Maxine Davis, "Women Outward Bound: 1965" documentarian, in center with sunglasses.

womenoutwardbound.com — The film has won several awards in festivals. In March 2018, it was broadcast on 270 PBS stations. There will be a July 22 screening at North Face, Lake & Hennepin, Minneapolis.
Maxine Davis, "Women Outward Bound: 1965" documentarian, in center with sunglasses. womenoutwardbound.com — The film has won several awards in festivals. In March 2018, it was broadcast on 270 PBS stations. There will be a July 22 screening at North Face, Lake & Hennepin, Minneapolis.

In 1965, in northern Minnesota, 24 teenage girls had an experience that changed their lives. For 30 days, they lived in the wilderness. At the time, girls were considered to be “soft, pampered creatures,” as one observer put it.

One of those 24 girls in the Minnesota class of 1965 was me. Were we soft creatures? Or, as girls, had we just not been allowed the chance to find out what we were?

Many of us by then had watched Miss America walk her runway with tiara and tears. We wouldn't see the likes of Venus Williams or Hillary Clinton for years. We each had different reasons for signing on, but none of us knew how those weeks would change our lives. We boarded a bus in Duluth that took us to the edge of a wilderness backcountry that covered 2.2 million acres of lakes, rivers, granite outcroppings, bogs, rivers, and waterfalls.

Under the leadership of director Jean Replinger, we quickly learned that we’d get dirty and wet. But we could also clean up and dry out. We paddled white water. We climbed rocks and ropes and plunged into cold water. In training, we gained the physical strength and mental tenacity to travel safely in brigades through the wilderness for 16 days.

We came to Outward Bound with different backgrounds, abilities, and weaknesses. When we left, many of us took something with us that we didn't realize we'd found – what I call “grit.”

All Over the Wall

More than 50 years have passed since then. Today I think American girls need grit more than ever. What is “grit?” I define it as perseverance, cooperation, risk-taking, dreaming big.

How do we develop those qualities in girls? Whether a girl wears shorts, a hijab, or a sari, when today’s girls take leadership roles as women, our world will be better for it.

As a filmmaker, I directed the documentary “Women Outward Bound,” which consists of photographs, video, and interviews with many members of that 1965 group of girls, who are now women in their 60s and 70s. I wanted to take the rare opportunity to show how a group of girls, who early on learned to value grit, took those lessons into their lives as women.

So many girls and women continue to feel judged for everything, from their looks to their grades. Trees, water, and rocks don't care what you look like. They don't judge. When a girl fords a brook, climbs a rock-face, or sits quietly listening to the wind, she can be herself.

How girls and women change when they spend time in nature is difficult to explain. My intent with “Women Outward Bound” is to show it.