MiiR contributor and Dirtbag Darling blogger, Johnie Gall shares her journey of becoming an outdoor writer and contributor in the predominantly male-dominated outdoor industry. Bringing a new view and female perspective, she is on a mission to share stories of other women she meets along the way that are also pushing the outdoor norms.
"The female voice is only getting louder in the outdoors, and I want to be one of its megaphones."
My parents thought I was going to be a boy. I spent my nine-month incubation preparing to hit the ground running by moving ceaselessly, and when the doctor finally delivered me and the news I was a girl to my parents, I suppose they were just too worn out to think of a different name. And so I became Johnie.
I've spent my entire life being accidently grouped together with boys, slip ups from unsuspecting teachers assigning group projects and confused recruitment officers trying to get me to join the Navy. At some point I just got tired of answering the inevitable questions ("Oh, how do you spell that? What's your real name?") and started introducing myself with what would become something of a tagline: "Hi, I'm Johnie. Like the guy's name."
So when I decided to pursue a career in the outdoor industry a decade ago, at the time and still today a majority boys' club, it hardly felt noteworthy. I'd pretty much been preparing for this my whole life.
I started as a senior editor at a surfing magazine and gradually transitioned to writing and photography within the outdoor adventure space, penning editorials for magazines, scribing copy for catalogs, and shooting small commercial campaigns for major brands. Eventually I launched a blog, Dirtbag Darling, where I'd offer essays and tips for traveling and experiencing the outdoors from a female perspective - my own. Again, it didn't feel revolutionary. I just saw a gaping hole in the type of content I wanted to consume, so I tried to use my shovel to help fill it in.
Recently, I was rock climbing in the Alabama Hills when I met two women who were climbing outdoors for the first time. When I walked away to take photos, my husband told the women about me and my work. I could hear their shrieks of delight from fifty yards away. I was embarrassed to have been recognized and, honestly, felt undeserving of that kind of attention. Until they told me why they were so excited: I was one of the first women they could relate to in the outdoor industry, and I'd helped them find their voices in that space.
I didn't and still don't like the qualifier "female." First "female" ascent. "Female" adventure photographer. My friend Haley Robison, herself a "female" CEO, once said that we'll know when we have true gender equality in the outdoor industry when we don't feel the need to announce an accomplishment using a person's sex. Yet, I'm starting to recognize the importance of using my female voice to amplify those of others. The tools and skills at my possession are conduits for elevating the stories of climate change and refugee crises, for advocating on behalf of public lands and grassroots organizations - all issues I've prioritized and started planning projects around in the coming year.
I still work mainly beside men. In fact, two of my best friends and co-collaborators are men, but they are also some of my strongest allies. In January, the three of us worked together to gather a group of 17 runners to run a two-day, 250-mile relay bridging Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We were protesting President Donald Trump's order, at the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, to shrink the size of both monuments in the largest reduction of federally protected land in American history, effectively opening up massive tracts of land to extractive industry and road development.
As we reviewed footage we'd captured and started mapping out a short film from the run, something incredible emerged: This story had a female voice. From Olympian Magda Boulet to Patagonia trail runner Clare Gallagher, Navajo activist Sheyenne Lewis to public lands advocate Katie Boué, the voices of these dedicated and passionate women from all walks of life began to blend together to tell the story we'd so desperately wanted to tell. It was a moment of clarity and commitment for me: The female voice is only getting louder in the outdoors, and I want to be one of its megaphones.
I'm not sure if my name has helped or hindered my career, but either way, here I am. Hi, my name is Johnie. Hard stop.
Follow Johnie on IG @dirtbagdarling