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Tough Women - from Jenny Tough

Updated: Jun 10

Tough Women is a new collection of adventure stories compiled and edited by none other than Jenny Tough - a woman teased at school for her name who has gone on to live up to it in spectacular style, amongst other things running solo across some of the world's most unwelcoming mountain ranges.

It's one of those books you can leave lying around, pick up and put down, read a story at a time and let it tick over in the back of your mind as you try to figure out what it all means - I mean really, why are these women out there making themselves so vulnerable?

The conclusion of this male reader is not that they are more vulnerable than men (though on some occasions this might be true) but that they are more prepared to write about their vulnerability than men are, and embrace it.

Jenny Tough strides along a high altitude rocky ridge alongside the cover to Tough Women.
Jenny Tough & Tough Women - a breath of fresh air

As Anna McNuff puts it in her giggle-out-loud contribution Mango Happy.. "A willingness to be vulnerable will always breed strength".

That sounds a bit like Nietzsche's "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger", except somehow his quote seems more like a brag and perhaps not as honest about the fear involved in taking risks. Is it the case that men will inevitably interpret vulnerability as weakness? Particularly in the adventure world?

We asked Jenny why she thinks there aren't more women in the outdoors industry:

"It's always stumped me - the truth is, the outdoors industry is full of badass women, but when it comes to that top level of TV, film, books, etc, we tend to only see one demographic, and one voice representing this very diverse and creative industry. I wanted to put something together that celebrates the other voices in the outdoors, and give a platform to some incredible women who have great stories to tell."

Sarah Outen is one such incredible woman. Her story in the book, Learning to be Tough, spends less time talking about outdoor adventures than it does about overcoming internal demons. In her mind these challenges are just as valid: "Learning to connect and express in vulnerable times has been my greatest and most perilous, daring journey of all."

Another example - Emma Svensson's peak-bagging sprint around European country high points - is an incredible achievement but her early mountaineering attempts include moments like this: "I sat on a rock for 45 minutes crying because I didn't know how to get down. I had to pretend I was being chased by wolves to get some adrenalin to be able to keep going."

It is so refreshing to read such honesty in adventure, and all the more inspiring because knowing it's OK to feel like that means the obstacles of failure or embarrassment are removed. This is equally as helpful for men who might feel less comfortable facing up to these truths. Men cry on rocks too.

And who is it that Jenny hopes is inspired the most?

"I hope that everyone who enjoys and dreams of adventure will love this book - men and women, boys and girls - but if I have a secret desire it's that young women will pick this up and be inspired by these authors who all blazed their own trails in doing what they love. I'm still so honoured that these women who I greatly admire and look up to were willing to share their stories with this project. What I loved was how different they all are, proving that there are so many different ways to adventure, and so many different types of toughness."

Things are definitely changing. Our online festival earlier this year was appropriately populated by tales of women smashing it outdoors, with more women than men featured in our winning line-up. A few years ago you might have had to go out looking for those films to get balance. This year, we are pleased to say, that wasn't necessary.

Tough Women is part of a bold and new wave of adventure story-telling - these women adventurers have great tales to tell, and they tell them with great honesty.

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