Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gender in Annapurna

   One of the most interesting aspects of Annapurna: A Woman's Place was the way that Blum did not shy away from writing about the team's more stereotypical feminine actions.  Where Herzog gives a merely factual log of his team's expedition, Blum focuses more on the psychological factors in climbing Annapurna, and in doing so, issues a challenge to her readers to reconsider their own gender stereotypes.
   At first, I was surprised by this -- she constantly references the fact that the women were keenly aware of how the outside world perceived their trip, and would make sacrifices that were risky form a climbing point of view (such as not taking a sherpa on the first run to the top) in order to not give their critics any material to work with.  Because they were so conscious of their image, I initially found it unusual that Blum included small details such as Irene breaking down into tears and almost leaving the trip, Annie's romance, or even the anecdote about the women "tasting" the chocolate bars before packing the food.  These were details I figured were sure to bring criticism from those who already believed a woman didn't belong on the mountain, and thus wondered why Blum included them.
   However, as I read on, I realized there were a few possible reasons for their inclusion.  Herzog's crew more than likely had just as many moments of emotional difficulty but that the societal demands of the men to remain stoic in the face of danger meant that he likely left these out of his narrative.  Blum's account, therefore, seems much more honest, even when she knows it might not be well received. Furthermore, Blum -- who was so aware of the the way the world would received her story -- probably recognized that while some of the more stereotypical feminine actions would only confirm what her critics had suspected, she also realized that because their expedition was successful, this was precisely why it was would break down gender barriers.   She challenges readers to see that their stereotypes, whether true or not, did not prevent the women's expedition from climbing as efficiently and successfully up Annapurna, braving avalanche conditions even worse than those of Herzog's team.  Blum recognized what I failed to do so during the initial stages of the book that presenting the women's team in a fashion that meant they had conformed to what is stereotypical masculine would accomplish very little -- instead, showing an honest account of the differences between the men and women, and yet showing just how successful the women were helped better truly prove that a woman's place is on top.

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