Ottawa

Sexist naming custom lays bare rock climbing's bro culture, researcher says

If you're going rock climbing in the Calabogie, Ont., area, you might want to test your skills at The Reacharound, The Tampon Applicator or She Got Drilled.

Crude rock face names chosen by 1st climber to ascend, usually a man

The misogynistic names given to rock faces across Canada tell women they're not welcome to participate in the sport, a Queen's University researcher says.

If you're going rock climbing in the Calabogie, Ont., area, you might want to test your skills at The Reacharound, The Tampon Applicator or She Got Drilled.

Those are the names climbers have given rock faces in the area over the years, and according to a PhD candidate at Queen's University, they're typical of the crude, sexist and hateful names that adorn similar sites across Canada and around the world.

"I wouldn't be shocked to find out other mysoginist or racist or homophobic names in climbing guidebooks," Jennifer Wigglesworth told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday.

Wigglesworth became interested in the unusual custom during a climbing trip to Red Rock Canyon, Nev., where she scaled a crag called The Panty Wall. She soon discovered similar names on rock faces in her own backyard, including Calabogie, Ont.

'1st ascensionist rule'

So how did the rude names come about? In climbing circles, it's known as the "first ascensionist rule," Wigglesworth explained. 

"In outdoor climbing, it's customary for the first person who successfully ascends or completes a route to [choose] a name for it."

Traditionally, the climbers who made that first ascent were men, and while the names they chose may not appear on official maps, they are published elsewhere.

"Once the name is decided, it's published either in a climbing guidebook or in an online climbing forum," Wigglesworth said. "So, it gets in a guidebook and sadly, it just ends up there."

Male-dominated sport

Since there's no governing body for the sport, the names go largely unchallenged, she said. Wigglesworth would like to change that.

The acceptance of these misogynist route names is symptomatic of how we view women in climbing.- Jennifer Wigglesworth

As part of her PhD thesis, Wigglesworth has been asking female climbers for their thoughts on the names, and the naming convention.

Some found the names humorous and thought the first ascensionists were just trying to be funny. Others found them offensive and saw them as a way to systematically exclude women from the sport, or perpetuate colonial culture.

Online response from the male-dominated climbing community has been more muted.

Wigglesworth said she's heard back from climbers who view the names as a joke and think people need to lighten up about them.

Wigglesworth has drawn her own conclusions.

"Something so trivial as a rock climbing route name can tell us much about the world and the systems of power circulating in our society," she said. "The acceptance of these misogynist route names is symptomatic of how we view women in climbing, and [in] society more broadly."

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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