Breaking Mount Everest’s Glass Ceiling

Here is a fascinating discussion of women who have submitted Mount Everest over the years and the challenges they faced based upon social expectations for them as women in Eastern and Western cultures.  After one professional climber told National Geographic that she, like many working mothers, felt guilty at leaving her children behind, reader response was ferocious.  Readers responded to the article stating she had “pre-shot her children” and accusing her of having “cheap, self-serving arrogance.”   A Nepalese woman who holds the record for summiting Everest 6 times is working as a maid because in her culture, educating women is not seen as a priority and she can not read or write.

Some of the issues faced by Western women climbers is grounded in our historical view of women and sport.  From the article:

In the 19th century, when mountaineering was developing as a sport, the playing field was highly restricted. Victorian society largely believed that women could not endure robust physical activity. One prevalent theory blamed the uterus and the ovaries. These organs were thought to dictate everything about a woman, from puberty to menopause, including her athletic capabilities….

Naturally, mountaineering was out of the question. As physician Karl Gerson warned in 1898 in the German Journal of Physical Education, “Violent movements of the body can cause a shift in the position and a loosening of the uterus as well as a prolapse and bleeding, with resulting sterility, thus defeating a woman’s true purpose in life, i.e., the bringing forth of strong children.” A woman needed to stay home and go easy on the uterus. Future generations depended on it.

2 thoughts on “Breaking Mount Everest’s Glass Ceiling

  1. I was drawn to this because of the mountain but stayed because of the issues involved around it. I find it interesting that women in Nepalis culture are put a such a low priority because that is not how it is here in the US or is it? Here in the US we have many subtle ways in which women can be treated and almost even a second class citizen we no longer believe that the uterus controls them but we do treat women differently particularly in sports. We have completely different rules and even games for women so that they can “play like the boys.” I think that Everest is an excellent example of the mountain we have to overcome in order to truly treat everyone equally but just like the mountain it is conquerable.

  2. Reading this article takes me to both places of sexism and racism in my mind. I think of other instances where women were told they couldn’t compete because of their ovaries and uterus and how being a woman clouded their rationale decision making because hormones were to high and women are more emotional. I still do believe there are subtle forms of this that exist today however and it is sad that in 2014 we are still being held back because of an outdated thought process. In terms of racism I’ve read many stories about how African Americans were told they weren’t good enough because the color of their skin simply made them/us less capable. I actually wonder how thought process such as these are created and maintained through the years and if anything can be done to prevent these negative thought process from becoming prevalent in our culture.

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