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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!

Comments

Claudia's picture

I can completely relate to

I can completely relate to your words, especially when you state that you were forced to add new layers to your identity. As someone who speaks several languages, I realize that these words, categories and concepts are not a part of everyone's vocabulary.

I also studied philosophy for 10 years. The field is completely dominated by white men. There are a number of women who struggle to get younger women of color into the field, however, this is an ongoing battle.

Kudos to you! Your job sounds amazing as does the work you do for “If She Can Do It, You Can Too: Empowering Women Through Outdoor Role Models.”

Heart,

Claudia

Hi Claudia,

Thank you for reading my journal entry. I don't think I hit the "reply" button and instead wrote a comment. So, just in case you haven't gotten this, here it is!

I knew that there are many women out there who can relate to what I said in my journal. Like your field in philosophy, in my guiding world (I guide backpacking and rock climbing trips as one of my jobs), white male dominates the industry. But I have to say it has been amazing for me to share stories from my project with these guys and support their journey to help them realize "white male privilege" and their potential to be a part of women empowerment movement. I definitely do my work to shine lights on women of color, but I do this to change white America so that we can work together to bring justice for all. When I spoke in the past, the majority of my audience is white and they support what I do!

Anyways, sounds like you are doing a lot of women empowerment as well as human rights work in Chicago area on top of your work. That's amazing! Good luck with your work and will let you know if I come into Chicago for any speaking engagement in the future.

Love,

Miho

Miho Aida

mihoaida's picture

Thanks!

Hi Claudia,

Thank you for reading my journal entry. I knew that there are many women out there who can relate to what I said in my journal. Like your field in philosophy, in my guiding world (I guide backpacking and rock climbing trips as one of my jobs), white male dominates the industry. But I have to say it has been amazing for me to share stories from my project with these guys and support their journey to help them realize "white male privilege" and their potential to be a part of women empowerment movement. I definitely do my work to shine lights on women of color, but I do this to change white America so that we can work together to bring justice for all. When I spoke in the past, the majority of my audience is white and they support what I do!

Anyways, sounds like you are doing a lot of women empowerment as well as human rights work in Chicago area on top of your work. That's amazing! Good luck with your work and will let you know if I come into Chicago for any speaking engagement in the future.

Love,

Miho

Miho Aida

JessiSchimmel's picture

Dear Miho, I love your “If

Dear Miho,

I love your “If She Can Do It, You Can Too: Empowering Women Through Outdoor Role Models" project. It sounds fascinating and very constructive and change-making.

I think in the end of your post you are placing too much emphasis on "getting into the media." As a former reporter, I can confidently say I think your writing and efforts are better placed outside of the mainstream media. You could work hard to create some public relations and be covered in a major news outlet, but develop a web site and keep writing and you'll probably go farther along the path of realizing your “If She Can Do It, You Can Too" dreams.

Keep up the good work,
Jessi

mihoaida's picture

Thank you for the great suggestion!

Dear Jessi,

Thank you so much for reading my journal and providing me a wonderful feedback. It is great to hear from someone like you who was a former reporter and has a great insight. I have not invested in creating public relations to be covered in a news or documentary. But I developed a website last year and now I have a blog, project Facebook page and project YouTube channel! Like you mentioned, having a website is such a great asset to my project and my fans on Facebook continues to grow. I will keep writing and work on building relationships with media. If you are curious, please visit my website: www.mihoaida.com. If you have further advice for my next steps, please comment again.

By the way, what did you like about your reporter job and why did you leave the job?

Thanks again for your comment! Much appreciated.

Miho

Miho Aida

antoniamichaela's picture

Wow!

I found this piece very inspiring. I cannot imagine how frustrating and even infuriating it must be to see people approach your colleague with their questions, and not yourself, despite being a guide. And to know that is due to the racial stereotyping which often goes on in a subconscious but very harmful way in many white people's heads. The experience of being 'invisible' is so painful and powerless-making - but as a white woman I have had far less of those experiences than women of colour. Your ability to recognize what is happening in such situations, and to take action through speaking up to your white male colleagues to facilitate their recognition of their own privilege is impressive. Also, the fact that your approach to doing this seems to be in a gentle, firm, way, without rage at white men and white America, is quite admirable. I am interested to learn more about your approach towards educating white people about their privilege, as it is so crucial, but so difficult.

Your documentary project sounds wonderful. I am looking forward to checking out your video. Great that you are actively taking steps to change and increase the visibility of women of colour in the outdoor and environmental arenas.

Thank you for inspiring me!

Warm wishes,

Antonia

mihoaida's picture

Right on!

Antonia,

Thank you so much for this comment and you are right on it - meaning that you really got it what I was trying to say in this journal entry. I am happy to talk more about how I work with white men in a way to empower them. If you have any specific questions, please let me know.

Here is one thing I will share with you now. There is a model for white racial identity development. In the model, there is a stage where white people feel stuck with their guilt and disengage themselves from continuing the personal work to pass this stage. I have seen many white men being stuck here without knowing what's on the next stage and after. It helps them to know that they will eventually move through this stage as long as they continue to work. I think giving them visions and guiding them with hope are the keys to empower them.

But most importantly, I learned to be patient and do this work from love, not hate. It was not easy to come to this place but I had a great mentor who helped me to develop my own racial identity. I also had opportunities to attend and facilitate diversity trainings, mostly with white folks, and that helped me to gain vocabulary to speak to white men without offending them (probably similar to non-violence communication).

Do you have this kind of dialogue at your work place, Antonia? When I was in London, I noticed a great racial diversity in the city, and I was curious to know how people of color in UK are treated.

Again, thank you for this note!

Love,

Miho

Miho Aida

lydia's picture

choosing a more personal journalism

Thank you for sharing your project--they are inspiring and fit well with World Pulse's vision (so you're in the right place in this community!). Pursuing a program in citizen journalism is a great fit, I think, for what you are doing. Using Web 2.0 to promote your projects and connect with other women will give you the necessary journalism training, but at a more personal, connected level. I look forward to reading more about your projects and how World Pulse and Web 2.0 can help you move closer to obtaining your goals!
-Lydia

mihoaida's picture

Thanks!

Hi Lydia,

Thank you so much for your note. It is great to get your insight in how using Web 2.0 and World Pulse can bring me a more personal and connected journalism. I am thrilled to have that opportunity with a mentorship from someone like you who can see a potential in me and my project. So, thank you for this note. I will keep writing!

Love,

Miho

Miho Aida

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