Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Woman's Place Is...Looking in a Mirror?

     In the introduction to Annapurna: A Woman's Place, Arlene Blum writes "when the press asks me about discrimination by men-and they frequently do-my answers have always been deliberately vague.  I would like attitudes to change, and to that end I have tried to avoid strident statements. Our achievements in the mountains should speak for themselves" (xxiv).  Upon first reading this, I was rather annoyed, as it struck me as the kind of statement I often hear as a counterargument to feminist concerns about the glass ceiling: "If you work hard enough, it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman."  Though these women may not be as privileged as the earlier male climbers of Annapurna, they are still privileged enough to be able to leave their jobs, homes, and children for three months (an option not available to the vast majority of women), and privilege often blinds us to the ways in which race, gender, and class shape the world around us. 
     For much of her account, Blum stays true to her word and lets the expedition speak for itself.  This could be Herzog's account (only with less tea and racism).  The exception to this, however, comes when the women are up the mountain, looking at themselves in the mirror: "the higher we climbed, the better we all looked-slim, tanned, and healthy.  Many men, in contrast, take on a haggard look after a few weeks at high altitude. Turns out traditional conceptions of femininity do have their place about 20,000 feet!  Blum's decision to include this episode in her narrative is a curious one.  Were the women really so concern with their looks?  Does Blum include this scene to prove that women can be "real" women, as well as "real" climbers?  Is she successful and is this approach better than making a "strident" statement?

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