More than a hundred female climbers took part in last year’s Women’s Climbing Symposium. On Thursday, as part of the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival Expert Night series, British Bouldering Champion Shauna Coxsey, World Para Climbing Champion Fran Brown, and eight times British Climbing Champion Lucy Creamer will talk with sociologist Stephanie Meysner from the WCS and climbing film-maker Jen Randall about pushing their climbing to the limits.
Lucy Creamer talks to Climb about recovering from injury, women and climbing and what makes a good climbing film.
Q You were on crutches at last year’s Sheffield Adventure Film Festival. What happened and how have you been getting on since?
I broke my leg on an ice climbing trip in Italy. I climbed once or twice on my leg but once the leg started getting better I needed an operation on a shoulder injury that had been lingering for 3 years or so. I hadn’t got a proper diagnosis and completely randomly the day I had an operation on my leg the next day I was booked in to have the scan on my shoulder. I didn’t even have to leave the hospital - I just went downstairs!
It would have been nice to have had the shoulder done slightly sooner, so it meant last year was basically spent recovering. I think I had four general anaesthetics last year – it was pretty grim. Six and a half months on and I’m just getting back into it, enjoying being able to climb again.
Q ‘Push It’ director Jen Randall says it took her ages before she would even have a go at a boulder problem because she was worried about looking silly. She wanted to make the film to encourage women not to be scared – to just get out there. And sociologist Steph Meysner argues that men come into the sport with an attitude of “I can do it” whereas girls are brought up to be more complicit, quiet and non-disruptive. She says the message of the WCS is that it’s ok for women to try harder. Do you think that too?
As women generally we’re not as gung ho as men. I remember early on going to the climbing wall and what I noticed was that men would just throw themselves at something. I’d just hold back, even though I was one of the better climbers in the group. I’d think ‘Oh no, I won’t be able to do that’ and then I’d sneak a little try when no-one was looking’. And I thought, ‘What am I doing? They’ve tried and failed and nobody cared?’ I kind of got over that, but I definitely remember that at the start – it’s why I really liked climbing with men – they just tried things, didn’t care how they looked or what people were thinking – they just had a go and it was quite a good lesson early on.
Q Do you think the next generation of women climbers are more open and relaxed?
To an extent, yes. There are more role models out there now which helps a massive amount. It’s having a snowballing effect. That said, generally women are still more cautious. It’s not that they’re not trying hard but maybe they find failing publicly more difficult. Perhaps that’s to do with our personalities – the female psyche. That’s not to say it can’t change.
You look at young kids together and it’s naturally assumed a boy can just have a go at something. You’ll see adults say, ‘Go on, give it a go, just try it’ but with a girl adults are a lot more inclined to say. ‘If you don’t want to, you don’t have to’. It’s almost like girls are encouraged not to try. If you grow up in a society like that, men feel they can try things whereas women don’t feel so confident. I think it is changing, especially in climbing. It’s fantastic – there’s a real forward momentum.
Q What’s next for you?
To get back to some sort of semblance of fitness that I’m happy with. I’m probably going to Switzerland ice climbing at the end of the month and hopefully in the summer to do some new routes in Malta – where there’s quite a lot of trad climbing. That’s what’s motivating me – going to new places and climbing new routes.
Q And before you head off ice climbing you and your adventure photographer partner Tim Glasby (http://www.timglasby.com) are on the judging panel at this year’s Sheffield Adventure Film Festival. There’s stiff competition this year for Best Climb Film and Grand Prize with 80 films in total of which 18 are climbing films spread over four Climb Film sessions plus the Mountain Film session. What do you look for in a good film?
For me story is important. I like to have some sort of emotional connection with what’s going on. I like to find out about the person – I don’t just like climbing porn – though we don’t have too much of that at ShAFF. It’s nice to have an interesting story and see behind the scenes of what motivates the athlete.
Women’s Climbing Expert Night, Showroom Cinema, 19.15 Thursday 7th February. Buy tickets: (£10/£8 concessions)
ShAFF is 1-3 March also at the Showroom Cinema. (www.shaff.co.uk)