Despite what some may think, I don’t do adventurous things just because my boyfriend likes them.
Last week, Peter and I were talking to an acquaintance (let’s call him Jack) about our possible trip to Australia next year. Over a shared pizza, Peter mentioned that he would love to dive with sharks in Perth.
Jack threw me a look and laughed. “Ha, I don’t suppose you’ll be joining him for that.”
I nodded. “Yes, as long as the sharks are treated responsibly.”
“‘Responsibly?'” He nudged Peter. “It sounds like she’s trying to get out of it, mate.”
I bristled but smiled politely as Brits so often do. There was no point in trying to convince Jack that I enjoyed adventure just as much as Peter. It’s true that I don’t like being cold on mountains, but I’m the one who booked our skydive from 4,000 metres (13,000 feet).
Kia jumping from a plane at 13,000 feet
I’m the one who jumped off a ledge in Samoa when Peter was sceptical about the jutting rock beneath the lip.
I’ve trekked active volcanoes and dived with sharks and crossed landslides and ziplined canyons – but pointing all this out would have felt petty and trivial (as it does now).
The reason Jack’s assumption grated so much is because I see this sort of dismissiveness all the time. When Peter and I do something thrilling or scary, I’m regarded as the long-suffering girlfriend who went along on a crazy caper to prove that we have shared interests.
In the grand scheme of sexism, Jack and his ilk are relatively harmless, but their behaviour is still worth addressing. The knowing looks and patronising winks suggest that I’m a ‘Cool Girl’ as described so cuttingly in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
The Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.
I don’t do scary things because my boyfriend likes to do them. I do them because I like to do them. And when he goes off to climb high mountains or camp in the wild, I’m very bloody clear that he can go and do it by himself.
Jack’s light sexism is less important to me than improving diversity in the outdoors and protecting our wilderness, but it’s important to highlight it nonetheless because it’s not limited to the outdoors.
I can guarantee you that women who like football or ice hockey or any male-dominated sport receive the same sort of pat-on-the-head “sure you’re a real fan” dismissal. A woman who likes Star Trek or World of Warcraft or any number of ‘nerdy’ pursuits will find herself being told that she’s “not like other girls”, a loaded compliment if ever there were one.
I’ll see you out there – with or without Peter.
Don’t cry, love sport, play rough, drink beer, don’t talk about feelings. How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb explores the minefield of masculinity and picks a path through the absurd expectations placed on modern men.