Sexism Plaguing our Gear Companies

*Disclaimer: I just want to throw this out there before everyone gets the wrong impression about my feelings towards REI.  I love REI.  It’s like a heaven, mecca, dreamland, amazing place,  I go there just to breath the fresh gear smell in.  This experience just so happens to have taken place at REI but I do not think this is a problem specific to them, I think it runs rampant amongst almost all gear companies.  And if any REI head honcho reads this for any reason, please don’t hate me, I would actually really love to work there… maybe I can help you solve some of these problems?

I have ranted about this subject before but it never fails to get my goat: how incredibly sexist outdoor and athletic clothing designed for women is.  It seriously blows my mind and I continually try to figure out why outdoor and athletic companies are convinced that this is how women want to look when they work out.  Let me give you my latest example…

Yesterday, Kyle and I headed to REI to see if we could find some really light windbreakers for running in.  We had just experienced a seriously wet five-mile run and had attempted to wear our rain jackets, which, as always just resulted in us being as sweaty as we would have been soaked if we had run without them.  I had been playing with the ideas of windbreakers for a while now, yes, you still get wet but with protection from the wind you should be able to stay warm on your run… I’ll keep you updated on their effectiveness.

Anyway, we show up at REI and head upstairs to check out what they had.  To begin with I am always amazed by how the majority of the women’s clothing available is “lifestyle” clothing.  Meaning, most of the clothing in the women’s section is clothing that either looks outdoorsy but lacks real functionality because of the fabric or the cut or the weight, or is made with functional fabrics but has a stylish design rendering useless in actual outdoor situations.  Great examples are the “cute” Helly Hanson trench coat or the outdoorsy chic prAna dress that is made out of cotton.  Why does clothing like this take up SO much of the women’s clothing section at REI?  The men’s section contains none of this frivolous fare, and any clothing that looks wearable on a daily basis still retains its basic outdoor functionality.

So, I am already grumbling by the time we reach the miniscule section containing jackets and exercise clothing.  I begin to search for a windbreaker designed specifically for running, meaning it has to have vents in the armpits and the back and few reflective strips somewhere visible on the coat.  I found two windbreakers.  TWO.  The first was not designed for running, it had no vents or reflective spots.  And to top it off when you flipped open the tag to read the description it said something along the lines of “Finally a windbreaker that is functional while looking pretty and feminine!” I almost threw it on the ground and stomped on it!  I do not want to be pretty and feminine when I am running, hiking, or generally being an outdoorswoman.  I want to be strong, independent, resilient, smart, graceful, funny… come to think of it, I want to be all the things I am on a daily basis, all the things that I am that are not gender normative.  Why do outdoor companies think it is so important for me to retain my pretty, feminine nature the moment I adventure out into the wilderness and that the best way for me to do this is by buying their cute, estrogen enhancing clothing?

This misconception on behalf of the outdoor companies is once again, perfectly exampled, by the second windbreaker that I found.  This one was located with the rest of the running and exercise clothes but could probably be seen from anywhere in the store because it  was the most annoying color of fuchsia in existence with a swath of bright orange assaulting the shoulder region.  Why must women wear pink?  It is just about the most unnatural color that exists.  Only flowers in spring time wear pink.  When I am running through the woods or hiking on a mountain I want to wear colors that blend in, that mimic the nature around me, that don’t make me an eyesore for the people sitting on the summit trying to enjoy the views.  I want to wear rich dark purples, burnt oranges, maroon reds, dusty browns, light grays, forest greens, subtle blues… not fuchsia pink.

After being offended by the only two windbreakers I could find I found an REI worker to help me out.  He searched and searched but, claiming the store had been rearranged could find nothing else.  Dejected Kyle and I headed to the men’s section to check out what they had available.  Of course, we were greeted by an army of windbreakers.  Every brand that REI sells had their own version and every one came in pleasing colors, dark blues, bright greens, and granite grays.  Kyle got to try on six or seven different options before deciding on the one he liked best.  What does this say about women?  The number of different tank tops, fancy sports bras, stretch pants, and short shorts being sold in the women’s fitness section would seem to suggest that we are a fair weather creature.  That the moment the weather turns nasty we would rather stay inside and wait for a sunny day, because sunny days are when our tank tops and spandex can best show off our bouncing breasts and curvy hips.  Face it ladies, we only go jogging if we can do our hair and paint our nails before hand, only go to the gym to look good lifting weights, and like a mating bird we want our clothing to reflect how flashy and hot we really are.

Well, I have news for the outdoor and fitness industry.  The women you market to and create clothes for, they may exist but they are not the only ones out there.  I know many a mountain woman, a tough and true trekker who tackles the trail on sinewy legs, women who run because they love the wind in their hair and the spray of mud up the back of their legs, women who want the functional clothing you offer to men in colors as timeless as nature, who are feminine and beautiful and don’t need their clothing to reflect that.  Instead they need their clothing to work for them, to compliment their skills and keep them safe wherever they might choose to adventure.  It is not okay that yesterday I went to REI and I was only able to find one windbreaker, color aside, that would serve my needs, while Kyle was able to find seven.

Some day I would love to run my own outdoor gear company, one that designs clothes for women so that they no longer have to wander into REI and wonder, which windbreaker will I buy today the bright pink or the bright purple one.  Instead they can focus on the things that actually matter when buying outdoor clothing: weight, material, cost, quality, customer satisfaction…  But for now let’s put pressure on the companies that exist to create products for the real wild woman that exists in all of us.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

23 thoughts on “Sexism Plaguing our Gear Companies

  1. I realize this blog entry is 2 years old, but it popped up at the top of the list in my search for “sexism in women’s outdoor gear,” and I just want to say…thank you so much for writing about this issue! I have spent the last few days online and in stores searching for a women’s 40L pack in a color that I can stand. So far, no good. So I decided to do this search, sure that there must be other women who share my lifelong frustration. And sure enough, here you are. Not only are there significantly fewer packs made for women than for men, to a large degree the color palette seen elsewhere in women’s outdoor wear and gear also applies. And seriously, enough with the pastels already.

  2. Yup, agreed, thanks for speaking it! That sucks about the windbreakers/sexism 🙁 REI (and many top brands) cater to that fake “outdoorsy vibe” which tends to be more sexist and less practical. Rather than men’s vs. women’s it could just be by shape…rain shells with the same colors, same features, and more or less chest space depending on what fits you best. I know a lot of women who prefer men’s cuts, and I’ve got women’s cloths that fit me great! I always recommend checking both sex’s sale racks for example.

    1. Yeah we always check out the girls stuff for my boyfriend. Sadly even a men’s small is kinda big on me but that doesn’t mean I don’t try!

    1. I just scrolled down the link and didn’t see it Best for Women. They must have gotten enough negative feedback to take that part out, or my iPad is just being buggy. Hoping for removal due to pissed off people!

  3. Your “Sexism at REI” is why I ended up getting a men’s X – large Marmot jacket. The women’s cutesy puffy jackets did not allow me to layer nor would they keep my lower back warm, not to mention the “ballet-length” sleeves when I’d even consider extending my arms. Very form-fitting and fashionable but not In the least functional for the trail. If I were a seamstress…..

  4. Lindsay,

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  5. It’s not just women’s sports clothing that’s problematic – I’ve been fighting this ridiculous, negative ‘pinkification’ of girls and women since my daughter was born. I dressed her in red or green or blue and it was amazing how positively she was treated when people thought she was a rowdy/energetic boy toddler, but how their attitude changed when I told them she was a girl!! It is a shame that the sports gear companies can’t celebrate women’s strength and energy instead of trying to pander to gender stereotypes. Hope you do go ahead with your shop one day.

    1. It’s funny, when I think about this problem the other parallel topic that comes to mind is babies clothes! It is so strange to me that of all the industries, outdoor clothing would present such a similar problem, some part of me unfairly assumed that outdoor companies would be more liberal, informed, progressive…

      1. You’d really think that wouldn’t you, but maybe it’s the kind of ‘sporty’ thing with outdoor clothing having an old-fashioned influence.

      2. True, plus I think it’s still a male dominated world and so I’m sure a lot of traditional ideas about strength and delicacy and femininity come into play. There is no equal to the American Mountain Man. The American Mountain Woman has yet to have her time in the sun.

  6. My wife’s boobs look awesome rain-soaked. You lost me after that part because, well, you know.

    Sounds like you need to pony up and start your own clothing line… Or shop at a running store.

    1. Running stores are the worst! Brands like Brooks and Nike. They don’t know the meaning of the word subtlety. Im sure you wife boobs look great all the time, they are boobs. That’s not the point.

      1. You’re right, my wife’s awesomeness is not the point, it was an attempt at humor. My apologies, carry on.

      2. I think a lot of people want to be visible when they run. Especially if they run on the road or in areas where people hunt. There is a time and a place for bright running clothes imo. I don’t like pink either but I don’t mind my Brooks windbreaker in safety chartreause. I wear it mostly for biking though. I usually wear fleece when I run in the rain.

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