The Georgie Abel and Andrew Bisharat Debate

A lot of people have been catching snippets of a debate/disagreement between notable climbing writers Georgie Abel (GA), and Andrew Bisharat (AB), around and about the subject of women in climbing. For years, that subject has manifested regularly in open accusations that the climbing media, if not the community at large, is steeped in latent sexism, and guilty of objectifying women. There are many links to that sort of critique that can be found in a previous post I made on Fringe’s Folly – Sexism in Climbing: I’m Going There.

Naturally, I wanted to know more about the little snippets of GA and AB’s debate that I was seeing on social media. So I’ve tried to put together a bit of a synopsis for those interested. The basic chronology of the GA/AB debate seems to me to be as follows.

  1. Moja Gear, a company GA writes for, posted an article by writer Amanda Robinson Schwartz called “Being Strong and Fragile: A Discussion on Sexism, Racism, Exclusivity, and Privilege in Climbing.” In the article, as a case study, she brings up an article AB wrote about First Female Ascents (FFAs), in which she argues that AB should “acknowledge that as a man it is impossible to separate the maleness that informs the bias and experience of the author, and that it would be impossible to fully understand the reasons why FFAs are problematic or not.”
  2. AB wrote a series of posts in the comments section of Schwartz’s piece, questioning the thesis of her argument, namely, “If the sole critique of my article is that I am a man, then I would say that that is reverse sexism, and an unfortunate stance to take.” His comment was responded to by Betsy Dorsett, another female climbing writer, who wrote: “While it may not be intentional, I think this comment derails the conversation a bit by making this about you personally and invoking “reverse sexism.” Reverse sexism, isn’t a stance and it isn’t a thing.” AB Shoots back, “I haven’t heard much if any critique on the thesis I tried to make I my article–that FFAs should be selectively celebrated and when they are not they do more harm than good by holding women back–but I have heard a lot of critique about my right to have an opinion due to my gender, which I find really ironic considering the topic of discussion.” To which Dorsett responds: “But the thing is, no one is saying you don’t have a right to an opinion…I get your point. But I don’t think that just because we celebrate FFAs, women will be less likely to pursue, or held back from pursuing, FAs.” 

    (You can see the full extent of the comments at the link to the article here).

  3.  GA reaches out to AB in private (I think it was text messages, looking back on pictures she later posted), to give him a thoroughly elaborated opinion/critique of his comments on the Moja Gear article. Her thesis seems to me to be, basically, “The problem that I see in your approach is your unwillingness to listen to what people have to say that disagree or challenge you. Instead of taking opinions like Amanda’s (who is a member of the group you’re writing about) and saying: hmmm, what can I learn from this, how can I use this to inform myself further…you simply say that we are wrong.” GA also critiques AB’s argument in his article on FFAs “I also disagree that the key to breaking down gender barriers in climbing is for women to put up more FAs and to downplay their first female ascents. I think that the way for women to empower themselves is to do whatever the fuck they want to do. Paige Classen is a great example of this — she thinks FFAs are lame, so she doesn’t report them. That’s badass. However, if another woman wants to report her FFA, that’s badass too. A lot of people will be inspired by both scenarios. One of them is not better or more empowering than the other.”GA goes on to post her Open Letter to Andrew Bisharat on her blog, and shares it on Facebook.
  4. Here’s where I get a little cloudy on the events, and, I think, rightfully so. Following GA’s publication of her Open Letter to Andrew Bisharat, AB makes, and then subsequently removes, some comments. According to GA, “Bisharat gave a response to this letter the day after I published this but he has deleted it. I have opted out of re-posting his response because it was so degrading, disrespectful, and in no way added to this important conversation. Bisharat is also now accusing me of editing this letter, saying that the letter you just read is different from what he initally received. He is reporting that the letter he received was “critical of him personally”. This is completely untrue and I have extensive documentation that proves this. ”  
  5. A few days later, GA posts another article on her blog: What Needs to be Known About Andrew Bisharat’s Response to my Open Letter. In this article, she writes that “Not only did Bisharat respond publicly with comments that were incredibly degrading and disrespectful to myself and many others who expressed disagreement with him, but he also formed a blatant lie in an attempt to discredit me and excuse his outrageous reaction.” She gives evidence to show that this was not what she did. She also goes on to call out Rock and Ice magazine, who employs AB as an “Editor at Large”, and implore them to take a stance on this whole debacle.
  6. Following the second GA blog post, I started seeing a variety of comments on FB that I found somewhat eye-opening. I can’t remember exact comments, or commenters, and my goal is not to call anyone out, anyway. I don’t even necessarily feel that anyone did anything wrong. But some of the comments were made on R+I’s Facebook page, and called in not so uncertain terms for R+I to either stand up for, or stand against, AB’s remarks (if not AB). You can see them on the left as you scroll down.Perhaps against better judgement, I decided to put in my own two cents: “While it seems that AB has put his foot in his mouth (maybe quite a few times over the years), I can’t really say I condone widespread internet fervor condemning him as a person, urging his employer to cut ties with him, or other defamatory remarks. That’s not what Georgie Abel intended (I know because she told me openly), and I don’t think it’s what any of us should be doing… We should use this opportunity to think deeply about how climbing as a sport, and a form of media, treats ALL members of the community. You can make the case that we should be more inclusive of ethnic minorities, of women, of the LGBT community, of lower income climbers, of gym climbers, of trad climbers, of weekend warriors, of topropers, of boulderers, etc.”

So that’s BASICALLY the line of events. I gather there is past history between AB and GA (along with other women climbers) about the subject of women in climbing, sexism, FFAs, and related subjects. I’ll leave it up to the reader to dig into that further.

My take on all of this is that we ought to take the arguments aside from the arguers, and consider them closely as a community. I can understand all the positions espoused here. I think AB makes an interesting case for the “curse of the FFA”, and it’s fair to talk about it. I think GA and Schwartz and many others are right to suggest that his viewpoint is inherently compromised coming from a place of privilege (white male), and that he should address that in his argument. I would love to see Paige Classen write openly about her take on the subject – it seems like she’s a great person to address both sides of the discussion.

As far as the climbing media goes, my gut tells me that even if women editors figure prominently in all three of America’s major climbing magazines, that sexism and objectification of female climbers still runs rampant in this industry. In the end, the climbing magazine industry is a sick one – it doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out. Editors and freelancers don’t get paid as well as they once did, or as well as they deserve. Everyone I’ve ever talked to about working for climbing magazines is thoroughly over-worked. Budgets are hard to make and rely upon sometimes shady advertising. Some magazines have even resorted lamentably to publishing “sponsored content” to make ends meet – which is as close to the final death-rattle of objective journalism as anything else. It doesn’t surprise me that climbing magazines don’t hold to the moral high ground in matters of sexism; climbing magazines can barely keep afloat.

As members of the climbing community (and I’ve argued this before), we could be more influential. Kudos to GA and AB BOTH for at least taking on hard subjects that more mainstream media would rather not touch with a 10 foot pole. Kudos to everyone who campaigns for more depth in climbing stories than “So and So, Sends Such and Such”. Kudos to everyone who has chimed in and shared their opinions bravely about this subject.

More important, probably, is to put your money where your mouth is. If you think a publication or a gear company presents climbing in an immoral way, call them out publicly, and boycott the products. If enough people do it, they’ll come around. On the other side of the same coin, though, give the struggling industry a fighting chance by supporting time-tested key players (such as the magazines). Click on their websites. Share their online media. Be conscientious of not just where you spend your money, but also your time and attention. These days, they are the same thing. If we want to see greater depth in climbing media, we need to share and emphasize writing of greater depth more often than we do. If we want to beat the adage “sex sells”, we can’t wait for the sellers to quit selling; we as consumers have to quit buying.

The more money the climbing magazines have, the more freedom and impunity they have to take hard stands on hard subjects, to turn down blatantly sexist advertising, to pay writers and editors a healthy living wage, which will mean better writing in the long run, too. It’s always easy to point fingers at someone else. But if you want the climbing media to be better, you have to realize that THEY are selling to YOU. It matters what you buy, and what you buy into.



[Editor’s Note]
 Rock and Ice, AB, and GA both recently had excellent facebook posts (after initial publication of this piece). I’ve gone back to add them to this article as I thought they would be good thoughts to end on.

Rock and Ice (via Executive Editor, Alison Osius):
“Please let me clarify. Andrew Bisharat published the article in question on his website, Evening Sends. He states that, and apologizes for his reaction to criticism, in these posts. He is a freelancer, not a Rock and Ice employee, and we would not apologize regarding writing published elsewhere.

From a personal point of view, I have known, climbed and worked with Andrew for many years, and respect him as progressive-minded and egalitarian. I support his right to his opinions and expression.

In the big picture, Rock and Ice endeavors to support and reflect women’s climbing. Recent subjects include: Nina Williams, Edurne Pasaban, Meagan Martin, Megan Mascarenas, Kasia Pietras, Brette Harrington and Jewel Lund. Alexa Hudson, Mayan Smith-Gobat, Pamela Pack and Maxine Speier published features, with one commissioned from Libby Sauter for our next issue of Ascent. We have a new column, Chicks’ Corner, founded by Kitty Calhoun. Other recent female writers include Allison Coin and Charlie Lieu.

Three of our last six covers have been of women.

Overall, I think Georgie Abel has started a valuable discourse. We at the office all talked about it, and it will surely make us try harder and more mindfully, and that’s good for everybody.

Thank you,
–Alison Osius, executive editor”

AB:
“… I apologized to Georgie for my honest mistake about her editing her piece. It was an honest mistake; when I read her piece a second time, it definitely didn’t feel as negative as it did the first time I read it, which is where that assumption came from. I jumped to a conclusion, and I regret my error.

In fact, reading it a second time, I saw a bunch of points that she made that I found interesting and valid.

The truth is I was traveling while this whole thing shook out, so I was never really at my computer, and instead just typing on my phone while moving from one place to another. I definitely made a mistake of trying to respond too early, and was often times hasty with my comments, as is the nature of the online world, regrettably. I think that I also had a tainted impression of what the note actually said before I finally found the time to read it due to other people writing to me to tell me it was unfair towards me.

This is the honest truth. Just thought I’d explain it to you.

FYI: I don’t actually work in the office of Rock and Ice. I’m just a valued contributor and “editor at large”, but earn my income as a freelance writer. The original story that Georgie wrote about appeared on my personal website, Evening Sends. Since you are an avid reader of Rock and Ice, you’ll likely know that I often write critical pieces of many aspects of the climbing community.

I think it’s right for you to criticize my response to Georgie, and I wish I had been more professional with certain lines that I wrote. I apologized for my initial response to Georgie, which mostly was a counterpoint to some of her points, but also included some lines that, I could see being unprofessional. I still don’t agree with her premise, and I feel as though many of her points would’ve been stronger if she had decided to write more about the FFA issue itself instead of make it a direct open letter to me, but we can agree to disagree. “

GA:
“…I want to start by saying that I have a lot of understanding for the way that Andrew responded to my letter. While my letter was not intended as a personal attack but rather a critique of the ideas he suggested in his writing, I can understand how it was received personally. I challenged him in a big, loud way. And yeah, I was a little condescending–I definitely didn’t have to start out with the “in any entry-level course…” statement. I sincerely apologize to Andrew for starting my letter in that tone. However, none of this excuses his reaction or subsequent attempts to manipulate the situation, and his response does solidify that the points I brought up in my letter are very real and serious problems. But, I want everyone to go about forming their opinions on this issue with compassion for everyone involved.

This is far bigger than me and Andrew. That is the sole reason I made my letter open to the public. This is an issue that our community must deal with. And the vast number of people talking about this situation has shown that we WANT to deal with it. I greatly appreciated Andrew’s initial FFA article for that reason—it brought attention to the issue and kept the conversation going. However, we cannot keep attempting to silence the people who speak out about it. When coming to a conclusion about this as a community, we have to listen to each other. And we must especially listen to the people who this issue affects directly, and in this case, that’s women.

Our society as a whole is going through some major shifts and climbing will be affected by this. These are incredibly interesting times, but because the very foundation that we’ve stood upon for years is going through an upheaval, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

So we’re gonna go through shit like this. There isn’t one person alone that has the answer. And as we navigate through this, we’ll make mistakes and say crazy things and be angry. That is all fine. In fact, it’s a sign that a major change is about to take place. We just have to take responsibility for our actions and try really, really hard to be nice to each other.

Despite the disappointing stuff, the outcome of this has overwhelmingly shown what I always knew to be true about the majority of our community: that we care deeply about important issues, that we can respectfully disagree (I have received some really smart critiques of my letter and I deeply appreciate them!), that we support each other, and that we are hungry for an inclusive environment. In my book, this is awesome and speaks volumes about the personality of our sport.

So here we are—everyone involved has represented themselves. Please look at the post on Rock and Ice magazine‘s FB page (or on my page below) to see what Andrew has to say about this as well as Rock and Ice. Feel free to contact me with any questions about this situation–I know it’s been really complicated and hard to follow. I respond to all questions with honesty and do not have any desire to manipulate this situation. Please be sure to gather all of the information needed to make a well-informed opinion of your own on these issues. Let’s go about forming these opinions with logic and a dedication to our own personal values.

And above all, let’s work together and figure this out as a community.

Thank you all so much for the countless messages of support, love, and respectful disagreement. I would like to reiterate that none of us have the answer–I have no idea what I’m doing over here–and that it’s going to take all of us to come to smart conclusion.

Cheers to all of the people who have taught me about the fine art of creative rebellion, and cheers to this beautiful community.

All my love,
Georgie”

 

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