*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.