A woman in the wild: Gendered public spaces and narratives of femininity

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Amy Bowen

Abstract

In 2012, Cheryl Strayed published her memoir Wild: Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. In it, she details her 1995 hike at the age of 26 on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a west coast route extending from the Mexican to Canadian borders. The phrase “The Wild Effect” has been used to describe the increase in people, notably women, on the PCT following Wild’s publication, as well as the conversation the book has sparked about women hiking alone in the wilderness, a historically masculine space. Lingering influences of historical understandings of women’s participation in outdoor recreation still inform much of the discussion of women in this space today. Wild addresses the female challenges of life in both the private and public realms, and provides inspiration for women to defy traditional, one-dimensional narratives of femininity. Apparent in Strayed’s transformative narrative, the independence and self-empowerment experienced in the wild does not threaten to overturn gender roles, but rather gives women the ability to make ‘smart’, ‘mature’ decisions about domestic responsibilities, such as getting married and starting a family. A woman in the wild is therefore not depicted as a threat to the social order despite exerting independence in a masculine space, as historical narratives would suggest; rather, Strayed’s narrative suggests she can perform her domestic roles more effectively after her transformative experience in the wild. While Strayed’s memoir popularizes a version of femininity that challenges traditional one-dimensional gender roles, it ultimately appeals to the general public because it shows that participation in historically masculine spaces and fulfilling domestic roles can function in harmony.

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Author Biography

Amy Bowen

I completed my Honours Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at the University of Guelph in 2012 and my Master of Arts in English (Public Texts) at Trent University in 2016. I am currently a faculty member at Fleming College, teaching Communications and General Education courses.