Inspiring, encouraging, enabling. That is the motto of The Adventure Syndicate, and what we aim to achieve. But what does it mean in practice? Who are we trying to inspire, encourage and enable? And how?
One of the reasons we were originally set up was to offer the world more diverse examples of women on bikes who push the boundaries of what they, and others, are traditionally perceived to be capable of. We highlight women who are adventurers and endurance athletes, doing inspiring things by bike.
There is a desperate need for this kind of female role model. Women who get muddy, sweaty and covered in bike grease. Women whose lined faces tell stories of adventures past, whose bodies aren't airbrushed to perfection. Women who push themselves to be the best they can be, and who know that fear and self-doubt are things to be overcome, not barriers blocking achievement. Women who are tough, and not afraid to show it.
The vast majority of adventurers and endurance athletes in the public eye are men. Mainstream television, books and speaker circuits tell an all-too-familiar story of macho feats of endurance, of conquering the world through strength and might, returning home with epic tales of hardship and challenge.
Women rarely appear in this narrative, though female adventurers are generally just as hardcore and achieve just as much. For every Ranulph Fiennes, there is a Felicity Aston. For every James Cracknell, there is a Sarah Outen. For every Mark Beaumont, there is a Juliana Buhring. If you don't know these women, that tells you something. Look them up.
We wanted to give these women - and many others - a platform, offering them as role models to inspire others into action.
But who are these role models for?
We decided that our mission would be to:
‘Inspire, enable and encourage everyone, especially women and girls, to feel capable of more’.
Our purpose was to showcase the role models we wish we'd had as insecure teenagers, before we realised that we can tread our own path and don't need to be hemmed in by societal expectations of what girls “should” do. We wanted to fast-track female ambition in the outdoors, demonstrating to women and girls that they are capable of so much more than they think, and helping them develop the confidence and self-belief to step outside their comfort zone.
However, over the last two years we have increasingly realised the wider implications of our mission.
Female role models can show us a different way of leading and adventuring. A way that isn't focussed on bravado and winning at all costs, but instead shows the human face of adventure. It may include a desire to compete - and win - but at the same time demonstrating that there are different ways of going about it.
It means being honest about those weak moments, when we are scared or feel intimidated by a challenge ahead. By displaying our vulnerabilities, we show others that these moments of self doubt can strike anyone, and aren’t the end of the world.
It means working together, to support each other in order to achieve greater things.
It means respecting and appreciating the world around us, instead of seeing it as an obstacle to conquer.
Above all, it means enabling, and empowering, not just inspiring.
The traditional adventure narrative could be accused of perpetuating a form of ‘toxic masculinity’, where success means bravado, ruthless competition and avoidance of emotion at all costs. We have found that, for many men and boys, these are not, in fact, innate qualities. They are not inherent to adventure, nor to masculinity, but instead taught, learned and internalised.
It turns out that many men find The Adventure Syndicate’s model of collaboration and encouragement far more appealing. By giving young boys strong female role models to look up to, who don’t necessarily espouse the more ‘traditional’ adventurous values, we can help to promote a better way of adventuring, and of being.
Perhaps more importantly, by showcasing the achievements of inspiring women, we are showing the world that there is more than one way to win the race. There is a place for empathy, kindness and mutual support in adventure and endurance: by working together we can often achieve so much more than we could alone. Witness the launch of The Adventure Syndicate, when seven women worked together to enable three of them to break the record for the fastest circuit of the North Coast 500, previously held by a man who had pedalled the route solo.
This is perhaps not as simple as ‘male’ and ‘female’ ways of doing things. Respect and collaboration need not be gendered concepts. The true problem is perhaps the image afforded to adventure, which is often dominated by male role models. It is that we are trying to change. By showing another face of adventure, portrayed in our case through the inspirational achievements of women, we hope to demonstrate a more inclusive, honest approach to human achievement.
Saying all this, we believe there is still a need for safe spaces in which women and girls can push themselves, in an environment they feel comfortable in. This is particularly the case for teenage girls, whose lack of confidence and self-belief can form a pattern which persists into adulthood. We know that female-only spaces can help overcome these barriers, giving women the opportunity to face their personal challenges in supportive, pressure-free environment.
It is a debate we come back to again and again. We make no apologies for offering inspirational women as role models. The question we ask is, who are these role models for? Do we need to offer a more inclusive approach, opening more of our events to both men and women? Is there a ‘female’ mode of leadership, and of having adventures, or are we just swayed by the dominance of male adventurers in mainstream media? Does it matter?
We would love to know what you think - after all, a collaborative approach is part of The Adventure Syndicate’s DNA. Join the debate by commenting below, or on Facebook.