or providing photography and workshop services. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, and I soon realized the success of the festival was due to the strength and generosity of this community of female climbers.
Many festivals focus primarily on the participant experience. While it’s always a priority to make sure that any woman who attends our festival feels welcome and gains something, participant experience is only one of our goals. Another aim is to showcase women leading women. All of our clinics, panels and slideshows are led by women. We use female guides, female athletes, female facilitators, panelists and instructors. This all-girl crew is really important to me, because it reminds women that we can be the experts … that we can be the leaders … that we can be the teachers.
Another personal value of mine is paying women for their crafts and skills, and this influenced how I structured the climbing festival. There’s an ongoing conversation about women being underpaid compared to men for the same positions, for the same jobs, the same titles. If we’re demanding that women be paid for their work, we need to be paying the women who lend their expertise to events like this. To honor this principle, every year we’ve increased the stipend paid to every woman who helps with the festivals.
The festival is just a tool and a way to develop bonds among women who love the outdoors. The focus is not the event itself but how we are using it to create support for women and strengthen our community as we continue to rise up.
I hope we can utilize these events to consider why women seek to climb with other women. What is different about climbing with women? Why do we feel that the standard climbing environments do not provide those same feelings? Through these conversations, I hope to discover a way to shift the climbing community, environment and dynamic to reflect all who love climbing. We don’t have to adapt to the norms that currently dominate climbing spaces. Together, we can redefine and reimagine how they might function differently.
Want to explore climbing with a community of like-minded women? Come to one of our Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festivals in Bishop, California, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.