Farieda Khan is an environmental and sports historian, who holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree, obtained at the University of Cape Town in 2001. She has professional experience as a consultant in social impact assessment; as an environmental researcher; and in conducting interviews for oral history (most recently, for the University of Cape Town’s forthcoming centenary). Currently she is a freelance journalist covering a range of topics, including cultural heritage, social history and environmental politics; as well as an independent researcher with interests in three main areas, viz. 1) The impact of race, gender and sectarianism on the development of South African sport history; 2) The history of mountain clubs in Cape Town; and 3) The impact of forced removals on the environmental perceptions of affected communities in Cape Town.
AN UPHILL CLIMB – WOMEN ON TABLE MOUNTAIN AT THE CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA, 1890s to 1990s
Mountaineering as a form of recreation in South Africa dates back to the Era of Exploration from the late fifteenth century, when sailors and traders on their way to the East Indies who stopped at the Cape, often took the opportunity to climb Table Mountain. However, mountaineering as a formal sport began only when European alpinists visited the Cape from the 1860s onwards, and the Mountain Club of South Africa was established in 1891. Women were constrained from participating in mountaineering either as a form of leisure or as a sport through the physical limitations imposed by their attire, as well prevailing social conventions and gender stereotypes which encouraged passive femininity and domesticity. These conventions frowned upon the participation of females in sport, and in strenuous activities such as mountain climbing in particular, as this was seen as a physically taxing and ‘dangerous’ sport, and hence the natural domain of men. This paper will analyse the way in which gender constraints, which intersected with class and race constraints, impacted upon the participation of women in mountaineering in Cape Town. This paper will also recount the way in which (notwithstanding these constraints), many women challenged prevailing gender stereotypes and ignored attempts to exclude them by enthusiastically participating in both leisure and sport mountaineering during the period under review.