Cambridge Underground 1977 pp 36-37


The fairer sex are in the minority amongst the Cambridge Cavers - which despite the activities of the Womens' Liberation Movement is still a bastion of male chauvinism. While this may reflect the general trend in the university life, the imbalance between the sexes seems rather extreme. This is not necessarily the fault of the male members of the club who would probably eagerly welcome hoards of nubile females wishing to be taken underground. The very fact that caving seems dominated by men is enough to dissuade the normally shy members of the undergraduate ranks from contemplating her first venture into the depths of the earth. Still, how can the ranks of the club be swelled(!) by enthusiastic lady cavers, if the impression of speleology as a dangerous, exhausting and messy activity continues. The outside world has no clear idea of what caving is all about. They are labouring under several misconceptions which is partly due to the attitude of the "Caving Fraternity" to outsiders. When the general public do take an interest in caves, for the most part they have no access to anything other than the Cheddar Gorge and Royston Caves of the world!

When one actually analyzes the members of CUCC it is possible to notice various behavioural patterns emerging. Obviously my opinions are biased, but it is a truism of most non-scientific studies that absolute objectivity cannot be reached. The first category, which immediately springs to mind, is what may be called the 'Caveman' or 'Male Chauvinist' type. Not only does their manner resemble Neanderthal Man but also their appearance. Extreme hairyness seems to be the fashion favoured by many of the present members. Is this because it is a practical adaptation to the often freezing conditions underground, keeping frostbite at bay; or is it emphasizing their affinity to distant ancestors? They refer to women as sex objects although I haven't enough evidence to show that they treat them so as well! Their activities seem confined to the more celibate occupations of caving, and in non-limestone areas to computing.

A sub-category of the genera 'Caveman Caveman' is the 'Letcher'. Apart from countless dog-eared volumes of Northern Caves, their reading matter is entirely confined to editions of the well known girly magazines. The Letchers' main impetus to go caving is to indulge in certain perversions: namely a wetsuit or rubber fetish. The general masochism involved in going away on caving weekends holds immeasurable fascination for the Letcher, compelling him to venture underground. One hesitates to apply Freudian theory to this aspect of caving.

Food and drink are not just functional but hold an almost sacred position within the club. The highlight of the CUCC calendar is the Dinner, not really the weekends of actual caving. This also seems true of the rest of the year when the main method of keeping cohesion within the club members is through going to lunches on Tuesday and to a pub lunch on Fridays. The hero of the Caving World known as the 'Hard Man' is not only a physical superman with the ability to withstand great privation. His reputation depends on being a champion drinker as well as caver, who downs pints as fast as pitches. The 'Gourmet' caver is a fast growing species amongst the present members. He is not content with sordid fry-ups over a primus but eats in style, planning his menu beforehand. He may often be spotted savouring a delicious banquet of exotic dishes.

Cavers are not wholly uncivilized, although anyone who has witnessed some of their antics may be dubious (e.g. the CUCC version of pass-the-parcel at the Christmas Party). Often they are extremely gentlemanly, especially what has been euphemistically termed the 'Older Chappies' (22+). They allow themselves to be trampled on, used as soft landing surfaces to be pounced on from a great height and generally avail themselves to the damsels in distress. Sometimes one wonders how much this is due to polite concern for others. Could it be that 'The Girls' are often an excuse for going slowly, taking rests, jacking or using ropes? Are we just helping them to keep their egos intact ?

Julia Kostelnyk

> Index to Cambridge Underground
> Table of Contents for Cambridge Underground 1977
> Back to CUCC top page