Pride and prejudice*
“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do,” says the Victorian Jane Eyre to her lover, Mr. Rochester.  While the author, Charlotte Brontë, may have meant emotional exercise, not physical, I cannot personally separate the two. It’s a sentiment commonplace to us but revolutionary to the corset-clad, fainting-prone, emotionally controlling generation to which Charlotte Brontë belonged.  We need exercise to exorcise our emotions.

But lest we forget, not every generation, nor even every current demographic, agrees with the truth of this statement. For women, the pressure to exercise more often has to do with the achievement of a physical ideal rather than health. This only adds to the burden of expectation that must be combated, and can turn that escapist morning run into a stress-filled pavement pounding. Durango women, of course, are ahead of the curve; but it doesn’t mean we’re winning.

Though I know I’m not alone, I often feel as though I am. Recently I took my level one avalanche awareness class, and I was the only girl enrolled. At one point during the weekend, a fellow avalanche aficionado asked me if I was doing OK, alone among the boys, to which I replied: “just the story of my life.”  I hadn’t given it too much thought up until that point. Sure, at first I looked around the room for signs of common anatomy, but, apart from my lady instructor, I found myself the lone female in a relatively large group of 10. Apart from making sure I wasn’t the last one ready to ski, dig, shovel or skin, (which I would have done anyway) I don’t believe I acted differently than if it had been a girls-only class.

As I said, I’m used to it. When my parents dropped me off at mountain bike camp when I was 11 years old, I was broken hearted that I was the only girl. It was one thing having the respect of boys who know you, boys on the ski team or track team, but strange boys usually act in strange ways.  This is a truth, I have discovered, that has no age limit.

Some boys scorn my existence, they want to “bro-down.” They begrudge a co-ed sport, hate passing to a girl, or think she’s going to interfere with their fun, probably due to her overly emotional womanly ways.  (This is usually the guy who gets in a fight, cusses out the ref, storms off the field, or throws his bike down in frustration).

Some boys act like they’ve been in jail for a year and are eager to be “buddies.” For mountain bike camp, age 11-13, we’ll give them the benefit of hormones; after that, no excuses. They will usually make exceptions for a girl that, as athletes, they shouldn’t make—like passing the ball when she’s not open, or helping her with equipment that she obviously knows how to use. Maybe some girls like this attention, or expect it. I’m not that girl, and I’m sure I owe some well-meant boys an apology or two for my sarcastic comments through the years.  

 Some boys didn’t like me because I was a better biker; I didn’t like them because they cut me off and then fell off their bike three pedal strokes into a climb and I had no choice but to dismount when I could have cleaned the hill. For them, I have no remorse about my sarcastic comments, even if they got “chicked.” Get better—then you won’t have to worry about it.

I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend or admirers, just buddies and a bike. The buddies weren’t so easy to find (maybe the sarcastic comments are to blame). Mountain bike races were fun, though; I always finished on the podium. I don’t think I’d be so lucky these days with so many speedsters coming up through the ranks.

The presence of other girls didn’t necessarily make any of my sporting ventures more enjoyable. I lack the b.s. to make many girlfriends. The friends I have are like me — we go on raft trips and are more comfortable playing by the boys’ rules. Boy rule No. 1: don’t pick your best friend, pick the best player. Do that on an all-girls team, you’ll be eating lunch by yourself for a month. (I learned that one the hard way).  

It is important to be aware of grown-up girls as well. During intermural soccer last fall, a particularly aggressive female player fouled a male player on my team, when he gave her a lil elbow-hip shove back in the same fashion, she fell on her face and yelled at him for pushing a girl. He didn’t care, but I did—and when I chose to correct her about dishing out and taking back, she reminded me through her unoriginal use of expletives that it wasn’t my business. As a girl who was running her butt off to be open for a pass that probably wasn’t coming my way, I think it was. But people who are out of shape throw more elbows and more words, and some girls always expect special treatment.

 That’s maybe why I quit soccer in high school; I liked skiing and mountain biking—not because my friends were riding—but because it was hard. It’s a dirty sport: you bleed, you get muddy and you pedal your own bike. I like that. All my favorite sports are individual. Maybe being the lone girl is more of a reflection of my preference for solitude in sports than it is a reflection of women in sports.

I think it’s pride, pride in something that is not only difficult, it’s uncommon—no matter gender.  And maybe I do ski, bike, run, camp, climb, kayak, drink and work differently when I’m out with my guy friends; I make fewer excuses, even to myself. I push my ability, sometimes I have a bad hangover, but, usually, it was worth it.
– Maggie Casey

(*Editors’ note: Yes, we know Jane Austen actually wrote Pride and Prejudice, not one of the Brontë sisters, who are referenced in the above article. But us survivors of high school English Lit see them as all members of the same book club, so just go with it.)