Monday, February 10, 2014

Democracy - All it's made out to be?

           When I read Annapurna, by Maurice Herzog, my reaction to the “solemn” oath that the members of the expedition took, in which they “swore upon [their] honor to obey the leader in everything regarding the Expedition,” was that the exercise was overly dramatic and superfluous (Herzog, 5). These were experienced climbers, after all, who were chosen for the unique attributes that they contributed to the group, and their opinions should be as equally respected as their mental and mountaineering abilities. To many classmates, including myself, it seemed as if Herzog frequently took advantage of this sworn loyalty to act in a selfish manner, which arguably unnecessarily endangered their cause.
            With Annapurna still fresh in my memory, Arlene Blum’s style of leadership therefore immediately struck me as markedly contrasted to Herzog’s, for better or for worse. She accepts criticism and second guessing from her fellow Expeditioners based on her perspective of working with peers, as opposed to leading subjects; she admits her weaknesses, and elucidates the strengths of others, for instance that Liz was “the most experienced technical ice climber”, and that Allison had “climbed higher than the rest of [the Expedition members]” (19,20). Despite the fact that I strongly disagree with the arguments presented against allowing women to attempt the climb of Annapurna, as detailed in the Preface and Introduction, I must admit that I was more worried for their lives than I was for Herzog’s company. Perhaps this was due to the in-depth characterization provided by Blum, and withheld by Herzog, and I merely felt more attached and involved with the prior’s livelihoods. I find it equally debatable, however, that my increased anxiety was justified by the democratic style of leadership that Blum employed. As much as I dislike the taste of it, I find myself playing Devil’s Advocate to my own criticisms of Herzog’s leadership with Annapurna: A Woman’s Place as evidence. It was an extremely dangerous expedition that these women were attempting. It is explicitly stated that “one in ten” Himalayan climbers never return. With that reality laid before them, and extreme conditions where a single step “a little farther to the right” differentiated life from death, it seemed irresponsible of Blum to promote individuality (221).


  1. I think this is a really interesting and important argument! I agree that the two distinct forms of leadership in these two books are very much connected to the safety of the group's members. I found myself laying a lot of the blame for the deaths on Blum's expedition on her leadership. Although Herzog royally screwed up on several occasions, leading to an incredibly dangerous evacuation, at least he had organized his team such that they were capable of evacuating the casualties. I have to wonder though - could Blum really do anything about the Sherpas' reluctance to comply to her leadership? Did that conflict have more to do with her as an individual or her as a woman?

  2. You're making a really valid point. In the process of reading Annapurna: a woman's place, I continuously had to come to terms with the fact that Arlene Blum had to deal with very different variables on her expedition than Maurice Herzog did. One of those differences was the fact that Blum is female. There is no question in my mind that this particular difference increased the degree of external pressure imposed on the group as well as the number of internal doubts that Blum imposed upon herself. The example that you gave of the difficulties Blum had to confront regarding the Sherpas is an excellent model of a problem that Herzog was never faced with. Was at least part of the problem her perceived weakness by the Sherpas because of her sex? It’s impossible for me to definitively say, but I think that it’s a likely partial explanation. Looking back, most of my criticisms regarding Blum’s leadership style revolve around her treatment of the other expedition members. I never really specified this, and didn’t even realize it myself until now.