Words and photos by Sydney MacDonald

Few spaces genuinely function as refuge from society’s expectations of my femininity.

Out in nature, surrounded by silence, I can’t help but feel that every move has purpose. The key to survival in the outdoors will never be to present myself as “nice” or “agreeable.” Nature is a realm that doesn’t care how my outer appearance factors into anything. Overcoming challenges in the natural world opposes all of the things society tells me that I am supposed to find fulfilling. Nature doesn’t trick me into believing I’m delicate.

As I navigate my own womanhood, moments such as hiking the Grand Tetons with my father as a child, or racing my male counterparts down ski hills littered with moguls and pine trees, stand out as points of empowerment. The outdoors represented something few spaces ever have: a place of sanctuary.


Feeling small and insignificant out in nature is a beautiful thing. Those same feelings exists in the social world as well, but amongst society, those same feelings trick me into thinking that I’m insignificant. In nature, that sense of scale moves my psyche toward the sensation there is greater power within me. The wilderness begins to feel like an extension of my soul and births a sensation unlike anything I’ve achieved in the civilized places I call home.

Although there’s freedom to be found in the wild spaces in the world, societal dangers find a foothold in even the most isolated outdoor spaces.

Outside Magazine recently published an article in which women from all corners of the outdoor industry told their stories about being sexually harassed in outdoor work environments. Their moments of sanctuary were stripped away as a result of these experiences.

I’ve always entered nature, free of the notion that I am something to be conquered. I am the one conquering my surroundings. In this brief realm of self-assurance, I feel free of societal problems.

Reading the Outside Magazine article, however, reminded me that the problems of civilization can taint even the wilderness. When problematic power structures and gender dynamics enter outdoor spaces, I can’t help but view the outdoors through the same lens as I view civilization. I feel that I’m no longer free to exist in either world, I feel that they’ve morphed into the same thing.

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