I speak with lot´s of women about the Great Outdoors and have trained, worked with and been trained by some amazingly talented women who really have their acts together in the world of Bushcraft.
Bushcraft, the art of living outdoors, seems to come naturally to women and no camp is the same without the feminine touches that a thoughtful woman provides. Things that no man would even begin to consider become an incredibly valuable reality.
When men think ¨Bushcraft¨ or ¨Camping¨, in their minds eye they will usually be thinking of climbing a mountain with a knife between their teeth and ambushing a deer before magically converting it into steaks for dinner. They think about chopping firewood with an axe, catching fish with their bare hands and climbing trees. Men think about giant, raging campfires that are started with ease by snapping their fingers together.
What men almost NEVER think about it having a tidy, clean, comfortable campsite that creates the conditions to have a safe, relaxing, efficient camp in which a good time can be had, good food can be cooked and some really refreshing sleep can be had.
This is largely because of two things
- Men have issues with Ego. Men are all told by society they should be good at this stuff already, it is a mans place in the world to be good at these things because in times past, before cities and what we now call ¨modern civilisation¨, men WERE good at these things. When they take the weekend off work from their sales job at the insurance company, having never been camping before, they´re ego´s become bruised quite early on as with darkness falling and rain closing in, the attempts to light the fire have been unsuccessful and the fire wood has not responded to brute force, aggression and swearing by bursting into flame.
- Men, most of the time, lack the personality traits that Women (also most of the time) have. Attributes such as Empathy, Multi-tasking, ability to learn unimpeded by ego, Sensitivity, Caring, Deference, Tolerance and Compassion, Forward thinking, Attention to details.
These attributes are much more common among women and much less common among men.
I have worked with a lot of men out in the woods and to a lesser extent, women too and when separated the difference is clear.
As you read this now you will likely have encountered the phenomenon of men not wanting to ask for directions. You will have been driving around looking for something and your girlfriend or wife will have innocently suggested that you just stop and ask the next person you see for directions. Pah! you thought, ¨Not until there is no other option, I want to find it myself with no help¨. Your girlfriend did not understand what the problem was as for her it is a simple case of ¨we don´t know how to find the place that we are looking for, instead of wasting time driving around and around let´s just ask someone, whats the problem with that?¨. It is the same Ego driven conundrum that most men face, we are supposed to already be good at finding our way around and to stop ask ask for help is an admission of failure and weakness.
Women are not burdened by this particular problem and therefore are often pleasantly surprised by how quickly they learn and progress on a Bushcraft course with me. Bushcraft is actually, not very difficult to learn, it just requires patience, attentiveness, practise and trial and error and It is also easy to teach if the student is ready to learn.
When working with particularly strong willed men, to put it bluntly, I usually have to wait for them to accept their own failure before they will accept my help. It is a curious but fairly common event with some men, men who are used to being the leader of every group, perhaps a manager at work or a leader in their field, they will pay to attend a training course and then spend the first few hours or even days, attempting to exercise their authority and unconsciously challenging my position as the ¨leader¨.
It´s an amusing game that is easily solved most of the time but can create real problems for them as a student because they wont accept my coaching and input while I am teaching them a new skill. To do so, in their mind, is to submit to another persons dominance.
When working with Women, I have never encountered this, every woman that I have ever worked with has been ready and eager to learn and has not held back by any ego problems. This results in much faster progression and because we spend less time teaching the fundamental skills, there is more time to look into more in-depth subjects such as medicinal plants, wild food, carving and making useful things like spoons, bowls and tongs, and there is usually plenty of time for the women, either on their own or in groups, to go for a wander around the forest and take it all in.
A men´s course of beginners will on the other hand be hard working but lack the spare time to do whatever they want with because they are less efficient at taking in new information (because their ego is telling them that they already know this stuff). I am generalising of course, it´s not the same with all men.
What a ¨women’s only¨ group lacks is that useful, brute strength and aggression that all men have that enables us to lift heavy objects, collect huge amounts of firewood, build shelters and generally do the ¨heavy lifting¨ around camp. This is not to say that woman cannot do this, they can, but men use less energy to do so, can generate power from their muscles more efficiently and are conditioned by evolution for this role. Women are conditioned by evolution to attend to the finer details of life outside and therefore tend to be better at (and enjoy more) things like crafts, carving, cooking and making a campsite into a home instead of a place to sleep. Women, through their amazing ability to multi task can achieve more in a shorter space of time than men can.
On a tough canoe trip in the West Highlands of Scotland with my girlfriend, we had both had a particularly hard day and were exhausted from paddling our canoe into the wind all day. When we stepped onto the shore, all we wanted to do was eat, relax and sleep but there is so much to be done when setting up a camp for the night, firewood must be collected, fires started, boat unloaded, food cooked, tarps set up and the tent set up. I volunteered for the hardest of the jobs, getting the firewood. While collecting the wood, I was concerned that it was getting dark and there was no way that there was going to be enough time for me to get all the wood and do everything else before it got dark. My Girlfriend, was tired and I expected that she would probably not have the energy to get much done. I dropped off the first load of firewood for her to start the fire and cook the food, I would go back and get enough firewood for the night and the next morning.
After about 30 minutes, I was wet and had cuts and bruises all over me from clambering around a tangled forest, cutting and splitting firewood and feeling pretty manly about the whole thing too.
When i got back to the campsite, I was stunned by what I saw. All of our equipment had been unloaded from the canoe and neatly stacked by the Tent, which she had put up on her own, the Tarp too was set up over the fire and now we had a dry, warm place to cook and eat, the dinner was already cooking and was nearly ready and she had changed into her dry clothes and was sitting comfortably, reading a book and looking very relaxed. It did not end there though, Our sleeping bags and bed roll´s were rolled out in the tent, there were candles for lighting already laid out and lit around the camp, some tea had been made and was waiting for me and some snacks had been prepared to eat while waiting for dinner.
She had done all of that while all I had done, inspite of me working flat out, was collect enough wood for the night.
At this point, I realised for the first time that in order to get the most out of living in the wilderness, camping or to move from a survival situation into a ¨Thriving situation¨, a man cannot do it alone, nor can a woman do it alone. It needs us both to come together and when combined, a man and a woman make a very powerful combination.
Ladies, you are built for this and it is not a ¨mans world¨, it is your world, our world and to really crack the nut on how to thrive in it, it takes both the Masculine and the Feminine.
In mixed groups on training courses, there may be an element of competitive ego´s looking for dominance but it very rarely ends that way, as people gravitate to their natural roles in nature, things become easy, normal, they feel right and life can begin.
I have been asked, recently, about the possibility of setting up a ¨girls¨ course, I hope that this explains why it is not necessary but I am still happy to run such a course. If you and some of your friends want to head out into the woods to learn all about living in the wilderness then get in touch with me and let´s make that happen.