#DefendersofFun: Abigail Wise, Outdoor Women of Wikipedia Pioneer

#DefendersOfFun is a look into the adventurous lives of outdoor advocates working to better the outdoor community and protect the wild places we have fun in. Their stories, their words. Share your outdoor story on Instagram @DefendersOfFun #DefendersOfFun.

“I like to joke that in Boulder, Colorado, half of my neighbors are ultrarunners and rest are pro climbers. It is a little nutty, and quite frankly, it can be a bit intimidating. But it’s also really cool to be surrounded by like-minded people — we all care about the outdoors. We’re all up at the crack of dawn, bagging peaks or logging miles before work.

I credit my dad with my love for the wild. He didn’t remain a huge part of my life in later years, but he taught me to paddle, how to start fires, and the beauty of type two fun.

“I worry that the outdoor industry faces the same glass ceiling as tech or science.”

My mom is this total badass who pretty much raised me on her own, and my grandma and aunts also played major roles in my upbringing. It’s a loud, opinionated family of mostly women that taught me how hard work can take you anywhere, regardless of where you come from or your gender.

I’d love to see that focus on strong women in all areas of my life, including within the industry that I work. I’m the senior editor for REI’s Adventure Projects and the founder of the women’s newsletter Sticks & Stones. I also dabble in trail running, climbing, and backpacking (and my campfire breakfast burrito game is on point — not to brag).

REI’s Force of Nature Campaign was born out of a true desire to overcorrect a problem that we’ve all seen in the outdoor space for so long. The focus really is on women, and I know that the company practices what it preaches. There’s much more work to be done in the industry as a whole, but I think this is a step in the right direction. Any platform that we can give women of the outdoors to speak out and help other women feel more included and appreciated is a good one. Women make up half of the population on this planet. They deserve equal pay, equal credit for their accomplishments, and equal access to the outdoors.

4 Near Wanaka, New Zealand Photo by Richard Cammett

I think that a lot of times, when people hear ‘sexism,’ they imagine men’s-only races or something along those lines. But sexism also appears in subtler forms — pay gap, fewer female leaders in the outdoor space, objectification of female athletes — and that’s what I try to focus on when I give talks on sexism in the outdoors with my fellow speaker Sarah Knapp. Sometimes being aware of a problem is enough to help self-correct in the future.

“We’ve come a long way since the NPS required women to wear skirts as part of their uniforms.”

Obviously there are female crushers, but I worry that the outdoor industry faces the same glass ceiling as tech, science, and many other historically male-dominated areas. We’ve come a long way since the National Park Service required women to wear skirts as part of their uniforms, but it doesn’t feel equal quite yet. Men still earn more than women. There’s often a certain “bro culture” surrounding a lot of outdoor activities. Micro aggressions are a very real thing that many women face every day. I hope that the more we can draw attention to powerful female figures in the outdoor industry, the smaller that gender gap gets.

Sticks & Stones is my weekly newsletter on women in the outdoors, and it was born out of frustration. It’s easy to feel like most of the stories you’re reading are focused on men. There are so many rad women out there who climb, run, ski, and bike just as hard— often harder — and I found myself purposely seeking out articles about female athletes and women’s issues in the outdoors and sharing those stories with my friends. So, I thought, Why not create a more public space where people could come to read those stories, instead of having to sift through dozens of websites on their own?

The name itself, Sticks & Stones, is based on that children’s saying: ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ It’s meant to imply that these women are out there in the wild regardless of the historically sexist culture of the outdoors. My newsletter is a way to remind myself and my readers that there are plenty of women doing rad things and that we are not alone in our love for dirt, sweat, and sore muscles.

I’m also the co-founder of the Outdoor Women of Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s editors are vastly male and, unfortunately, this disparity seeps into the entries on the website. If you compare the entry on the first man to reach the North Pole to that of Ann Bancroft, the first woman to do so, you’ll find her page is maybe quarter of the length of his.

“If you compare the entry on the first man to reach the North Pole to the first woman’s, her page is a quarter of the length.”

Some women and organizations, like Blair Braverman (the badass dogsledder and nonfiction writer) or the Outdoor Women’s Alliance (a nonprofit aimed at getting more women outdoors) are missing entirely. As my partner and co-founder Kassondra Cloos says, Wikipedia has become a sign of importance. If you search someone’s name and a Wiki page pops up, that’s a clue that that person is famous or has had a serious impact on the world. If nothing comes up, that indicates the opposite.

By hosting ‘edit-a-thons’ and adding more outdoor women to Wikipedia, we hope that we can shed light on the those who have come before us and helped pave the way for us in the outdoors. We hosted our second edit-a-thon in late May, and there will be more in the future. We meet at a brewery, bring laptops, and spend time both learning how to add pages and editing existing ones on Wikipedia. Then, we divide and conquer a list of women whose pages need updating or don’t exist at all.

Adding to Wiki is definitely a process, and it often takes ongoing revisions before a page is pushed live. The local Wikipedia volunteers have been kind enough to lend their time and skills to help us teach others the best practices for getting new content into the online encyclopedia, which makes the chances of one of our pages making the cut significantly better. Because this is an ongoing effort that’s never really done, Kassondra and I hope that those who attend our edit-a-thons will not stop editing and adding after they leave the brewery, but continue to do so on their own time. I’ve found that adding a rad outdoor woman to Wikipedia feels a lot more productive than getting lost in Facebook stalking or falling down a Reddit rabbit hole at 2AM.

6 Climbing in Acadia NPS Photo by Marcus BasiriIMG_8234

So far, we’ve expanded the pages of athletes and brands like Lynsey Dyer, Shannon Galpin, and Patagonia. We’ve added pages for figures like Clare Marie Hodges (the first paid female park ranger) and Angel Collinson.

I certainly haven’t earned a Wiki page yet, but one day, if someone were to write one about me, I’d hope it would include any work I’d done to make the outdoors a more inclusive space because being outside is human, open to anyone and everyone, and a whole lot of fun.”

Abigail Wise, as told to Dirtbag Darling

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