From invisible to visible: turning awareness into advocacy for empowering women through outdoor role models
Being a woman of color in the outdoor industry of the United States makes me stand out – everyone notices my presence immediately. At the same time, I often feel invisible – whether playing outside, attending environmental conferences or working in outdoor education. For example, other climbers will typically approach my climbing partner to ask questions about the route, even when I’m clearly geared up as the ‘guide.’ Why don’t they see me?
Then I stumbled upon an explanation. The people who I traditionally interact with in the outdoor and environmental arenas are typically male. Similarly, the media, whether advertising, TV or magazines, tends to showcase scientists, activists or athletes who are male – and usually white. No wonder people don’t see me; I am not what they are used to seeing in our field. But I am here – and so are other women – including women of color.
I never felt invisible until I moved to the United States from Japan. In Japan, I was a part of the majority. I usually felt normal and was oblivious to my privilege. Then I came to the U.S. and was forced to add new layers to my identity, including ‘woman of color,’ ‘immigrant’ and ‘English language learner.’ These layers have made my everyday life more challenging. For the first time, I could personally relate to those whose voices are not heard. This evolving awareness has led me to advocate for myself and other women who remain invisible through founding a project called “If She Can Do It, You Can Too: Empowering Women Through Outdoor Role Models.”
In an effort to make the media more reflective of our society, I have dedicated myself to photographing, filming and sharing the stories of women of color, as well as other women who break the traditional mold, in the outdoor and environmental arenas. My hope is that by doing this, people everywhere will be inspired to overcome challenges and reach for their dreams. Currently, I am documenting Native American women activists in America’s national parks to educate the public about how we can support their effort to protect human rights and the environment within public land.
In 2009, after I started speaking publicly about my project, many people approached me to connect with World Pulse. I quickly learned how the mission of my project closely corresponds to the Soul of World Pulse. I was inspired, finding a strong global online community where women speak for themselves. I wanted to be a part of it, sharing stories of women I profiled through my project. And yet, without formal journalism training, I struggle to write effectively and timely to publish these stories, and get into the media world. This is how my journey to apply for the Voices of Future began. I hope to walk on the path of citizen journalism, holding the hands of amazing women grassroots leaders from around the world!