Leah Dawson, Caroline Gleich, and Sachi Cunningham’s panel, The Future of Surf and Outdoors Is Female, at our first-ever EVOLVE Summit was absolutely riveting.
I had no doubt it would be a productive exchange, and I suspected it might enter somewhat uncomfortable territory in a thoughtful, constructive way, but the candor and fluency with which Caroline Gleich, Leah Dawson, and Sachi Cunningham communicated the opportunities and personal challenges for women and female leaders in surf and outdoors sports was disarming.
Both women downplayed a female-only movement, calling for help from men to achieve equality. “We need solid male allies and role models,” Gleich said.
I listened. I felt challenged and inspired to reconsider what I can do to be a better steward for their vision. We’ve extracted some of the most compelling thoughts below. But to really grasp the interaction, do yourself a favor and watch this conversation. It should be required viewing for every organization in surf and outdoors. Gleich, Dawson, and Cunningham don’t mince their words. They’re powerful forces, and they communicate the severity of inequalities and the glorious potential for a truly egalitarian culture. On more than one occasion, their words sucked the oxygen out of the sold-out room, especially Caroline Gleich’s forthright account of her battle with cyber-bullying. You could hear a pin drop. They also stirred the crowd into several raucous rounds of applause with their vision and means to a more equitable future. Enjoy.
On the current state of equality for women in surf and outdoors:
“Sometimes I feel like with women’s issues, we are treated in this separate but equal category where it’s always separate from what the men are doing, and what I’d really like to see is more equality and more integration.”
“I think there is still a sort of disdain of femininity in our culture in general so then when I reflected more about the panel and this opportunity, I do think it is really next level to be having this conversation, and I want to see it grow and evolve, but I want to see that we can celebrate leadership and strength and femininity and not to see those things as being separate. Not to see that someone can be beautiful, and that’s the only thing they can be, but having a more enlightened view of what a woman can be.”
“Especially in the surfing world, I think women have an opportunity to really showcase their femininity in the most graceful, really mothering, nurturing way. Women’s surfing has pretty much always been marketed to women by men. A lot of times it’s not the intrinsic female story that’s being told. It’s kind of, ‘Twist it this way so it looks better.’ But when we take our story back into our own hands–and that only comes from telling stories–we have to step up to the plate, but the plate is wide open, and that’s what’s so exciting.”
“In every industry, the lightbulb is going off with women. Like ‘I’m worth it. I’m worth something, and I’m divine. I move with the moon. I am part of this earth.’ In that way, we have such a duty to take care of it. We are the mothers, and may the mothers rise. We’ve got to get to work.”
“I had a cyber bully. A cyberstalker, really, for four years that at first, it started with these really abusive Instagram comments. And I found that they would especially come out if I was writing about climate change or things like that, but it would also come to things that would question my professional ability as a skier. An example, and I’m sorry if there are any kids in the room, you might want to cover your ears, but it was: ‘How many dicks did you have to suck to get on the cover of those magazines?’
“I’m sorry to the children in here, because I want to keep this G or PG rated, but when [the cyberbullying] first started coming up, my impulse was just to delete those comments as quick as possible and block the person and just try to move on with my life, and I told myself all these different things about, ‘This is what happens when you put yourself out there,’ and, ‘I should expect this being a public figure.’ And then after four years, I got a phone call on Thanksgiving from someone I didn’t know, and they just were yelling at me…and I really wish that cyberbullying didn’t have to be my platform. I didn’t choose that. I don’t think anyone chooses that, because I invested so much emotional energy dealing with that, dealing with the police reports, the documentation, with overcoming the self-doubt, and the negativity and the really abusive, deeply hurtful comments, I could have started a whole company because I spent so much energy on that.
I just wanted to make it stop so I asked my community if they knew who that person was. I asked my community. I wrote about my experience…and it was an interesting turnaround for me, because by opening up and being transparent with this thing I had been sweeping under the rug, that was how I ultimately got it to stop. But with everything that’s going on politically, I’ve been more encouraged to speak out about sexism and misogyny and these different issues, because I really believe that how we treat women and how we treat people says a lot about how we treat the planet, and if we don’t take care of people – we are nature, we’re not separate.
Speaking up about sexism and climate change, they’re not separate issues. To me, it’s just about being a decent person. This isn’t just a women’s issue. Men have a huge role, and strong male allies can be such an important part of the turnaround. It’s like you see trash on the beach, you speak up about it. If you see this sort of sexist culture or these inappropriate actions, don’t tolerate it, and call your friends out, because I really believe it’s our duty to speak out about these injustices.”
“When you say the word mentor, I immediately think of Kassia. Even though she’s one of my best friends, she’s one of the biggest mentors in my life. I think it’s important for our culture to nurture each other without attachment to age. And to allow age to kind of dissolve to a point where you’re just being human with each other. It’s about being human and about being a decent human and having morale. I think at the end of the day, morale is the only thing that matters. We can either be nice or we can be rude. There is a spectrum in between.
Kassia always encouraged me to follow my own path and to ride whatever boards that felt good, and in life that’s what we all need as friends and as mentors just to pursue you and do you. Because intrinsically, that’s all the world needs, is for us to be happy with ourselves, and I truly think that we can’t be happy with ourselves if we’re being cruel to the earth.”
On male allies:
“We need to talk about masculinity, and I recently heard a quote that says we need to call men in rather than call them out. Just having a strong male ally. Just a small example I can think of, one of my good friends, he’s a ski mountaineer and adventure skier, and he invited me on a trip one time. We went down to Mexico, and we climbed and skied Pico de Orizaba, the highest volcano at 18,491 feet, in North America. We did it in a weekend. Just to feel included and invited to participate, it made such a big difference. We planned the trip together. He listened to my advice, and we were co-leaders, and that example is a really small thing, but it made a really big difference in how I felt about myself and to be part of a team and part of a crew. That’s what we’re all looking for. To be invited to participate.
On pay parity:
“Do you think [we should be paid the same as men], Sachi?” It’s something the whole world sees. It’s not just in America. It’s in my life. I’m sure it’s in your life. It’s frustrating. It’s fuel to the fire, but we’re growing, and the light is coming on, and all we can do is be the light. We don’t have another choice. We have to be the light.”
“Yeah, I really believe women should be paid the same for the same work.”
“Things are progressing, and we’re seeing more women in these roles in film and magazines and in media, but when you look at the top, a lot of the heads of the companies and a lot of the filmmakers and directors and people working behind the scenes are men, and so it’s not enough just to have representation in media. I want to see women reach the highest levels of leadership across outdoors sports, action sports, and other industries. I really want to encourage and set an example to other women to stay the course and to stick with it even though people are going to constantly question your qualifications and your legitimacy to be there.
On women’s representation in surfing versus mountain sports:
“I think women’s surfing…you’re not wearing many clothes, so there’s obviously going to be more sexism,” said Dawson. “And I think it’s really been played to not necessarily for the female culture’s benefit. I think in surfing we have a lot of work to do in catching up to the mountain sports that are praising their women…We’re washing away this preconceived notion of what we’re meant to look like and we’re starting to create it again.”
“I don’t know if I would agree with you,” said Gleich. “I think if you break down mountain sports into more distinct categories, you have climbing, but then in skiing and snow sports, which is where I’m mostly in…I think you girls have it better. I don’t know. That’s my perception. The grass is always greener. When I was building my career. I’ve been doing this for twelve years, and I’ve been asked to take my clothes off for photo shoots so many times, and it’s really discouraging when that’s how they want to show you. That’s changed a little bit, but what I really see is a lot of teams still have the token female, and that creates such an intensely competitive culture within women that we can’t support each other when we’re vying for that one position, so what I’d like to see happen is, ‘Don’t just sponsor me. Sponsor me and my best friend who lives in my area so I have a buddy to train with and go on trips with.’ that would be a real game changer for me.”
“When people see me they don’t really think I’m going to be able to climb and ski a 26,900-foot peak. Something about me doesn’t inspire confidence. And so it’s frustrating, and I really want to show that the mountains are for everyone.”
On what parents can do in raising their children:
“The men are very important in this role. It’s critical. It’s about women rising to feel equal, but it’s also about men celebrating the women rising, and respect goes a long way. In my family, it’s always about celebrating everyone’s uniqueness and championing morality and instilling that and always coming back to expressing love. I think the most important thing for me in my whole life, every meal we eat, we grab each other’s hands and we say I love you. Squeeze. And that’s the way I live my life, and it’s helped a lot to live in that state of love.”
“Choose to consume media and films that feature strong female leads. And media that passes the Bechdel Test: where it features two female characters that are talking about something besides a man.
Question masculinity and femininity, and not be afraid to be a man and show emotion and not suppress the caring compassionate virtues that men tend to suppress.
A huge thank you to Caroline Gleich, Leah Dawson, and Sachi Cunningham for wearing their hearts on their sleeves in tackling a challenging and essential conversation. We really appreciate it.