There’s been an interesting conversation bouncing around climbing media the past few weeks regarding female first ascents. It started with this piece published on Rock and Ice at the end of September. In it Paige Claassen, having just sent The Bleeding (5.14a/b) in Mill Creek, Utah expressed a distaste for the Female First Ascent label. “Personally, I think [first female ascents] are irrelevant. Some women find them really motivating… but there are some cases in which a woman hasn’t even tried [the route] before.” She also said she felt like Female First Ascents reinforce a gender gap that doesn’t necessarily need to exist in climbing.
This reignited a conversation about the real value of FFA designation that has been going on for years. It isn’t the type of thing with a clear answer— there are obvious pros and cons to separating and highlighting female climbers achievements simply because a woman achieved them.
There were a couple noteworthy responses to Claassen’s comments that I think did a good job advancing the conversation. The first is this excellent piece by Andrew Bisharat on Evening Sends. Bisharat’s position is essentially, “female first ascents are sort of a good thing, but only sometimes, and they’re usually not.” Like I said, this is a complex issue. Bisharat recognizes the motivating power that the FFA moniker has, but suggests that it’s only really relevant when a repeat ascent is impressive in the first place. He ends up claiming that FFAs perhaps hold women back by encouraging repeat sends to get the tick, rather than putting up their own true first ascents.
Libby Sauter responded to THAT article almost immediately on Facebook.Sauter suggests that while FFAs might not be important on a small level, they still remain incredibly useful at the upper echelon of climbing. They allow everyone to see how hard the absolute strongest are sending, and can act as a sort of temperature check for climbing as a whole.
Its a fascinating issue, but its awesome to see the high level of discourse surrounding the whole thing. Even the comment sections of all those articles, save for a few trolls, have surprisingly intelligent conversations going on. Female First Ascents hit home for some people on a philosophical level. As women continue to get stronger and stronger, it’ll be interesting to see where this conversation goes.