By MGO leader Mich Kate
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that this hike was held on Aboriginal land, the land of the Taungurung Clans, and pay my respects to Elders past and present. I acknowledge the First Australians as the traditional custodians of the continent. I recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs, and relationship with the land.
So, how do four women and one man end up on one of Victoria’s most challenging hikes wearing dresses anyway?
It started with MGO co-founder Tamara’s unassuming post: “I’ve finished my #52hikechallenge. Who wants to do a #12hikechallenge?” I replied “I’M IN,” was officially recruited, and eventually (soz Tam) googled the challenge a few days later.
As far as I know, it’s a concept created by Solo hiker and involves completing 12 hikes of a different variety. Needless to say, it’s all worked out swimmingly. So far it’s taken us on an overnight hike up Victoria’s highest peak, Mt Bogong, (Big Fella in the Aboriginal language of the Yiatmathong Clan), snowshoeing across Taungurung country (Lake Mountain), and most recently up Naah-Naah Dhong (Cathedral Ranges southern circuit) in a dress.
So where did the inspiration come from for this hike sans pants? I thank the cleverly curated photos of @TheSwashbuckler, plus the Always Keep Going “LikeAGirl” campaign. On one hand, we have a man with a great beard majestically posing in photos wearing a dress out on the trails; on the other, a campaign that is building girls’ confidence and turning a previously negative phrase into an empowering one.
Cue the addition of “hike like a girl” to “run like a girl”, “throw like a girl”, and “hit like a girl” to the Melbourne Girls Outside vernacular. The core message of the Always campaign – that girls are strong – is one I personally value highly.
My respect for such campaigns stems from, despite strong female role models, the trap of disowning and looking down on my gender. Thanks largely to the advertising of the 90s, I decided that, in order to ensure an adventurous life, I needed to grow up to be a boy. What this meant for me was having a BMX bike, slot car set, and a crew cut. I worked to punch harder, run faster, and climb higher than any boy around in order to prove that despite being a girl, I was just as good as them. A tomboy, now that was where it was at! I wasn’t having a bar of this “you run alright for a girl” business. This disregard for femininity and idolisation of masculinity stayed with me for years.
It wasn’t until much later in life (read: almost 15 years) that this started to be pulled apart and I realised how damaging it was on both an individual and societal level. I was introduced to the idea that the things I enjoyed were arbitrarily assigned to masculinity and that the genderisation of activities, interests, and styles was actually sexism at play (hello, tertiary education).
It raised the possibility of having the best of both worlds – a penchant for the occasional floral dress combined with a love for outdoor adventures – rather than either-or.
So for me, this hike was about the synergy of two things I love coming together: a shout out to the importance of campaigns such as Always, the value of education, and a small nod to my younger self whom was just trying to have adventures.
So that’s my background story, what about the rest of the crew? I asked Tamara, Cynthia, Alicja, and Emilio about their motivation to join #HikeLikeAGirl and the answers were as expected – great. Don’t get me wrong, there was still the usual talk of the challenges of online dating, travel tips, food recommendations (hello potatoes), wishes, work, hiking, new adventures (slacklining), Instagram, house sitting, and, of course doggos.
I’m not usually one to drive a conversation so doing this put me a little out of my comfort zone. For more practically minded readers I also checked in around the pros and cons of hiking in a dress, and of course about the actual hike itself.
So, what were their motivations?
Tamara capitalised on the opportunity to embrace a throwback to girlhood: “I didn’t wear cute little dresses as a girl. I actually feel like I should be wearing a dress covered in all the Disney princesses.”
Cynthia had attempted the hike with friends before, but had to turn back as they weren’t comfortable with the hike. I don’t know about you, but acknowledging an adventure is outside your scope takes courage (#hikeyourhike). She shared that attending MGO events gave her the extra courage she needed to give it another go (and is now keen to go back!).
Emilio is a fanboy of MGO and how it both empowers and connects women, and advocates for womens’ voices to be heard in his field of sports chiropractics. He’s also my boyfriend, so has been privy to a lot of feminist speak (sorry, not sorry).
Alicja saw the hike posted and shared that she immediately felt compelled to be a part of it. She is a software developer and very active in creating space for girls in her field, having involvement with CodeLikeAGirl, GoGirlGoForIt an initiative of VicItForWomen, and is currently co-organising coding clubs for kids in Carlton (open to girls and boys).
As for me? Aside from my own personal journey, as a social worker I advocate strongly for pathways to equality and equity for women in the fields of education and employment, and, thanks to MGO, adventures.
What were the lowlights/highlights of hiking in a dress?
Tamara: “My arm holes were rubbing, and I got groped by a tree! However, after a winter spent in leggings and pants, uncovered legs feel like freedom.”
Cynthia: “Not as bad as I thought it would be.”
Alicja: “I would do it again. Before this hike I was going to throw out this skirt – I thought I was too young for me.” Just so you know it was red, covered in strawberries, and adorable.
Emilio: “This is a size 16 and it’s still tight on my chest!”
As for me, well… Let’s just say that next time I’m going to wear shorts, or at the very least underwear that covers my butt, so that my climbing, jumping, and handstand game isn’t impeded by a level of modesty that I’m not prepared to challenge just yet.
A few weeks after the hike, I checked in with Tamara around this hike and her motivation for saying yes to it, and I was glad I asked. She shared the following: “Because you said it was important to you, and I support you. I didn’t really see the importance until I was doing it/reflecting on it after.”
Here, Tamara shared a screenshot of an Instagram post with me – despite my use of hashtags, I’m not on Instagram – where she identified the power of words, equality, and femininity. So there we have it, female friendship solidarity as a start point with a strong dose of feminism. MGO for the win!
Perhaps the most important question … Would we do it again?
A resounding yes.
I would like to thank the Taungurung clans for our safe passage on Naah-Nahh Dhong and thank the ancestors for gifting us with a lyrebird mating display and the flight of an eagle (real life David Attenborough-esque stuff).
Thanks to Tamara, Emilio, Cynthia, Alicja and our slightly waylaid fellow adventurer Anna for supporting that awesome time we actually had (well, almost all of us).