Studies Show Women Under-acknowledge Accomplishments. It Can Impact Their Climbing

This article originally appeared on Climbing

This article originally appeared in Climbing 370 under the title “The Climbing-Confidence Gap.”

I could see the breakdown coming. Emma* was following me up the 5.9+ first pitch of the Eldorado Canyon classic Rincon in starts and spurts, a vertical stagger. From my belay ledge, I could see her shoulders locking up and her eyes pinching shut against the burn of tears. And though we'd only recently been introduced by a mutual friend, had never climbed together before today, and had scarcely had more than one conversation, I could tell exactly what she was about to say: "I'm sorry. I'm so weak. I'm a coward. I can't do this."

It was, almost verbatim, what my partner Katie* had told me a week prior at the gym. And it was, almost verbatim, what I was used to hearing in my own head--and sometimes out of my own mouth--on any lead that pushed my limits.

Historically, the men I climb with have been just as likely as the ladies to butt up against fear, frustration, or failure--to get the rope stuck, misread the route, or simply pump out and give up. But I've noticed that when the guys screw up, they shrug it off and keep going. In many of those same situations, my female partners--myself included--shatter.

I know there are women who are bolder and tougher than most men, but the more I've looked into the issue, the more my personal observations ring true: Research shows that women are more likely than men to undervalue their accomplishments. In one study led by University of Columbia professor Ernesto Reuben, male subjects exaggerated their past successes by 30 percent on average when incentivized to boast, while female subjects could only manage 15 percent. Other studies show that female students are more likely to talk down their grade-point averages, and as much as five times more likely than men to attribute their successes to help from others rather than to their own abilities. Meanwhile, a significant body of research indicates that negative thinking in both genders can undermine self-esteem and rev up anxiety. And one 2017 study of 300 athletes found negative thinking correlated with early athlete burnout. So what's wrong with us women? I wondered. Why do we do this to ourselves?

In summer 2019, I perused the list of clinics for the Arc'teryx Climbing Academy, a three-day event held in Squamish, British Columbia, that's half climbing festival and half technical-skills intensive. I was hoping to enroll in the helicopter-access alpine traverse (cool, right?), but then something else caught my eye: a women's clinic that promised to teach students how to "move through fear and use fear to reach your climbing goals." I signed up immediately.

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A participant working on her lead skills, Murrin Park, Squamish, BC, during the 2019 Arc’teryx Climbing Academy. John Price

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