I think we can all agree that Jimmy Chin looks amazing in a sweater vest.

From there, the GQ Style photoshoot — “We Took Fall’s Crunchiest Designer Clothes Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park” — fell flat for me. Here’s why:

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Above: Image from GQ photo shoot

I was three when I fell in love with Joshua Tree National Park.

I fell instantly in step behind my father as he pointed out the type of cacti, held me up to the rocks, spotted me as I explored a small stack of boulders at the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. This is the space my father used to teach me my own strength, to instill in me the sense of my own worth, to stare at the expanse of stars and tell myself, “you are part of this, you are as beautiful as these stars and as strong as these rocks.” This was the space I learned to push back against anything that tells me otherwise.

For fifteen years, I’ve been working in the outdoor industry. As a young, female whitewater kayaker working the retail floor, I ran down to the freight room at least once a day to express my frustration with my fists against a row of empty boxes. When a customer walked into the store and stopped in front of a row of boats, I asked him if he needed any help or had any questions. He looked at me and said, “Thanks, sweetie. If I need any help color coordinating my accessories, I’ll let you know.”

I curled and uncurled my fists, I took a deep breath, I went for a walk around the store. That evening I went to the slow-moving water of the Mad River and I practiced my hand roll again and again until the anger bled out of me and exhaustion took over.

I sat on the bank and I felt grateful for the space that outdoor adventure has always offered me: space to push back against the story the world persists in telling — that women are weak, women don’t take risks, women do not belong in a world of adventures unless it’s to cheer the men on.

When my dad anchored me to the floor of our local climbing gym and let me belay him at the age of eleven, he taught me more than just how to belay. He taught me to trust my own strength and he gave me an example of how men should view women. He taught me to expect the sort of man who leans into the strength of his daughter because he has seen the look in her eye and the fierceness of her spirit and he knows what she is made of and he knows he can trust that and he will do everything in his power to teach her to trust that as well.

Above: Nikki, climbing

Joshua Tree is my safe space.

Wilderness has always been the space where I am free from insecurities about my body, my place, my role in this world. Outdoor adventure is the place where I was taught to strive for the best version of myself.

My dad tried so hard to use these places and adventures to give me the tools I would need to push back against the idea that girls are somehow less, that we are not strong or bold enough to live as freely as the places we love.

He tried so hard to raise me with a different narrative, to teach his daughter to call bullshit on the idea that women are not tough enough to mountain bike, that we are not bold enough to climb, that we are not brave enough to kayak.

Which is why the GQ photoshoot is more than frustrating — it’s a slap in the face.

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Women are not accessories.

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We’re not props in a photo shoot on climbing.

 

We’re not “a few cute friends who tag along.”

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The argument that this is a men’s magazine, designed for men, by men, to appeal to men isn’t a good enough excuse for me. It is so at odds with what I have come to expect from the men in my life, from my coworkers, my friends, my partners. The bar this photo shoot sets is so far below the one my father set for me and I am disappointed. I am tired of all the ways women are told they are worth less, that they don’t belong.

I belong here. We belong here. I belong to these mountains. I belong to these rocks. I belong in the center of the story and not on the sidelines.

The author, with her father at Joshua Tree

The author, with her father at Joshua Tree

When the world says I am not strong enough, I have a hundred stories to prove them wrong. They are written in the callouses of my hands and the chalk that is permanently situated under my fingernails. I am strong enough to lift myself up; I am strong enough to catch others when they fall. I don’t need to listen to the stories about women that the world persists in telling. I can look to the mountains instead and the way my adventures reflect the truth of my own brave heart and the persistence of my own strong soul and I will push back against anything that tells me otherwise.

I will be true to the lessons I have learned from climbing, Joshua Tree, and the incredible men in my life.

Maybe GQ should take note.

[divider] Guest Contributor [/divider]

Nikki Hodgson works on environment and labor standards in the outdoor industry. A wandering adventurer at heart, Nikki relocated to Colorado after working for environmental NGOs throughout the Middle East and Europe. When not hanging out with her horse, Nitro, she is usually on the road in pursuit of the next adventure. Obsessions include tater tots, whiskey, desert climbing, back country skiing, wild rivers, and flowy singletrack.

[divider] Editor’s Note [/divider]

Had enough of the GQ photos? Check out Outdoor Research’s photo-rebuttal of some incredible women rock climbers, captured by Elise Giordano, whose photograph we featured at the top of the post.